Match Made In Heaven: Navy Aircraft Carriers and F-35s Will Change Warfare Forever

Kris Osborn

Key Point: The F-35C will be specially crafted for take offs at sea.

The Navy’s first-of-its-kind carrier-launched F-35C has been conducting aerial maneuvers, weapons integration, “cyclical” flight take-off missions and other war operations from the flight deck of a Nimitz-Class carrier in recent weeks, marking the first operational tests of the stealth fighter slated to deploy in 2021.

“The start of formal operational testing is a milestone more than 18 years in the making,” Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer, said in a written statement.  "While aircraft are in operational test, the F-35 Joint Program Office will continue to support the delivery of phased capability improvements and modernization of the air system.”

The combat exercises, which have involved F-35C joint missions with F-18 Super Hornets, E-2D Hawkeye surveillance planes and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, were designed to help the Navy prepare for how the introduction of the F-35C will change combat, impact war strategy and drive new concepts of operation.

Missions have included “defensive counter air” and “anti-submarine” warfare, among others,Capt. Matt Norris, from the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team said in a Navy statement earlier this year during Carrier Air Wing assessments on board the USS Abraham Lincoln. Formal Operational Testing has continued into the Fall to ensure the emerging aircraft can fully perform the full range of war operations.

The emergence of a carrier-launched stealth fighter is intended to give the Navy more combat attack flexibility and an improved ability to fight sophisticated enemy air defenses from a sea-based carrier. Such an ability can allow a maneuvering carrier to hold targets at risk from closer proximity if land-bases are far from the combat vicinity. Perhaps of greatest significance, the F-35C brings stealth attack technology to the carrier flight deck for the first time, a circumstance which further enables sea-based attack operations to attack advanced enemy air defenses and function in extremely high-threat environments.

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