F-35C Landing on the Nimitz: Getting Ready for the USS Ford


2014-11-04 With a F-35 C  pilot making an “OK-3 wire” landing on the Nimitz, it is time to consider the way ahead.

When we interviewed the then head of N-98, Admiral Moran, he focused on why the F-35C was significant to the Navy and notably with regard to the coming of the USS Gerald R. Ford.

The Ford will be very flexible and can support force concentration or distribution.

And it can operate as a flagship for a distributed force as well and tailored to the mission set.

When combined with the potential of the F-35, Ford will be able to handle information and communications at a level much greater than the Nimitz class carriers.

F-35C on approach to a landing aboard the USS Nimitz. Credit Photo; Breaking Defense
F-35C on approach to a landing aboard the USS Nimitz. Credit Photo; Breaking Defense

People will be able to share information across nations, and this is crucial.  We call it maritime domain awareness, but now you’ve included the air space that’s part of that maritime domain.

There is another aspect of the Ford, which is important to handling the information systems as part of the evolution of the fleet.  We’ve never really talked about the cooling aspects. 

But if you go down to Newport News and take a tour of the Ford, right now, one of the things they really like to brag about is innovations in the cooling system.  All of us know the processing power takes its heat.

And so, you’ve got to be able to cool it.  Ford more than doubles the cooling system capacity of a Nimitz-class carrier.

But let me close by circling back to the future of the air wing for the next 20 years and the value we see in the F-35C.

We are buying all production aircraft currently. 

We see the coming of the Ford and the coming of the F-35 as highly synergistic for the fleet and its operation as a sea base. 

And with the F-35C must come Block 3F capability, which has a fully enabled set to operate the weapons we use at sea, multi-ship integration and a host of other very important capabilities important to how we expect to operate in the future. 

We are not going to accelerate the number of production airplanes until we get to Block 3F which will give us the capability that we need to operate off the carrier.

Once we marry up F-35C with key capability investments in the Super Hornet, E-2D, [EA-18G] Growlers, and a mix of unmanned capabilities, we will continue to have an air wing that can dominate in any environment.

And clearly the process is underway.

According to a USN press release dated November 3, 2014:

Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson landed F-35C test aircraft CF-03 at 12:18 p.m. aboard USS Nimitz’s (CVN 68) flight deck.

The arrested landing is part of initial at-sea Developmental Testing I (DT-I) for the F-35C, which commenced Nov. 3 and is expected to last two weeks.

“Today is a landmark event in the development of the F-35C,” said Wilson, a Navy test pilot with Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23. “It is the culmination of many years of hard work by a talented team of thousands. I’m very excited to see America’s newest aircraft on the flight deck of her oldest aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz.”

Commander, Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. David H. Buss, was aboard Nimitz to witness the milestone event.  “What a historic day today is for Naval Aviation. With the first traps and catapult launches of the F-35C Lightning II aboard an aircraft carrier, we begin the integration of the next generation of warfighting capability into our carrier-based air wings,” said Buss. “This important milestone is yet another indicator of Naval Aviation’s ongoing evolution to meet future threats and remain central to our future Navy and National Defense Strategy.”

DT-I is the first of three at-sea test phases planned for the F-35C. During DT-I, the test team from the F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) has scheduled two F-35C test aircraft from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Patuxent River, Maryland to perform a variety of operational maneuvers, including various catapult takeoffs and arrested landings. ITF flight test operations also encompass general maintenance and fit tests for the aircraft and support equipment, as well as simulated maintenance operations.

As with the initial testing of any new aircraft, the goal is to collect environmental data through added instrumentation to measure the F-35C’s integration to flight deck operations and to further define the F-35C’s operating parameters aboard the aircraft carrier.

The ITF test team will analyze data obtained during flight test operations, conduct a thorough assessment of how well the F-35C operated in the shipboard environment, and advise the Navy to make any adjustments necessary to ensure that the fifth-generation fighter is fully capable and ready to deploy to the fleet in 2018.

“Our F-35 integrated test team has done an amazing job preparing for today. This will be one landing out of thousands more that will happen over the next few decades,” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “For months, we’ve been working with the Nimitz crew, Naval Air Forces, and our industry partners, Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, as well as their suppliers, to prepare and train for this event. We plan on learning a lot during this developmental test and will use that knowledge to make the naval variant of the F-35 an even more effective weapons platform.”

The F-35C combines advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fused targeting, cutting-edge avionics, advanced jamming, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. With a broad wingspan, reinforced landing gear, ruggedized structures and durable coatings, the F-35C is designed to stand up to harsh shipboard conditions while delivering a lethal combination of fighter capabilities to the fleet.

The F-35C will enhance the flexibility, power projection, and strike capabilities of carrier air wings and joint task forces and will complement the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which currently serves as the Navy’s premier strike fighter.

By 2025, the Navy’s aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft.

The successful recovery of the F-35C represents a step forward in the development of the Navy’s next generation fighter and reinforces Navy-industry partnership goals to deliver the operational aircraft to the fleet in 2018.

And at the command where training for air wing integration is job one, Admiral Conn, the head of the Navy Strike and Air Warfare Center, focused on the core need to train to the expanded battlespace as the USN and the joint team deal with 21st Century challenges.

In an interview we did with the Admiral during our visit to Fallon he underscored as well the coming contribution of the F-35 to this effort.

I think it important to emphasize that adversary A2AD capabilities pose a serious threat not only to Navy, but to our entire Joint ability to fight and win. 

Again, I think of A2AD as the proliferation of precision for potential adversaries and how this proliferation of precision effects Joint forces ability to maneuver where we need to be and when we need to be there.  

For me, it is about expanding the battlespace and training with regard to how to do this. 

We are developing the means to push out the battle space and our ability to find, fix, track, target and engage the threat.  

The F-35 will bring enormous capability in this area.