Grim Reapers Onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln


2017-09-13 USS Abraham Lincoln, the first US Navy aircraft carrier capable of accommodating the F-35C Lightning II, welcomed the fifth-generation jet fighter on board earlier this month.

The “Grim Reapers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA 101), the training squadron for the F-35C, joined the USS Abraham Lincoln while underway on September 3.

“The F-35C is still in a testing phase, so it is not fully operational yet,” said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Karapostoles, a pilot assigned to VFA 101.

“We are the training squadron for the F-35C, so we are onboard this ship conducting our carrier qualification training, qualifying pilots, landing signal officers and maintenance crews.”

The launching and recovering of the F-35Cs presented an opportunity for the crew of Abraham Lincoln to work with a new aircraft and play a role in the development of this new fighter jet.

“Being part of the primary flight control team for the landing and launching of the F-35Cs was such a unique experience,” said Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Handling) Airman Mariana Monima.

“The F-35Cs are so amazing and powerful. I feel privileged to have been a part of this historic event.”

According to the F-35 Lightning II Pax River Integrated Test Force, the F-35C should reach its initial operational capacity in 2018.

“I love the F-35C,” said Karapostoles. “Compared to other jets it’s more powerful and really just a beast. Some of the controls are different, which can take a little bit of getting used to, but that’s what we have training like this for.”

USS Abraham Lincoln is underway conducting training after successful completion of carrier incremental availability.

The importance of the F-35 for the Carrier Air Wing was highlighted in an interview we conducted in 2015 with Rear Admiral (Retired) Manazir, the recently retired Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems, OPNAV N9 when he was Director of Air Warfare.

Our modernization strategy will make us even more effective to deal with the future mission set.

What the higher-end capabilities that are delivered with F-35B and C and then the future air wing that includes unmanned give us is the capability to really own that battle space, and all domains of it. It can be flexed from the higher-end war fight down to delivering combat power ashore from the sea base.

Going into a high-end battle space with F-35Bs and Cs will allow us to identify more of the players in that battle space than we did before. With the information gathering and data fusion capability resident in the F-35, you can empower the rest of the air wing.

The F-35 is truly revolutionary technology.

The ability to bring in that much information into a single platform, share it together via machine language and put that picture together is game changing. The ability to then coalesce that much data into knowledge is unprecedented.

If you are operating over the battle space, like a counterterrorism situation, where you have a lower-end air-to-air threat, you can operate, and persist over a ground battle space as you collect information and shape a much more rapid strike capability as well. The decision cycle can accelerate in either the higher end or lower end fights.

The point can be put simply: we are expanding our capability to shape an agile force to operate throughout the battlespace and to deal with the spectrum of threats which a sea base would be tasked to operate against.

The F-35 will be a contributor to shaping the overall modernization strategy.

The F-35 has a powerful ability to share information, the ability to sense the battlespace, whether it’s signals from a surface naval vessel, signals from an air contact, ID-ing the air contact at long-range, or processing and identifying targets on the ground, all tasks that we’re going to have to do going forward to win.

The F-35 is a key element in the transition of the surface navy from the kill chain to the kill web and to the enhanced capability for the fleet to deliver distributed lethality.

As Ed Timperlake, a former Naval Aviator, who was honored to engage with the first CO of Top Gun the late “Mugs” McKeown in order do a worldwide assessment of tactical aviation for the CIA at the height of the Cold war, has argued:

The skillfulness and success of fighter pilots in aerial combat is an extensively researched yet modestly understood and fundamentally complex concept.

Innumerable physical and psychological factors along with chance opportunities affect a pilots facility for success in air combat.

Perhaps the best narrative of the intangibles of the skill and courage of a fighter pilot was captured by the author Tom Wolfe in his seminal work The Right Stuff.

From the first day a perspective fighter pilot begins their personal journey to become a valuated and respected member of an elite community, serving as an operational squadron pilot, the physical danger is real.

But so is the most significant force for being the absolute best that a fighter pilot can feel which is day in and day out peer pressure by those they really and truly respect, their squadron mates.

The engagement process to prepare for combat at the Fighter Pilot level of thinking about a different type of “fight” that the F-35 may bring to the fleet is critical.

As the combat/Test Pilots at Navy Pax: put it during our interview there last year:

In this interview, we had a chance to discuss the results to date and the way ahead with LCDR Daniel “Tonto” Kitts, a VX-23 Test Pilot who is working on F-35C carrier suitability.

Also participating in the interview was CDR Theodore “Dutch” Dyckman, a fleet combat pilot and now a VX-23 Test Pilot and the Pax River ITF Operations Officer.

CDR Dyckman flew in both DT-I and DT-II and is preparing for DT-III later this year.

“Tonto” is now working as a test pilot focusing on carrier suitability, but he also has significant operational experience with the “Rhino,” otherwise known as the Super Hornet.

Abraham Lincoln and Grim Reapers from on Vimeo.

Question: Clearly, the Super Hornet is an excellent airplane, but the F-35 is a very different aircraft with a different approach to air system operations. 

How do you see the F-35 affecting tactical training? 

Answer: With the current air wing (i.e, with the Super Hornet and Hornet as the tip of the spear), we are wringing out our tactics for a tactical advantage, which is also, at the same time, at the edge of the envelope for survival.

We are spending a lot of time making sure that we have the right tactics and the mastery of those tactics by pilots to survive and succeed.

It is about keeping a level of competence and capability where you’re not going to die.

There are points where you have a twenty second window.

You miss that window and you might be blown up.

When you’re traveling at those speeds, we are talking really only a couple of seconds that you have.

And, if you’re not performing tactics exactly as they’re prescribed, you put yourself in a kill zone.

With the F-35, we are jumping a generation in tactics and now looking at the expanded battlespace where we can expand our impact and effect.

You need to take a generational leap so we are the ones not playing catch up with our adversaries.