- The US Navy’s first squadron of F-35C fighter jets deployed to an aircraft carrier early last month.
- The Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron is preparing for its first aircraft carrier deployment, scheduled for early next year.
- A marine pilot from this squadron spoke to Insider about what the stealth jet means for U.S. carriers.
US Navy aircraft carriers have begun to deploy with F-35C stealth fighter jets, planes that a fighter pilot called “game changers” and which he says make the carriers. even more deadly American planes.
The first US Navy aircraft carrier to deploy with the F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, the variant designed for aircraft carrier operations, was the USS Carl Vinson, which left San Diego last month and recently crossed the South China Sea with the “Argonauts” from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, the Navy’s leading F-35C squadron, on board.
The Marines are also in the game. The “Dark Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, the Corps’ first F-35C squadron, reached full operational capability in July and are now preparing for their first carrier deployment.
This squadron works long hours of training as part of Carrier Air Wing 9 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln and at Naval Air Station Fallon, home of TOPGUN, the Navy’s elite air combat school, to prepare for the deployment which is expected to begin early next year.
The F-35, the most expensive weapons program in US military history, has seen its fair share of development setbacks. But pilots are always excited about what the plane can do, one of the “Black Knights” told Insider.
“This is where I want to be”
VMFA 314 operations officer and pilot Major Mark Dion switched from the F / A-18 Super Hornet to the F-35, and he recently told Insider that the fifth-gen fighter was definitely what he wanted to fly. . He said that “the F-35C is far more capable than the F / A-18” Hornet.
“This jet gives you so much more situational awareness,” he explained. “The fusion of all of these sensors that the jet has gives pilots a lot more information to make decisions, make better decisions, make them faster and just be deadlier.”
“If we do an interception there, the F-35 is what you want to be,” he said.
“It gives me this ability to sort of stay undetected or at least, the ability to stay where the enemy can’t necessarily use their weapons against me, which we didn’t really have in F / A- 18, these fourth generation aircraft, “Dion said.” That’s a huge advantage of this jet. “
He added that “if we end up merging with an enemy fighter, it is going well in this close combat ACM [air combat maneuvering]. He does very well. I’d rather be in the F-35. I’ve stolen both, and this is where I want to be. “
“It makes the transporter much more deadly”
Dion also flew the F-35B, a short-take-off, vertical-landing variant for the Marine Corps that can fight from airstrips and amphibious assault ships. It was, in fact, part of the first U.S. F-35 combat deployment, which saw Marine pilots pilot F-35Bs off the USS Essex and conduct strikes in Afghanistan.
“It was amazing,” he told Insider, saying it’s something he will always remember.
“It was huge, just being kind of the first there, leading the way with the Marine Corps and really the [Department of Defense] in general, ”said Dion, who is now at the forefront of the Corps’ efforts to deploy a squadron of F-35Cs.
When asked if he preferred the Hornet, the F-35B or the F-35C, Dion replied that his favorite aircraft was the C.
The major said the F-35C “brings a lot more capability” than the B. It has more fuel, which allows more time to be spent in parking and carrying different weapons.
“The jet brings a lot of capabilities to the Marine Corps and the Navy,” he said, “and to have an F-35 squadron on an aircraft carrier integrated with the F / A-18s and tactics that we have with these F / A -18s, it makes the wearer much more lethal. “
For example, data links allow the carrier’s air wing to fight as a single force. In combat, the F-35 can get a better readout on the battlefield, then relay targeting information to the F / A-18s, which have a more robust missile loadout than their fifth-generation counterparts. Each plane improves the combat power of the other.
Dion described the F-35’s ability to enhance the aircraft carrier’s air squadron, project power, evade high-end threats, and mitigate close-to-peer assets as “a game changer.”
“A lot of work and sacrifice”
VMFA 314 received its first F-35C on January 21, 2020, reached initial operational capability in December 2020, and was fully operational last summer.
“The Marines of VMFA 314 have worked hard over the past two years to build a squadron of the best DoD air assets we have, to build the squadron with this jet, to be ready to go into battle if needed in a very short period of time, ”Dion said.
The Major said it had been “a lot of hard work and sacrifice” but “the hard work they put in over the past two years has really allowed us to be where we are now and to continue. to be successful and, eventually, early next year, deploy and be ready to defend the nation. “
“It was amazing,” he said. “It’s pretty awesome to be a part of this and see that.”