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F-35C Carrier Variant Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)

US Navy carrier operations account for most of the differences between the F-35C and the other JSF variants. The aircraft has larger wing and tail control surfaces to better manage low-speed carrier approaches. The F-35C has an increased-capacity structure for absorbing catapult launches and arrested landings. The F-35C carrier-based (CV) variant will complement the US Navy's F/A-18E/Fs and replace F-14s and earlier model F/A-18s.

The F-35C is the Navy's first stealth aircraft. The internal structure of the US Navy variant is strengthened to handle the loads associated with catapult launches and arrested landings. A larger wingspan provides increased range and improves low-speed handling characteristics for the Navy aircraft. Like the US Marine Corps variant, the US Navy variant carries a refueling probe on the right side of the forward fuselage. Range and payload are superior to legacy strike fighters. Weapon loads, cockpit layout, countermeasures, radar, and other features are common with the other variants.

Carrier operations account for most of the differences between the Navy version and the other JSF variants. The aircraft has larger wing and tail control surfaces to better manage low-speed approaches. The extra wing area is provided by larger leading-edge flaps and foldable wingtip sections. These components attach to the common-geometry wingbox on the production line. The internal structure of the Navy variant is strengthened up to handle the loads associated with catapult launches and arrested landings. The aircraft has a carrier-suitable tailhook. Its landing gear has a longer stroke and higher load capacity. A larger wing span provides increased range and payload capability for the Navy variant. The aircraft, on internal fuel alone, has almost twice the range of an F-18C. The design is also optimized for survivability, a key Navy requirement. Like the Marine variant, the Navy variant carries a refueling probe on the right side of the forward fuselage. The aircraft carries an internal laser designator and provisions for an internal gun. Weapon loads, cockpit layout, countermeasures, radar and other features are common with the other variants.

The F-35C will make up for capabilities lost when the A-6 Intruder retired from Navy service in February 1997. The wings (with folding tips) of the F-35C will span nine feet more than the wings of the F-35A and F-35B models. Like the F-35B, it also will have a stealthy, missionized 25 mm belly gun. The combat radius on internal fuel will be greater than 700 NM- again, more than twice the range of the aircraft it is designed to replace.

From October 2000 through August 2001, the JSF X-35 demonstrator aircraft established a number of flight-test standards. X-35C CV- demonstrated a high level of carrier suitability with 252 field carrier landing practice (FCLP) tests, extremely precise handling qualities, and prodigious power availability; first X-plane in history to complete a coast-to-coast flight (Edwards Air Force Base, California, to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland).

This variant of the Lockheed Martin JSF family first flew on 16 December 2000. Afterwards, the F-35C began a series of envelope-expansion flights and on 25 January 2001, the F-35C completed tanker qualification trials with a series of air-to-air refuelings behind an U.S. Air Force KC-10. The F-35C then completed its first supersonic flight on 31 January 2001 before being ferried from Edwards Air Force Base, California to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland.

The X-35C touched down at Patuxent River NAS on 10 February 2001, completing the first-ever transcontinental flight of a JSF demonstrator aircraft and initiating a series of flight tests that demonstrated carrier suitability in sea-level conditions. The F-35C's flight-test program included a series of Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP) tests to evaluate the aircraft's handling qualities and performance during carrier approaches and landings at an airfield, and also included up-and-away handling-quality tests and engine transients at varying speeds and altitudes.

The JSF Basing and Shipboard Suitability (B&SS) team ensures that the F-35 Air System is compatible with and operationally supportable from all JSF basing options, and provides a single point-of-contact within the JSF Program for all matters relating to the JSF aircraft's suitability for operations at each of its basing options, which includes all CONUS/OCONUS shore bases, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and L class ships, and UK Royal Navy carriers. Additionally, the team serves as the JSF program's primary interface with ship development programs such as the USN's future carrier CVNX, the USN's replacement for its LHA amphibious assault ship currently referred to as LHA(R), and the UK RN's future carrier CV(F).

The primary tool for assessment, verification, and design influence for basing and ship suitability is the BASS checklist which is comprised of over 300 line items consisting of relevant basing explicit requirements, prior military specifications and standards, and recognized good design practices developed in conjunction with LM. The JPO BASS team coordinates with LM and reviews BASS Assessment Reports (BARs) for each line checklist line item.

JPO BASS team led processes include maintenance of the ship integration watch list, which consists of potential ship alteration issues, and disposition of these through the Facilities Available Conference (FAC) which is a forum that has provided F-35 designers an understanding of existing shipboard facilities and interfaces. The intent is to influence designers to develop a JSF air system that fits within and is compatible with existing facilities and interfaces in wake of recognition that there are JSF contractual capability requirements that conflict with contractual ship compatibility requirements. In the event of ship alterations, this forum led by the BASS IPT, consisting of representatives from the JPO, LM, NAVAIR, NAVSEA, OPTEVFOR, USN and USMC requirements offices, and Naval Aviation type commanders, determines the best systems of systems approach to integration in time to properly budget and plan necessary ship changes.

Other BASS IPT responsibilities include helping to initiate and foster relationships for technical exchange with all critical govt BASS stakeholders external to the program, provide feedback on IPT trade studies, participate in BASS advisory panel reviews, coordinate with IPTs on status, risk, issues and requirements; and support mitigation of program-level risks associated with BASS.

The B&SS IPT draws focus to basing compatibility considerations and issues by serving as a reference source to the JSF team for the design and development of the JSF family of variants. The B&SS team coordinates with other teams within the JSF program to maintain a "big picture" design perspective and to ensure all appropriate issues are addressed.

Overall, the JSF Basing & Shipboard Suitability IPT is responsible for ensuring that the requirements are met. The JSF must be able to operate from US and allied shore-based facilities. Considerations for basing suitability, and shipboard compatibility in particular, include of a wide range of complex integration issues such as:

  • Approach flying qualities
  • Catapult hookup
  • Deck handling
  • Deck spotting
  • Elevator compatibility
  • Flight deck servicing
  • Hangar deck maintenance
  • Jet blast effects
  • Landing systems
  • Ship motion
  • Shipboard environment
  • Steam ingestion

The 1997 QDR noted that up to 230 of the Navy's 480 JSFs could be replaced by F/A-18E/Fs, depending on the progress of the JSF program and the price of its Navy variant compared to the F/A-18E/F.

The Navy's plans initially called for 480 aircraft. In 2002 the Navy - concerned that it could not afford the number of tactical aircraft it planned to purchase - reduced the number of JSF aircraft for joint Navy and Marine Corps operations from 1,089 to 680 by reducing the number of backup aircraft needed. News reports in 2002 indicated that the proposed reduction would cut 259 jets from the Marine Corps buy, and 50 from the Navy purchase, resulting in a total F-35C buy of 430. However, as of early 2005 the Navy had not indicated to the developer the exact mix of the carrier and short takeoff and vertical landing variants it intended to purchase.

The US Navy, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, was scheduled for a 2012 IOC.

The Department of Defense released a Joint Strike Fighter Fact Sheet on 06 January 2011 as part of its announcement of the scaling back of elements of the JSF program as part of an efficiencies initiative. It stated that the Secretary of Defense Gates' program decisions regarding JSF were made on the basis of a Technical Baseline Review (TBR), the most thorough and in depth review of the JSF program in years, conducted by the new JSF Program Executive Officer, VADM Dave Venlet, at the direction of Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L) Ashton Carter after the 2010 Nunn-McCurdy breach. The TBR involved 120 technical experts reviewing every detail of the program over a period of months, supported by the full strength of the Departments of Navy and Air Force expertise in tactical aircraft. Secretary Gates' direction for the JSF program was also included.

With regards to the development and test program (System Design and Development or SDD) the Secretary of Defense directed that the JSF program decouple testing of the Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) version (F-35B) from the Carrier Version (CV; F-35C) and Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL; F-35A) version, so that all would proceed as rapidly as possible. This would also prevent the STOVL version from delaying the other variants. An additional $4.6 billion would be added to the SDD program through its completion in 2016, on top of the $9.2 billion to go already planned by the end of 2010, for a total to go SDD cost of $13.8 billion. Through FY11 approximately $37 billion had been spent on JSF SDD. Also, the schedule would be extended so that the SDD would end in early 2016 instead of mid-2015 as planned in the 2010 JET II Revised schedule. The extra SDD funding was needed because: (A) TBR found that additional testing would be needed that was not previously planned; and (B) cost estimates for previously planned testing were too low. All 3 services were to reassess their planned IOCs based on revised SDD schedule, but had not done so by January 2011.

Testing began on 03 November 2014 aboard the USS Nimitz for the Navy's F-35Cs, with the two fighters flying to the carrier and landing there to begin the process. The two aircraft had redesigned tail hook assemblies to make the airframe connection stronger.



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