Navy to Test F-35C on Carrier This Fall


The U.S. Navy for the first time will begin testing its version of the F-35 fighter jet from an aircraft carrier this fall, according to the No. 2 official in charge of the program.

Rear Adm. Randy Mahr, deputy director of the Defense Department’s Joint Strike Fighter program, didn’t specify a date or ship for the upcoming evaluations. But he spoke confidently of the planned milestone for the F-35C, the Navy variant designed for taking off from and landing on carriers.

“It’s going to be the year of the F-35C,” he said during a briefing at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference on Monday in National Harbor, Md.

Mahr acknowledged hardware and software problems that have plagued the three versions of the aircraft being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp., from a tailhook that didn’t catch the arresting cable to a bulkhead that cracks to logistics software that improperly grounded jets. In February, the program office discovered that an engine fan blade “came apart” into pieces, he said.

But the issues have either been resolved or are in the process of being fixed and won’t threaten the Marine Corps’ plans to begin in July 2015 operational flights of the F-35B, Mahr said. That version is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings, meaning it can fly like a plane and land like a helicopter.

Corps leaders last week hinted to lawmakers that the aircraft may not meet that date.

“We are tentatively behind schedule,” Gen. John Paxton, the assistant commandant, told lawmakers during an April 2 hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Seapower. “The IOC is forecasted for July 2015,” Paxton added, referring to the date for initial operational capability. “We have every expectation that could be delayed by several months. It will continue to be conditions based.”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, who heads up the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, also said at the hearing that the Corps would not declare IOC until the software is developed to meet the requirements of the service.

The Government Accountability Office, known as the investigative arm of Congress, in a March 24 report cited an assessment made by the Pentagon’s own director of operational test and evaluation that software problems could delay delivery of the aircraft’s most advanced technology by 13 months.

When asked specifically about F-35B operational flights, Mahr said, “the Marines have not expressed any concerns at all about the IOC in 2015.”

The F-35B operational flights will rely on a less robust version of software, known as 2B, designed to provide basic close-air support and fire such weapons as the Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile, or AMRAAM, and Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM. Both weapons have been successfully test-fired from the aircraft, Mahr said.

“We expect to be able to show that that software is ready to deploy,” he said, adding that two more software upgrades, or “drops,” are scheduled for the next two months.

Mahr acknowledged “some challenges” with the more robust version of software, known as 3F and designed to provide the full suite of war-fighting technology, which is scheduled for delivery in 2017.

“We think we have four to six months of risk on that end,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to meet that date.”

The program office has also made improvements to the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS (pronounced “Alice”), which determines whether the plane is safe to fly. A recent software upgrade to the system has drastically shortened the time it takes maintainers to load a webpage, to about 30 seconds from about five minutes, Mahr said.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Far

    Why O why can’t the navy use F-35B? Why do they require launchers and arresting cables for their jets. What is the advantage to them of traditional flight-runway jets as opposed to vertical lift? Please educate. Gar

  • BlackOwl18E

    Lockheed Martin is finally getting desperate. Boeing is lobbying hard to get funding for 22 EA-18G Growlers added to the 2015 budget and they are winning the arguments in Congress. The US Navy is publicly showing support for the EA-18G Growler purchase and is talking up the Advanced Super Hornet. The Navy and Boeing are both saying that the RCS reduction features of the Advanced Super Hornet have proven to be exactly as good as they had hoped. Keep in mind that they had a standard of making the RCS good enough to a point where they would not need a true stealth fighter and could instead rely on advanced ordnance and jamming to compensate against high end threats:


    LM is backed into a corner with its F-35C having never attempted operations at sea. In the past they were able to push the date of carrier trials further and further back with stupid excuses, but it looks like they can’t afford to do it again now. It’s time they actually risk this thing trapping a wire. I only hope that no pilots are killed when this piece of garbage has to do the controlled crash that is landing on an aircraft carrier.

  • Bernard

    Over $400 billion spent and it still hasn’t demonstrated carrier takeoff and landing?

    “The F-35B operational flights will rely on a less robust version of software”
    How is that good news? Do really want a plane with a human pilot using less robust software?

    We should just wait until the X-47B is ready and dump this thing while we still can.

  • Lance

    Don’t worry this plane will be delayed again so this date wont be correct by several months.

  • Big-Dean

    Nah, they’ll come up with another “software glitch” excuse and say that the software needed to land on a carrier needs to be rewritten. but they’ll be sure to have it done within 5 years and under $75 million, for sure, swear on their mother’s graves

  • Kostas

    The F35B is a breakthrough in the fighter design: a fully featured fighter with STOVL capabilities. It is very unfortunate that the USAF and USN have not procured the same design, but the chose conventional designs with marginal advantages in range (450 vs 590 and 640 miles) and in the internal carriage (1000 lbs weapons vs 2000lbs). The STOVL capability will give us overnight 7 ships with mini-aircraft carrier capabilities (the LHAs). My impression is that the main reason the USAF and the USN objected to the F35B is that if they procured the aircraft, the need for a separate air branch or the USN air branch would be obviated. I believe that the US army should procure its own F35Bs for organic fire support, since the USAF is not willing to buy them. Imagine how much less the refueling and the rearming times would be by having forward operating bases. Imagine how much the USN capabilities would be upgraded by having a small 100-150 meters long mini-aircraft carriers. No need to hold ships and submarines for aircraft carrier protection. Forward the mini-aircraft carriers much closer to the operations area. What we need is: buy only F35Bs, develop a tanker version of the V22.

  • Hunter76

    The turkey is done.

    • peters

      depends on what you mean by “the turkey is done.”

      Lockheed Martin and friends are still cooking it as of today, and sending the bills for costs and premium to their puppets in Washington DC.

  • Louie

    This thing is going to be OUT DATED before it is fielded what a waist

  • TonyC.

    This ought to be an interesting chain of events. if the aircraft can reliably land using the arresting gear, then it has a good chance of being successful. If not, there isn’t much chance for the US Navy to use the F-35C and they should consider the F-35B instead. The US Navy has been down this road before with the FB-111 program. Now for the F-35 program office, make it or break it time.

  • The new LHAs only have a notional plan to deploy an all F-35 aviation group, it’s limited by the ship’s overall capacity for avgas and magazine size. In any case, 6 JSFs per deck aren’t going to make that much of a difference in a theater size conflict. The urgent need is for CAS and battlefield interdiction, regardless of how appropriate those roles are perceived for the platform as designed. LHA primary mission is still to deliver the Marines ashore; notably the third new LH will restore the well deck which acknowledges the operational limits of aerial lift.

    As far as the Growler, the emphasis on additional units is to enable NIF-CA TTP. CVW’s ideally need eight Growlers to meet up-airframe requirements and on-station needs, but they’ll live with seven aboard if Congress approves the extra 22 airframes. That has NOTHING to do with Advanced SH being better than F-35. Boeing is simply trying to capitalize on the conversion they did with Silent Eagle and hopes to recreate that success with the Hornet platform. They’re better off trying to flog that solution to current Hornet Air Forces like Canada and AU, but no one’s biting. JSF is here to stay and the SoKOR buy just made it all the more inevitable that LM will make the foreign sales they desire. The devil is in two places – the numbers committed for hard buys in the next 5-10 years, and whether security partners like Singapore ante up.

  • Dfens

    We pay Lockheed more for every day they can drag this program out. Did you think that would encourage them to finish faster? We will do the same for the next program too, and every time they screw up we will give them more money to fix what they shouldn’t have screwed up in the first place. Maybe they won’t realize that on the next program so (of course) it will be better. The next program is always better, right up to the day it goes into production.

  • afret1991

    After 24 yrs in the military I really never believed that the planners would create another ‘aardvark’ to do the work of the tough as nuts A-10. A billion $$$ stealth fighter used for CAS is a travesty. A stealthy STOL flying at high altitudes trying to provide CAS is about as useful as a screen door on a Boomer. To do CAS, ya gotta see em to kill em. Y gotta have FIREPOWER, lots of it, dual engines for redundancy and LONG loiter time. The F-35-T(urkey) is NOT that plane! I n fact some are doubtful that its a plane in any sense of the imagination. Hey! the Raptor would eat them for lunch.

  • I’m enjoying the debates regarding F-35B vs 35C.., it is long overdue. Large carriers and fixed, long runways, are becoming obsolete. I recall, one of the parameters regarding the Harrier, was the anticipation that land war in Europe , would destroy all air bases, within the first hour. All fighters would have to disperse to wooded areas next to the autobahns. The Harrier would be the easiest to recover, hide, and re-launch, for the next attack against Soviet tank armies. Traditional fighters requiring longer runways, would find their options deteriorating by the hour. They would crash land and unable to play anymore. Eisenhower appreciated this and pushed for the U.S. to construct the highway system coast to coast and north to south, not only to rush and reposition fighting units and supplies, but to also provide alternatives to fixed airbases. He remembered what we did to cripple Nazi Germany. How long do we expect our fixed bases and large carriers to remain available in the Pacific, after several days of ICBMs and the inevitable penetration of the adversaries of our defenses. I believe we hold our technology and a ability to protect these vulnerable assists to the level of Hubris. Every conflict teaches us new and terrible lessons. IEDs anyone? I believe the Marines are practical and realistic. They reflect and learn from past experiences. They must anticipate better, since they truly are the tip of the spear and shock troops. Give credit where it is rightfully due.
    Therefore the F-35B.

  • Anyone who survived because an A10 did it’s job, will worship the beast forever. Those who criticize it have never been up close and personal. Slink away if your a non-bloodied critic.

  • The A10, was designed to outrun and out gun a soviet tank, bunkers and just about anything else moving upon the ground. The hi-fly boys are suppose to have its back.

    • SMSgt Mac

      The ‘tank-killer’ came later. The A-10 was initially designed to operate against hardened targets in a relatively permissive environment. the days where we can afford to have a one trick pony that can’t survive without top cover in a non-permissive environment are over.

  • Anatomy of a coverup: The carrier variant tailhook problem was identified 32 months ago, a fix declared simple 27 months ago, the first fly-in arrestment was 18 months ago, and recently the redesign was declared a success in ground testing and it will go to the boat — in 6 months. The resigned arrestment system added 139 pounds to the plane, but there were no structural changes to the airframe. (Wow, that’s a heavy hook.)

    Aug 2011
    All eight run-in/rolling tests undertaken at NAS Lakehurst in August 2011 to see if the F-35C could catch a wire with the tail hook have failed.

    Jan 2012
    Lockheed: “The good news is that it’s fairly straight forward and isolated to the hook itself,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed program manager for the F-35 program. “It doesn’t have secondary effects going into the rest of the airplane.”

    Mar 2012
    O’Bryan, LM: Boat trials may slip into early 2014 as a result of the design changes, which include a shape redesign to better capture the arrester wire and a fix to the hold-down damper to add pressure.

    Aug 2012
    First F-35C Fly-In Arrestment: Navy Lt. Chris Tabert accomplished the first fly-in arrestment into the MK-7 arresting gear cable by an F-35C at JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

    Jan 2013
    DOT&E 2012 Test report: Rollover and flight tests were conducted with CF-3 at Patuxent River and Lakehurst using new hook point and new holddown damper design. Initial loads and sizing study completed showed higher than predicted loads, impacting the upper portion of the arresting hook system, referred to as the “Y frame,” where loads are translated from the hook point to the aircraft) and hold down damper.

    Jan 2014
    DOT&E 2013 Test Report: The test team modified CF-3 with the new arresting hook system began on-aircraft testing with rolling engagements in late CY13. The program added 139 pounds to the F-35C weight status in May 2013 to account for the redesigned arresting hook system. The program added 139 pounds to the F-35C weight status in May 2013 to account for the redesigned arresting hook system.

    Apr 2014
    Admiral Mahr: The initially deficient tail hook of the F-35C carrier variant has been redesigned and proven at the Navy’s carrier suitability test site in Lakehurst, N.J., without requiring structural changes to the airframe, Mahr said. The redesigned tail hook catches an arresting wire “comparable to that of legacy airplanes, including the F-18,” he said. “Nobody catches the wire every time, but we’re in the high 90-percent [range].

  • SMSgt Mac

    LOL! Looks like we’ll have to add “arresting gear systems” to the long an growing list of things Don Bacon “don’t know jack’ about: both ‘in general’ AND as it applies to the F-35.
    Do tell us Don, exactly how’ light’ do you think arresting gear systems are? What do you know about the design approach of the F-35C’s hook?
    BTW: I noticed in your timeline you forgot about the part that the Navy provided a flawed model of arrestment wire characteristics to ‘design to’ in the first place. Simple oversight I’m sure.

  • William_C1

    Real carrier trails have been planned for this autumn for some time now. Would all of those shouting about some sort of coverup and the F-35C never being able to operate from a carrier just wait a couple of months for the actual results before resuming your usual behavior?

    How the hell did this discussion get to the A-10? The A-10 isn’t a Navy aircraft operating from a carrier. The generation of naval subsonic attack aircraft from roughly the same era as the A-10 (such as the A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II) weren’t even in-line with the design concept of the A-10.

  • dubweiser101

    The first piece of good news about the F-35 in a very, very, long time.

    • peters

      why is this a piece of good news to you? I don’t get it. The F-35 was supposed to be fully ready for combat years ago.

  • bdingo

    F-35C ? just take an aircraft carrier full of cash and sink it—that is how much a waste this program is IMHO