On February 28, Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was declared for the Lockheed Martin F-35C, the carrier-capable version of the Lightning II. With this milestone passed all three versions of the Joint Strike Fighter have been declared ready for operations.
The announcement was made jointly by the commander, Naval Air Forces, and the U.S. Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation. Both services will operate the variant, with the Marines planning to stand up four F-35C squadrons that will be assigned to Carrier Air Wings for operational deployments.
“The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” announced Vice Admiral DeWolfe Miller, Commander Naval Air Forces. “We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”
Having received its first allocated aircraft in October 2018, the Navy’s first front-line F-35C squadron—Lemoore-based VFA-147 “Argonauts”—has completed carrier qualifications aboard USS Carl Vinson, which is to be the first carrier to receive the type when VFA-147 embarks in 2021. The unit’s completion of “carquals” and the award of a Safe-For-Flight certificate was a key element in achieving IOC. Coincident with IOC, VFA-147 switched from Air Wing Eleven to Air Wing Two, and its aircraft have now been repainted with CVW-2's "NE" tailcode.
For IOC to be declared, the first operational squadron must be adequately staffed, trained and equipped to conduct fleet operational missions. The unit’s equipment allocation comprises 10 F-35C Block 3F machines with spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs, and a functional Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS). The carrier must also have the necessary infrastructure, qualifications, and certification to support the squadron and its aircraft.
On March 1, Singapore released some more details about its intended F-35 procurement. The country has announced that it will make an initial purchase of four F-35 Lightning IIs, with an option for eight more as the replacement for its F-16 fleet. The initially small number of aircraft is for a final full evaluation by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) on its capability. The next step is for the Ministry of Defence to issue a Letter of Request (LOR) to the United States to seek Congressional approval for the Foreign Military Sales (FMS).
“Our LOR will request an initial acquisition of four F-35s, with the option of a subsequent eight if we decide to proceed,” Defence Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen told the Singapore Parliament at the Committee of Supply debate on March 1. Ng said that the U.S. Administration and the Department of Defense have endorsed the purchase and both President Donald Trump and Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan have welcomed Singapore’s plan.
Ng said the unit price of the F-35 has been steadily falling due to healthy orders, and the ministry’s procurement arm, Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), said it is “an opportune time” to make Singapore’s request. He added that the unit price for each jet is ranging from US$90 million to US$115 million, comparable to that for Singapore’s F-15SG. Similarly, the total cost of ownership, including maintenance across its lifespan, is close to that of the F-15.