Marines Start Building Frontline F-35C Force

 - January 28, 2020, 1:42 PM
A VMFA-314 F-35C touches down at Miramar for the first time to begin the build-up of an operational USMC capability with the carrier-capable version. (photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

On January 21, the first Lockheed Martin F-35C joined the Third Marine Air Wing at MCAS Miramar, California. The aircraft is assigned to VMFA-314 “Black Knights,” the first Marine squadron to operate the carrier-capable version. The Corps is acquiring a total of 80 F-35Cs, which will equip four operational squadrons, each with 10 aircraft. Others will be used for training and as a reserve.

The “Black Knights”—with a long and distinguished operational career—are no strangers to introducing new types, having been the first Marine unit to fly the F-4 Phantom in 1962, and in 1983 became the first unit in any service to adopt the F/A-18A Hornet. Having flown its last Hornet missions in June 2019, the squadron has been training on the F-35C throughout the latter half of the year with the joint Navy/Marines Fleet Replenishment Squadron (VFA-125 “Rough Raiders”) at NAS Lemoore, California, from where the aircraft was flown into Miramar. A number of Marine F-35Cs have already been delivered to VFA-125 and the training unit (VFA-101 “Grim Reapers”) at Eglin AFB, Florida, to aid the conversion process.

“The F-35C represents the leading edge of advanced fighter attack aircraft today,” commented VMFA-314’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Cedar Hinton. “It will give the Black Knights a technological advantage across the entire spectrum of tactical aviation. This includes everything from advanced sensor and weapon integration to increased range and endurance. We will be more survivable and more lethal than we have ever been."

The squadron is scheduled to achieve combat readiness in 2022. “Transitioning a squadron into a new aircraft with many new Marines comes with a lot of challenges,” said Hinton. “However, it also provides a unique opportunity to start fresh and build a strong squadron culture from the ground up. We are all extremely excited to ensure the ‘Black Knights’ continue our legacy of leading from the front as we deliver this new capability to 3rd MAW.”

VMFA-314 joins two other Marine units operating F-35s in the 3rd MAW, the other two being equipped with the F-35B STOVL version. The next unit to convert is VMFA(AW)-225 “Vikings”, which undertook its last flight in the F/A-18D Hornet at Miramar on January 23. It is due to convert to the F-35B in FY 2021 and move to MCAS Yuma, Arizona, to join VMFA-122 and VMFA-211 that also fly the STOVL variant. Meanwhile, Miramar is due to host a second F-35B training unit, VMFAT-502, which is due to activate later this year.

F-35C on ramp
The first F-35C arrives on the Miramar apron. Once a bastion of Marine Hornet activities, the base is increasingly hosting F-35s, with the first F-35C squadron building up its fleet and an F-35B schoolhouse due to be activated this year. (photo: U.S. Marine Corps)