Marine Corps’ First Carrier-Capable F-35 Squadron Is Ready for Wartime Use



The U.S. Marine Corps’ first F-35C carrier-variant Joint Strike Fighter squadron has reached a new milestone, becoming fully equipped to conduct worldwide aircraft carrier and wartime operations.

With a carrier deployment anticipated sometime next year, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, this week said its F-35Cs have achieved full operational capability, meaning they’re ready for war, according to a release.

“Many hours were spent maintaining aircraft, launching and recovering aircraft in Miramar, at other military facilities, and aboard the ship to conduct the training required to meet these goals,” said Maj. Derek Heinz, an operations officer with the squadron, said in the release. “The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon.”

The squadron’s first F-35C arrived in January 2020; officials in March said at the time that the squadron, known as the “Black Knights,” had achieved its “safe for flight” milestone, bringing the unit one step closer to deployment.

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In December 2020, the squadron said it had achieved the minimum operational standard, known as initial operational capability, meaning the squadron had a minimum number of Marines trained to fly and support the fifth-generation fighter.

The Marine Corps has not disclosed how many F-35Cs the squadron has now, but the service planned to buy 67 F-35Cs for carrier operations, according to the 2019 USMC Aviation Plan. However, top officials have hinted that number could fluctuate in coming years, depending on the service’s pilot and aircrew production.

The Marine Corps has been first to reach a number of F-35 milestones, but unlike the F-35C variant, its sibling F-35B model has yet to reach full operational capability. Each service sets its own requirements for operational capability based on a number of factors, including the level of training personnel receive and the number of squadrons flying the aircraft.

Its F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant was first to achieve basic certification in 2015, ahead of Navy and Air Force counterparts. In 2018, the F-35B made its combat debut, conducting its first strike in Afghanistan. The F-35B first deployed aboard the USS Wasp with the Pacific-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in March 2018, marking the first maritime operational deployment for the aircraft.

In May, F-35B jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, joined their U.K. stealth fighter counterparts to form the largest fifth-generation carrier air wing aboard the British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the Air Force‘s F-35A achieved the minimum operational standard in 2016. The Air Force, too, has not declared its conventional version of the jet ready for war.

— Gina Harkins contributed to this report.

— Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: The Marine Corps’ First Carrier-Capable F-35 Squadron Is Ready for Combat

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