- The first Marine Corps F-35C squadron has achieved full operational capability.
- This status means the squadron is fully prepared and equipped for deployment and combat.
- The F-35C is specifically built for aircraft carrier operations.
The first US Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron has achieved full operational capability, meaning it is now fully prepared to wage war from Navy aircraft carriers, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said in a statement last week.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, nicknamed the “Black Knights,” is the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron to reach this status.
The Marines have traditionally flown the F-35B, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant that can fight from airstrips or amphibious assault ships. Although the F-35B has not yet achieved full operational capability, this jet has been active.
The F-35B deployed for the very first time in March 2018 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, and later that year, a Marine Corps F-35B became the first to fly into combat when it took off from the USS Essex to carry out strikes against the Taliban.
The C variant of the fifth-generation stealth fighter, however, is designed to operate aboard US Navy carriers. The jet can carry more fuel and is built for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments.
Based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, the “Black Knights” received the Marine Corps’ first F-35Cs on January 21, 2020.
In December, the squadron successfully met the minimum requirements to deploy aboard carriers and support combat operations, a status known as initial operational capability. At that point, the fighter squadron was technically considered officially ready for combat.
That initial operational capability enabled “VMFA-314 to deploy the F-35C onto aircraft carriers where they will be able to support combat operations anywhere in the world,” the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said at the time.
“They are now full up round and bring the incredible 5th generation capability to 3rd MAW,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general Maj. Gen. Christopher Mahoney said in a statement, adding that “they will deploy as part of a Carrier Strike Group next year.”
VMFA-314 operations officer Maj. Derek Heinz said “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.”
“The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon,” Heinz added.
In the meantime, the squadron is continuing to make necessary preparations for future deployments through tailored ship’s training availability, which includes communication, medical, flight, and shipboard drills.
The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is the Corp’s largest aircraft wing, and, as the recent statement on VMFA-314’s full operational capability milestone explained, it “remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.”