The first F-35C stealth fighters are set to arrive next week at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, the Navy announced.
Four of the fifth-generation aircraft made by Lockheed Martin Corp. will arrive Jan. 25 at the base in the central part of the state located between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to a release Tuesday from the sea service.
They’ll join the recently reactivated Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125, the “Rough Raiders,” to train future aviators on the single-seat multi-role fighter, which will eventually replace the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet, the release states.
The service is inviting the brass and the press to a ceremony to commemorate the arrival of the new planes.
Officials slated to speak at the event include Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces; Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, director of the Navy’s F-35 Fleet Integration Office; and Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program for Lockheed Martin, the release states. Pilots and maintainers will also be on hand to answer questions.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s largest acquisition program, expected to cost nearly $400 billion in development and procurement costs to field a fleet of 2,457 single-engine fighters for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy — and some $1.5 trillion in lifetime sustainment costs.
Both the Navy and the Marine Corps plan to buy the F-35C, the carrier variant (CV) of the plane designed to take off from and land on aircraft carriers. (The Corps plans to buy a mix of F-35Cs and its own F-35B jump-jet variant.)
The Navy’s future aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft, the service said in the release.
The Marine Corps and Air Force have already declared their versions of the plane, the F-35B and F-35A, respectively, ready for initial operations. The sea service plans to do the same for the F-35C in 2018.
But the variant isn’t out of the developmental woods yet — auditors have identified cracking in the plane’s wing structures as an area of “ongoing risk,” according to a 2016 report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
Other program risk areas include “the remaining significant and complex 3F mission systems software developmental testing, continuing issues with ALIS, and new issues with the ejection seat,” the document states, referring to the Autonomic Logistics Information System, known as “Alice.”