Monday, December 5, 2022

Armed With F-35C Fighters, Aircraft Carrier Abraham Lincoln Dispatched To Indo-Pacific Amid China’s ‘Muscle Flexing’

In a first, the US Marine Corps has sent its F-35C stealth fighter jets as part of a carrier strike group. The USS Abraham Lincoln has embarked on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific region.

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After retiring the Marine Fighter Attack (314) squadron’s F/A-18C Hornets, the US Marine Corps, which usually operates the F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant, also started using the F-35C. Until now, only the US Navy has been operating the ‘C’ variant.

The EurAsian Times earlier reported that the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 had in July 2021 announced that its fifth-generation F-35C fighters, designated as ‘Black Knights’ have achieved full operational capability (FOC). Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, is home to the ‘Black Knights’.

USS Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, left its homeport in San Diego, California on January 3, 2022. The carrier strike group includes guided-missile cruiser USS Mobile Bay (CG-53), Carrier Air Wing Nine and guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), USS Gridley (DDG-101), USS Sampson (DDG-102) and USS Spruance (DDG-111). 

File:USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) battle group underway in the Pacific Ocean on 1 June 1991 (6475470).jpeg - Wikimedia Commons
A file photo of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) battle group – Wikimedia Commons

According to a Navy press release, the US 3rd Fleet, which is part of the US Pacific Fleet, is in charge of naval forces in the Indo-Pacific and intends to deliver the realistic, relevant training required to perfectly execute the US Navy’s responsibilities throughout the whole spectrum of combat operations.

The strike group will also cooperate with US allies and partners to strengthen freedom of navigation, the rule of law, and other values that underlie security in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the statement. 

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The Navy has also created history by appointing Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt’s as the commanding officer of Abraham Lincoln. Bauernschmidt is the first woman to command a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. She previously served as the executive officer aboard Lincoln.  

Three carrier strike groups have currently been deployed by the Navy.  The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group are already on the move. The Carrier Air Wing 2, USS Carl Vinson, is currently deployed to the western Pacific. The unit includes the “Argonauts” of VFA-147 Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA), which also operate F-35Cs. 

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Strike Fighter Squadron 147, called the “Argonauts”, is the US Navy’s sole deployable F-35C squadron at the moment, based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California.

F-35 Fighter Jet

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet with high maneuverability, supersonic speeds, and multi-role capabilities. It is one of the most sophisticated fighter planes in the world. 

The F-35 has three variants, all of which are single-seat aircraft. The F-35A is the most prevalent CTOL (conventional takeoff and landing) variant with overseas clients. The F-35B is a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) fighter jet that can take off and land on land or aboard aircraft carriers.

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F35C taking off the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson – US Navy

The F-35C is a carrier variant exclusively for US Navy. It is the world’s only 5th Generation stealth strike fighter developed and manufactured specifically for aircraft carrier operations. All three types, according to the manufacturer, have the same modern avionics and identical performance characteristics.

“The differences across models allow military forces to achieve service-specific mission capabilities while also taking advantage of economies of scale that emerge from parts and procedures that are similar to all three variants,” Lockheed Martin stated.

US Navy F-35C

The F-35C, the Navy’s first aircraft-carrier-based next-generation stealth fighter, debuted in 2019. In August 2021, the fighter boarded the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson for its first CSG deployment. The F-35C is equipped with wide folding wings to save room on crowded aircraft carrier decks.

It is the heaviest F-35 model, weighing in about 70,000 pounds when fully loaded. It also has a minor edge in internal fuel capacity over the F-35A, albeit this does not convert into a major battle radius advantage. The F-35C’s wings and landing gear are designed to accommodate catapult launches and fly-in arrestments on navy aircraft carriers.

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F35C Lightning II aircraft assigned to the “Argonauts” – US Navy

The F-35C carries over 5,000 pounds of weaponry in its internal weapons bays or a combined 18,000 pounds in external and internal slots. The US Navy intends to buy 273 F-35C models of carrier capability.

The F-35C has a range of about 1,200 nm and carries over 20,000 lbs of internal fuel. This allows pilots to fly further and stay in the desired battlespace for longer periods of time before refueling is required. Even when loaded with internal weaponry, the F-35C can achieve speeds of 1.6 Mach (1,200 mph). 

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The jet has a refueling probe mounted on the right side of the front fuselage. A single Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engine with 125kN of dry thrust powers the F-35C. The engine’s afterburner can provide 191.3kN of thrust. It has a digital engine control system with complete authority, a transmission, and a health and usage monitoring system.

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