Four Navy F-35C Lightening II fighters arrived at Naval Air Station LeMoore, California on Jan. 25 in what naval aviation officials are calling a huge step in the evolution of Lemoore as the Navy's first Joint Strike Fighter Base.
It's a major step in the Navy's journey to get the Joint Strike Fighter into carrier air wings, currently slated to happen in February 2019.
This is the first delivery of the aircraft carrier variant JSF stealth fighter not only to the base, but to the "Rough Raiders" of Strike Fighter Squadron 125. The squadron was reactivated at Lemoore on Jan. 12 to be the West Coast JSF fleet replacement squadron.
"The jets behind me represent the incredible new fifth generation capability for our future air wings, with its stealth qualities it can penetrate threat envelopes, its integrated sensor packages collect and fuse information, providing a common operational picture for the carrier strike group and joint force commanders," Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces told the assembled crowd at Lemoore.
LEMOORE, Calif. (Jan. 25, 2017) Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, speaking at the arrival of the first four JSF F-35C fighters at NAS Lemoore called the JSF "game-changing technology for naval carrier air wings.
Photo Credit: MC3 Zachary Eshleman/Navy
"This is truly game changing technology and, no kidding, what it takes to win the future high end fight," Shoemaker said.
But the aircraft's advent into active military use has been a rough one due to rising costs and delays in development and production.
Still, naval aviation officials say the airframe is a critical cog in the Navy's air wing of the future. The Navy is transitioning to include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters and their sister aircraft, the EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft.
The high-tech wing is rounded out by the Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye multi-mission surveillance aircraft and Sikorsky MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters and then next generation of the Carrier Onboard Delivery aircraft, now expected to be a variant of the Boeing V-22 Osprey.
"The initial plan is for VFA-125 and the first 7 operational F-35C squadrons to be based out of NAS Lemoore," said Cmdr. Jeannie Groeneveld, spokeswoman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.
The original plan had the Navy's first JSF unit — the "Grim Reapers" of Strike Fighter Squadron 101, currently based at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, to move to Lemoore this month.
Instead, the Navy opted to stand up VFA-125 at Lemoore as a separate West Coast squadron instead. Groeneveld told Navy Times that no decision has been made on any future JSF home bases, including on the East Coast.
For now, VFA-101 will stay in Eglin and also train pilots and enlisted maintainers as the service begins to transition squadrons into the new stealth jet.
"There is no plan in the foreseeable future for VFA-101 to be stood down," Groeneveld said. "The requirement is for two FRS while we are transitioning squadrons. Both will be capable of instructing the same syllabus to include new accession pilots and transitioning aircrew."
Navy's leadership considers Lemoore an ideal place to train pilots and aircrews. There's easy access to training ranges in Nevada and it's a short hop out to carriers operating off the West Coast from San Diego as well as Washington State.
"We enjoy basically unencroached airspace in Lemoore to practice here as we do at sea," said Capt. David James, commanding officer of NAS Lemoore.
Lemoore, is expected to add more personnel and F-35C squadrons over the coming years. In the past year, the service relocated the "Knighthawks" of Strike Fighter Squadron 136 from Naval Air Station, Oceana in Virginia to the base.
Two F-35C Lightning II stealth fighters set up for the catapult launchers as part of the aircraft's first sea trials aboard the aircraft carrier Nimitz.
Photo Credit: Dane Wiedmann, Navy