The US Navy (USN) has stood up its West Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) for the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), with the announcement on 26 January that the first aircraft from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA)-125 'Rough Raiders' had arrived at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore in California.
The unit joins VFA-101'Grim Reapers' on the East Coast at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB) in Florida in training up USN F-35C pilots and maintainers before they deploy onto their operational squadrons. The first operational Fleet unit will be VFA-147 'Argonauts', which will transition from the Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet in January 2018.
According to the USN, NAS Lemoore will have 10 aircraft by the end of the year, and more than 100 by the early 2020s. The service has a programme of record for 260 F-35Cs, and besides NAS Lemoore and Eglin AFB currently flies the type out of NAS Patuxent River in Maryland.
The service is anticipating the Block 3F (full combat) software release in the second half of 2017, with the next phase of operational testing to begin on USS Abraham Lincoln at the beginning of 2018. Initial operating capability is expected between August 2018 and February 2019, with the first deployment scheduled for USS Carl Vinson in 2020/21. Once fully stood up, each aircraft carrier will be equipped with two F-35C squadrons to complement the two F/A-18E/F combat aircraft and one EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft units that will also sail.
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