Strike Fighter Squadron 147 wrapped up a fresh round of tests on Thursday aboard the USS Carl Vinson, netting the group a safe-for-flight operations certificate, Navy Times reports, noting that at the current testing pace the F-35Cs could make their first deployment on the Vinson by 2021.
Joint Strike Fighter Wing Commander Capt. Max McCoy said in a Wednesday statement from the Navy that the credential was "earned through the herculean effort of squadron sailors." The test was one of many requiring the aircraft and associated personnel to demonstrate proficiency, Navy Times noted.
The group of F-35Cs that passed the safe-to-fly test is dubbed the "Argonauts."
The new certification for the Argonauts marked a first for the Navy. Separately, the US Marines have been flying F-35B aircraft aboard the USS Wasp, Sputnik has reported. The F-35B and F-35C are both designed for carrier-based operations, though the F-35B can maneuver from shorter runways due to its short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) capability, first pioneered with Britain's Harrier "Jump" jet.
So far, the US has not made public any agreements to sell the F-35C, but the same is not true for the F-35B. Both the UK and Japan plan to procure STOVL-capable F-35Bs.
The F-35 program as a whole is notoriously behind schedule, however.
Lockheed Martin was named the prime contractor for the joint strike fighter on October 26, 2001.The Pentagon also announced Northrop Grumman would build the center-fuselage, while the aft-fuselage and tails would be produced by BAE Systems in England. Lockheed's plant in Fort Worth, Texas, builds the wings for the F-35 along with the forward fuselage. Northrop and BAE Systems have technically been "principal partners" on the F-35 alongside the prime contractor.
As Sputnik has previously reported, one of the many reasons for the delays in the F-35 program has been inefficient handling of the army of subcontractors underneath Lockheed, BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman. Supply chain issues with Pratt & Whitney's engine, for instance, were cited as one of the reasons US acquisition costs ballooned from $379 billion to $406 billion for the F-35 program in last year's Select Acquisition Report.
Cost estimates for acquiring the US F-35 fleet and then actually flying and maintaining it show that the Pentagon may spend some $1.5 trillion on the F-35 program.
The "Initial Operational Test and Evaluation" phase for the F-35 program as a whole started only a week ago, "a milestone more than 18 years in the making," according to Vice Adm. Mat Winter.