It is less likely that the carrier variants of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will be ready for battle this year, as planned, but their first deployment is expected in 2021 , 19659003] As a June 2013 June 2013 Congress report shows, the Pentagon has been targeting the initial operating capability (IOC) for the F-35C for years, from August 2018 to February 2019 – the version intended to land and launch from aircraft carriers.  This timeline was first mentioned in September 2017 when the Navy published a publication describing F-35Cs as take-off and landing aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72). According to the Navy message, "the F-35C, according to the F-35 Lightning II Pax River integrated test force, will reach its original operational capability in 2018."
Now, signs indicate that the date 2018 could slip to the right due to the F-35 program being able to test the updated 3F software package in a formal Initial Operations Test and Evaluation (IOT & E). This is an F-35 Enterprise test event, not just a review of the Navy F-35, Rear Adm. Dale Horan told USNI News. Horan is the director of the Navy's Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration. Block 3F provides 100 percent of the software needed for full warfare, including data link images, full weapons, and embedded training, according to F-35 contractor Lockheed Martin.
"The entire PHOTO company IOT & E launches in September, so it's not the Navy F-35C holding IOC, but we're tied to IOT & E and need to see the demonstration and capabilities really see the 3F capability demonstrated in IOT & E, and it just will not be enough time to see enough of it by February 2019, "Horan said.
"It's DoD's opportunity to test their new aircraft." 19659004] Similarly, the 2013 report to Congress noted that the timeline is more event-driven than calendar-driven, leaving room for the IOC's 2018-2019 period
The upcoming IOT & E round of software testing is designed to show the military how well the 3F package works in mission situations and is an integral part of the explanation of the F-35C battle, Rear Adm wrote. Scott Conn in a statement submitted to the Sub-Committee on Tactical Air and Land Forces of House Armed Services on March 7.
"After eleven years and more than 16,000 flight hours, the entire block of 3F SDD (System Development and Demonstration) evolved. The Relief Testing Phase is fast approaching its end," Conn wrote.
"We estimate the completion for March / April 2018. The program can now go into IOT & E (first bump test and evaluation) .IOT & E is of vital importance to the Navy as we demonstrate the successful demonstration of 3F- Capabilities in IOT & E have been linked to our IOC declaration for the F-35C Our IOC criteria indicates that the aircraft will be in a 3F configuration with the ability to perform assigned mission missions, using an SDD program of record weapons IOC is powerful and event-driven, non-calendar-driven The Navy is aware that the threshold and target dates, August 2018 and February 2019, are at risk due to a delay in the IOT & E plan Once the full 3F capability has been demonstrated in IOT & E and all other IOC criteria are met, the Navy will explain that the F-35C's initial operation ability has reached. "
IOT & E will start after the long-predicted IOC, but Horan said there is a possibility that the Navy can pretty quickly see what it needs, and still agree to the F-35C combat within the expected window.
"I'm just saying that these data are vulnerable and based on capabilities and events. We need to see that," Horan said.
Interestingly enough, although it is not said that a delayed IOC is safe, both Navy Lockheed Martin's annual report provided investors with an F-35 update. "The program continues in the direction of the US Navy, which the F -35C carrier variant ready for battle in 2018, as demonstrated by final carrier tests aboard the USS George Washington in 2016, "reads the report 19659004] One year in advance, and the current one Lockheed Martin's annual report, released on February 6, does not mention when the F-35C will be ready to fight. The company's update to the investors simply states, "We continue to progress toward the US Navy, which declares the F-35C Carrier variant ready for battle."
Since then, the Navy's mention of the F-35C IOC seems to have disappeared. When pilots completed F-35C day and night qualifications aboard Abraham Lincoln last week, no IOC of 2018 was mentioned. A Navy release described this important milestone as "in anticipation of the F-35C operational tests later this year," without specifically mentioning an IOC date.
The Navy plans to release its carrier wings F-35Cs, F / A-18E / F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler's Electronic Assault Aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye Combat Management and Control Aircraft, and MH-60R / S by 2025 Helicopter. The first F-35C squadron unfolding in 2021 aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CV-70). Horan, who speaks to USNI News, emphasized this and said that a delayed IOC will not delay the use of 2021.
I see no significant obstacles to the first deployment, "said Horan.
" We have a lot to do. Getting a new plane into the fleet will always be a complex problem.