By Aaron Udland, January 2, 2020
Congress is ordering the Navy to make its newest carriers, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), compatible with launching the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, likely to add numerous new jobs in shipyards assigned to retrofit the ships as well as additional labor.
The U.S. Navy had already established that the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) would be the first full-sized carrier to receive the deck reinforcements and additional upgrades required to support the F-35. The fighter and the Ford-class carriers had both been in development for decades. As requirements for each program shifted, the carriers started construction without the capability to launch with them.
Jobs Converting the Vinson and Marine ‘Lightning Carrier’ Ships
Congress has been seeking several ways to address the issue, considering that the F-35 is constructed in all 50 states and is of significant interest nationwide. The conversion of the flight decks of the Vinson would allow for a full complement of F-35 fighters to be deployed from the ship’s home base in Washington State.
In fact, Ameri-Force employees have been working on the retrofits for several months now. Along with the renovations enabling the Carl Vinson to accommodate the F-35C Lightning II fighters, the ship is also receiving updates to the equipment, hull, and systems until the middle of 2020. The $35 million contract is expected to allow the Vinson to continue to serve until CVN-81, another planned Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, enters service sometime in the 2030s.
However, as new F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters are constructed, other branches of the military are also seeking access to their capabilities. In October, the Marine Corps launched tests of its “lightning carrier” concept, where amphibious landing vehicles capable of launching V-22 Ospreys were instead converted to carrying the fighters.
While only capable of carrying 13 F-35Bs and having to eliminate the well deck, the USS America (LHA-8) was able to provide significant advantages over existing complements of tilt-rotor aircraft and helicopter, according to an USNI News report.
The Secretary of the Navy followed the test with information indicating that the drive to find homes for the F-35B would only increase.
Advances in the John F. Kennedy Likely to Expand with F-35B Capabilities
The seriousness of the push to have the John F. Kennedy deploy with a full complement of F-35C fighters before the middle of the decade was made clear in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), released in early December. Analysts at Breaking Defense argue that the new requirement would require tens of millions of dollars in new work. Opportunities for shipyard employees would chiefly come from adding:
- Updated avionics and computing hardware to process data generated by the F-35s
- Spaces suitable for classification of operational data
- Uprated jet blast deflectors on the flight deck to handle the heavy engines
- Space for V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to ferry the fighters from shore to the aircraft
The carrier had already launched months ahead of schedule, with the dry docks flooding in October in Virginia. It features the latest in electronic warfare systems including the AN/SPY-3 Dual Band Radar System and a variety of self-defense systems.
Aaron Udland has served as the Regional Operations Manager for Ameri-Force since 2017. With over 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, Aaron brings an expertise to the role few others can. A graduate of American Military University, Aaron holds multiple certifications from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.