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US Marine Corps achieves FOC for F-35C ahead of first carrier deployment in 2022

F-35C flown by VMFA-314 US Marine Corps
US Marine Corps photo

California-based Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 has reached a new milestone in the US Marine Corps history by achieving full operational capability (FOC) for the F-35C variant of the Joint Strike Fighter that can operate from aircraft carriers.

The milestone comes after the service declared initial operational capability in December 2020.

For VMFA 314, FOC followed the Safe-For-Flight Operations Certification in March 2020, which marked the end of the squadron’s oversight by the US Navy’s F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron, Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA)125, which was responsible for ensuring that the “Black Knights” received quality training during their temporary relocation to Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, from Sept. 2019 to Jan. 2020.

“VMFA-314 is the first F-35C squadron in the Marine Corps to declare FOC. They are now full up round and bring the incredible 5th generation capability to 3rd MAW. They will deploy as part of a Carrier Strike Group next year.” said Maj. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, 3rd MAW commanding general. “FOC for the Black knights is yet another step forward in achieving Force Design objectives. The Black Knights are ready- 3rd MAW is ready.”

FOC is significant in its confirmation that VMFA-314 is prepared and equipped to successfully deploy aboard United States Navy aircraft carriers, marking the first FOC declaration for Marine Corps. This inaugural event is met after VMFA-314 received their first F-35C on January 21, 2020 when their first jet arrived at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar from Naval Air Station Lemoore.

“Many hours were spent maintaining aircraft, launching and recovering aircraft in Miramar, at other military facilities, and aboard the ship to conduct the training required to meet these goals,” said Major Derek Heinz, VMFA-314 operations officer. “The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon.”

VMFA-314 is currently continuing its preparations towards future deployments by conducting tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), marking the first F-35C squadron to conduct TSTA in the Marine Corps. This training will consist of communication rehearsals, medical drills, flight operations, and shipboard drills conducted while underway, ensuring the squadron is prepared to deploy in support of maritime campaigns.