The “Black Knights” of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314 have become the first F-35C squadron of the United States Marine Corps to declare full operational capability, with the 1 July announcement officially marking the squadron as ready for operations from US Navy aircraft carriers.
Maj. Gen. Christopher Mahoney, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general, said of the full operational capability declaration:
“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.
FOC for the Black Knights is yet another step forward in achieving Force Design objectives. The Black Knights are ready- 3rd MAW is ready.”
VMFA-314 received its first F-35C on 21 January 2020, with the aircraft arriving at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar from Naval Air Station Lemoore. Following the FOC declaration, VMFA-314 is continuing to prepare for future deployments with tailored ship’s training availability (TSTA), the first Marine F-35C squadron to do so.
“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.”
Also released alongside the FOC announcement was a set of photographs of the squadron’s F-35Cs conducting an expeditionary landing demonstration with M-31 arresting gear Interim Flight Clearance (IFC). The Marine Corps says that the exercise, which was conducted in December 2020 on Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California, demonstrated a new capability for F-35Cs to operate from smaller runways “anywhere in the world”, ensuring extended flexibility in combat operations.
On the same day, Lockheed Martin announced that the global F-35 fleet has now flown over 400,000 flight hours in total. Despite continued political fights over aircraft sustainment, VMFA-314’s FOC declaration and the recent Swiss selection of the F-35A suggest that the company’s statement that the “program has hit its stride” is far from an empty one.