THE PENTAGON—While the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy have been prepping their amphibious ships to accommodate the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the services also are preparing to meet the C5I challenges—and potential—associated with the aircraft.

As fifth-generation aircraft, the F-35s feature a vast array of sensors and related technology that will require and offer more than the AV-8B Harriers which the JSFs are replacing, according to Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh, Navy director of expeditionary warfare.

“What are the C5I [command, control, communications, computers, collaboration] requirements for the F-35B because they are not going to be how we operated the Harrier,” Walsh said April 9 during a media roundtable. “What is the requirement for the F-35 to be able to disseminate data across the battlefield? What pipes need to be there?”

The services also need to figure out the requirements for operating the aircraft with carriers and other ships in the fleet, he says.
It will be a learning process, says Rear Adm. Peter Fanta, Director of Surface Warfare. “We will not be able to bring that data completely aboard on that first deployment,” he said during the roundtable. “We will learn where the gaps are.”

“There will be disappointment,” he says, because there will be a desire to capture more of data and information.
Just getting the JSFs and big-deck amphibious ships ready for the first deployment in fiscal 2018 will be difficult enough, the admirals say. “It’s a real challenge,” Walsh says.

The LHD 1 USS Wasp, which is getting ready for F-35B testing in the coming month, has already been modified for JSF use, and the LHA 6 USS America will undergo similar work. The Navy has had to reinforce the flight deck and cover it with a new heat-resistant material to better withstand F-35B vertical takeoffs and landings.

“In the America, the very time-consuming piece, is going inside the ship and dropping lighting and ventilation and piping wiring and everything down far enough so you can install new material and weld it in place and then restore all that stuff,” Rear Adm. David Gale, program executive officer for ships, said during the roundtable.

Altogether, he says, there about a dozen JSF modifications needed for the ships, he says.

There are other operational concerns, Rear Adm. Cynthia Thebaud, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 2, said during the roundtable, such as battery storage and the other “aggregation the other support systems.”