Flightglobal has a nice little piece, linked below, describing the modifications that will have to be made to America’s nuclear powered aircraft carriers so that they can support the F-35C. Interestingly enough, the ship will not have facilities for low observable (stealth) repairs beyond superficial procedures that will be accomplished on the flight-line. If there is a serious issue with the aircraft’s stealth coating it will have to be flown back to the manufacturer. Although the F-35 uses some innovative low observable treatments as compared with the generations of stealthy aircraft that came before it, including the F-22, it will be interesting to see how such a limited shipboard repair capability will pan out, especially considering how harsh the carrier’s flight operations environment is.
There are other interesting facts highlighted in this piece as well, including the issue of dealing with gobs of classified information associated with the F-35. One would expect that even training in the F-35, and utilizing its unique capabilities, would be classified in nature, so the JSF program is trying to deal with this on the ship by installing secure briefing rooms. What is not discussed in the article is the almost certain requirement for deciphering loads of classified intelligence collected by the aircraft during missions, both actively and passively. The advanced electronic service measures (ESM), electronic warfare suite, AESA radar and electro-optical system on the F-35 will allow it to act almost as a mini RC-135 Rivetjoint, E-8 JSTARS and RQ-170 Sentinel. This information has to be exploited somehow, and it is not clear how much more intelligence analyst staffing and related facilities carriers will be needed in order to process gobs of the F-35′s varied types of intelligence.