Navy readies for 1st F-35 carrier landing

ABOARD THE USS NIMITZ — Before the Navy’s oldest active aircraft carrier docks for a 16-month maintenance period, it’s helping other ships get ready for deployment, and next month, will host the first landing of the F-35C on a carrier.

The Marine version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the short-takeoff, vertical-landing F-35B, has made successful landings aboard ships at sea. But the Navy’s version, the F-35C, which is designed to land on carriers, has not — in part because of problems with the tail hook.

The landing test will take place on the Nimitz after the conclusion of the current task group exercise, which began Monday off San Diego and includes U.S. guided missile cruisers and guided missile destroyers as well as four Canadian ships and a Yokosuka-based Japanese ship.

The Nimitz returned from a nearly 10-month deployment in December 2013 and is slated for dry dock starting in January. Still, the ship’s captain said the exercise is a good opportunity for veterans to pass on their knowledge to some of the newer sailors, and for the crew to practice skills now since their training cycle before their next deployment is likely to be compressed.

“We get a lot out of this,” said the Nimitz commander, Capt. John Ring.

Though U.S. forces frequently partner with Canadian and Japanese forces, it’s “pretty special” to be able to work with both at once, he said.

Ring said he is happy to be able to help the other ships train and get certified, because while simulation training is important, “Murphy gets a vote, too, and Murphy doesn’t often show his face until you’re doing it for real.”

Rear Adm. Joe Kuzmick, commander of Carrier Strike Group 15, said involving other countries and a carrier makes the training more robust and realistic — and everyone benefits.

“Just working together is very helpful,” he said.

Lt. Vince Pellerin, a Canadian liaison officer, said the exercise gives the Canadian ships an opportunity to practice a wide range of skills and to work with an aircraft carrier, which the Canadian Navy does not have. One of their ships also is getting ready to deploy, he said.

Lt. Cmdr. Kohei Sueki, a Japanese liaison officer, said the primary goal of the Japanese sailors is to improve their tactical skills. However, they also hope to enhance their ability to operate with U.S. and Canadian forces; the language barrier and linking communication systems make that communication difficult, he said, but it’s “a very good challenge.”

Sueki said he also welcomed the rare chance to sail to San Diego, noting that he had enjoyed “Taco Tuesday” and a hamburger Wednesday aboard the Nimitz.

“I like America,” he said.

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