WASHINGTON, April 5 (UPI) -- For the first time, a Navy variant of the next-generation F-35 Lighting II fighter jet successfully dropped a 1,000-pound guided bomb during weapon qualification drills in Maryland.
The launch of the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon from the Navy's F-35C took place on at the sea service's Atlantic Test Ranges near the Naval Air Systems Command headquarters in Patuxent River, Md., according to a statement by program spokesman Joe DellaVedova.
"The test aircraft, CF-05, cleanly released the 1,000-pound air-to-surface guided glide bomb from an internal weapons bay" U.S. Navy Cmdr. Ted "Dutch" Dyckman, the F-35 Lightning II test pilot who flew the mission, said according to the statement.
Use of an internal weapons bay allows the F-35 to maintain its radar-evading stealth capabilities while carrying a variety of air-to-surface weapons. With the successful launch on March 23, the JSOW is now part of the fighter's formidable arsenal.
A medium range all-weather standoff weapon that allows precise strikes on enemy targets at standoff ranges, the JSOW-enabled F-35 "delivers a decisive advantage over potential adversaries," according to a separate statement by the F-35 Joint Program Office.
Navy and program officials plan to conduct further weapons testing with the JSOW aboard the F-35 in the coming months, DellaVedova said. "Working on the multi-phase testing of the F-35 Block 3F capabilities, are U.S. government, military and contractor personnel, and industry partners from Raytheon Systems Ltd," he added.
All variants of the Navy's F/A-18 fleet, as well as the Air Force's fighter and bomber fleet are all qualified to carry and deploy the JSOW during combat operations.
The F-35C Lighting II is designed to replace the Navy's carrier-based attack aircraft, while the F-35A is expected to make up the bulk of the Air Force's fixed-wing fighter fleet. The F-35B, with its short takeoff and landing capability, will replace the Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier jump jets.