Pilots from Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 125 “Rough Raiders” and VFA-147 “Argonauts” were the first TOPGUN students to complete the course in the F-35C Lightning II. Maj. Derek Heinz from the Rough Raiders and Lt. William Goodwin, III from the Argonauts successfully completed the 13-week Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor (SFTI) course at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev. The SFTI course, otherwise known as TOPGUN, is an individual-level training course loaded with classroom lectures and labs, as well as simulated and live-fly events that are focused on the newest advanced tactical recommendations, and designed to create newly-minted tactics instructors who are ready to return and train the Fleet.
For the last few years, NAWDC and TOPGUN have been working to develop the skill-sets, curriculum, and experienced instructors required to execute a syllabus that fully integrates F-35C tactics, techniques, and procedures. While all F-35C tactics instructors have completed the TOPGUN course previously, this is the first time TOPGUN has graduated students who are currently flying the Lightning II, utilizing a syllabus that has been developed, from the ground up, specifically for F-35C integrated operations. This was accomplished by the gradual introduction of F-35C tactics into the training curriculum for previous classes. The result is a cadre of highly-trained instructors executing a fully-integrated F-35C syllabus, providing well-rounded “graduate-level” training for the fifth-generation fighter to take back to the Fleet.
This milestone is the latest feather in the cap for the U.S. Navy’s F-35C program. Since the stand-up of Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing in August 2018, the program has declared Safe-for-Flight Operations Certification (SFFOC) for both VFA-147 “Argonauts” and VMFA-314 “Black Knights.” In February 2019, the Navy and Marine Corps both declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the F-35C and VFA-125, the F-35C fleet replacement squadron (FRS), graduated its first newly-winged F-35C aviators. In May 2019, VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” was deactivated, consolidating most of its resources at NAS Lemoore. Additionally, both VFA-147 and VFA-125 continue to meet program requirements, pass inspections, and receive certifications while continuously participating in numerous detachments both ashore and at sea.
Commander, Joint Strike Fighter Wing (CJSFW), based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif. is home to U.S. the Navy’s F-35C fleet squadrons and the sole location for the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), VFA-125 that trains both Navy and Marine Corps carrier-based JSF pilots. The mission-ready F-35C is the latest addition to U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing. With its stealth technology, state-of-the-art avionics, advanced sensors, weapons capacity and range, the F-35C provides unprecedented air superiority, interdiction, suppression of enemy air defenses and close-air-support as well as advanced command and control functions through fused sensors. These state-of-the-art capabilities give pilots and combatant commanders unrivaled battlespace awareness and lethality.