Why the F-35s are getting a mirror coating

This week, an F-35C operating from the USS Abraham Lincoln was spotted off the coast of California, sporting these enigmatic coverings. Photographs released by the Department of Defense captured the F-35C in a touch-and-go maneuver over the deck of the aircraft carrier, revealing fascinating details about its exterior finish.

Distinctive features of the F-35C skin

Why the F-35s are getting a mirror coating

The F-35C in question featured a multi-tone mirror coating applied to its vertical tails’ exterior and interior. This layer was composed of a mix of dark and bright panels, forming a pattern of sheets and tiles. This design is known for its ability to drastically change its appearance depending on the angle from which it is viewed, alternating between opaque, transparent, shiny and dark. Even the jet’s upper wings featured strips of approximately three different coatings, similar to those seen on other stealth aircraft.

What intrigues the sighting is the unit to which this F-35C belongs: the squadron VFA-125 “Rough Raiders.” Based at NAS Lemoore, this group specializes in training Navy and Marine crews in the operation of the F-35C, the naval version of the Joint Strike Fighter. Since it is not a test or combat squadron, its equipment with this technology is enigmatic.

Potential test missions of the coated F-35C

Why the F-35s are getting a mirror coating

One theory is that the F-35C of the VFA-125 could be involved in a larger testing mission for these coatings. Since the squadron is stationed near major Navy aviation test and evaluation facilities, such as NAWS China Lake, its participation would make sense. Observing how these coatings hold up under real operating conditions could be a key objective of these tests.

Another possibility is that VFA-125 is providing aircraft for more extensive experiments, requiring multiple jets with various skin configurations. Its location and mission could make the squadron ideal for “loaning” aircraft for these tests without affecting its critical role in training.

First steps towards implementation in the fleet?

There is also the possibility that we are seeing the first signs of the integration of these coatings into the operational fleet, although in a limited way. However, the fact that a training squadron like VFA-125 is the first to receive it, especially with an aircraft carrying all three types of coating, suggests that comparative tests are being carried out.

Interestingly, other aircraft present on the USS Abraham Lincoln were from similar training squadrons, such as the VFA-122 “Flying Eagles” and the VAQ-129 “Vikings.” This suggests that these units could be using the aircraft carrier for qualification exercises.

The mystery and future of tactical coatings

Although this development poses a mystery, it is clear that the US Navy remains interested in exploring the capabilities of these coatings. If these advance beyond the scope of testing, more information about their functionality and application will surely be revealed. For now, these images are a testament to the constant evolution and adaptation in air warfare tactics.