U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs Returned From Combat Strikes in Afghanistan With Interesting Bomb Markings

The bomb markings that have been applied to F-35B 169415/CF-00. (All images: The Aviationist/Tom Demerly).

The VMFA-211 Lightning II aircraft that took part in last year’s air strikes sport new bomb markings on the front landing gear door .

On September 27, 2018, an undisclosed number of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant aircraft belonging to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211), assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, launched the first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The long-range strikes that struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, were launched from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf.

At least two aircraft, modex CF-00 and CF-01 made a stopover in Kandahar Air Field after the air strike before returning to the aircraft carrier.

The two F-35B taxiing at KAF the day after the type’s first ever air strike in Afghanistan. There’s a blimp (most probably a Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System – JLENS) in the background.
Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B taxi to the runway at KAF the morning after conducting the first air strike in Afghanistan.

Exclusive photographs we obtained and published after the air strike showed that both aircraft carried the external gun pod (along with the Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors) while other images, released by the DoD, of the F-35B being prepared for the first air strike showed at least a GBU-32 1000-lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) under the weapon bay.

U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS – U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), stage ordnance before loading it into an F-35B Lightning II aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) in preparation for the F-35B’s first combat strike, Sept. 27, 2018. The Essex is the flagship for the Essex Amphibious Ready Group and, with the embarked 13th MEU, is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and the Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. A. J. Van Fredenberg/Released)

Photos later released by the U.S. Marine Corps showed that aircraft with modex CF-00 (BuNo 169415) had the name of Lt. Col. Chris “Otis” Raible stenciled in-flight refueling probe door to honor the memory of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible the commander of VMFA-211 killed in an infamous attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in September 2012.

One of the USMC F-35Bs from the USS Essex, the example 169415/CF-00, carried the name of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012, during the raid in September 2018 (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Interestingly, after returning to MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, from their combat tour in the Middle East, some F-35Bs, including the famous example 169415/CF-00, of the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) “Wake Island Avengers”, also known today as the “Bastion Defenders”, were spotted sporting new bomb markings.

Although we don’t have any detail about the air strikes the aircraft conducted after Sept. 27, 2018 (nor their actual loadout), the new markings show that the Marines Lightnings have seen more combat during their deployment.

The bomb markings have been applied to the aircraft’s front landing gear door and seem to show two different types of PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): the GBU-12 500-lb LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) on the top row, and GBU-32 JDAMs (bottom row).

The new markings were pretty evident on F-35Bs that took part in the MCAS Miramar air show.

Our own Tom Demerly was there and took some interesting shots showing the new bomb markings sported by the F-35Bs.

VMFA-211 F-35B 169415/CF-00 during its display at MCAS Miramar. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Tom Demerly)

The new markings have most probably been applied to all the examples involved in the air strikes. Photos of the F-35B CF-04 have already emerged:

If you have any shot showing other F-35Bs with bomb markings, let us know.

A close up view of the nose section of F-35B 169415/CF-00. (Image credit: The Aviationist/Tom Demerly).

Update: one of our readers pointed out the presence of a targeting reticle above the GBU-12 silhouettes that marks the GAU-22 25mm gun pod usage.

Barely visible, a target reticle above the GBU-12 silhouettes marks the use of the GAU-22 25mm gun pod.

Anyway, as often explained here at The Aviationist, bomb and kill markings are a very well-known tradition in military aviation. They are pretty rare on stealth aircraft (we published an interesting image of an F-22 sporting low-viz bomb markings back in 2016), while A-10 Thunderbolt II usually sport hundreds of them. For instance, take a look at the wide array of munitions expended during they tour in support of Operation Inherent Resolve by the Warthog of the 124th Fighter Wing (Idaho ANG), from Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho, shown in this part article.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.