Category Archives: F-35

VMFA-122 Conducted First Flight With The F-35B Lightning II At Marine Corps Air Station Yuma

First flight with the JSF marked the end of the first phase in the transition from a legacy F/A-18C Hornet squadron to an F-35B squadron.

On Mar. 29, 2018, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 122, “The Flying Leathernecks,” launched their first sorties in the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II stealth jet, at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

“This was a critical moment for us because it got the ball rolling for us to have a fully operational squadron,” said Lt. Col. John P. Price, the commanding officer of VMFA-122 and one of the pilots who took part in the first mission, in a public release.

VMFA-122 was originally based at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina and moved to MCAS Yuma to stand up JSF operations in October 2017.

The Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), Lt. Col. John P. Price, conducts VMFA-122’s first flight operations in an F-35B Lightning II on Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., March 29, 2018. VMFA-122 is conducting the flight operations for the first time as an F-35 squadron. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Allison Lotz)

“It highlights the flexibility and agility that we have inside the Marine Corps to accomplish the mission,” said Price. “We have a lot of great Marines and Sailors here from Yuma and all over the Marine Corps. It’s truly impressive how quickly it was put together.”

“Starting over, all of our programs have to be rebuilt and reestablished here on MCAS Yuma with a whole new group of people,” said Maj. John Dirk, the executive officer of VMFA-122. “This is the culmination of that first part and going forward we get to maintain and improve them so we can make the squadron have full combat capability.”

The commencement of flight operations marked the successful transition of yet another Marine Corps squadron and another key step in the long-term plan to replace the legacy F/A-18 Hornet, EA-6B Prowler, and AV-8B Harrier fleets with a total of 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs by 2032.

The Commanding Officer of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), Lt. Col. John P. Price, conducts a pre-flight check of aircraft in preperation of VMFA-122’s first flight operations in an F-35B Lightning II on Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Ariz., March 29, 2018. VMFA-122 is conducting the flight operations for the first time as an F-35 squadron. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Allison Lotz)

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Corps is increasing its operational experience with the new aircraft.

Last year, on Jan. 9, 2017, VMFA-121 “Green Knights”, an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, moved from Yuma to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, a reloacation that put the F-35B not far from the Korean Peninsula, where the JSF has taken part in local drills as well as some routine “shows of force”: for instance, on Aug. 30, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers from Guam onf a 10-hour mission that brought the “package” over waters near Kyushu, Japan, then across the Korean Peninsula. Interestingly, during that mission, the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors used to make LO (Low Observable) aircraft clearly visible on radars and also dropped their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on Pilsung firing range. On a subsequent mission on Sept. 18, the aircraft took part in a “sequenced bilateral show of force” over the Korean peninsula carrying “live” AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles in the internal weapons bays. More recently, on Mar. 5, 2018, a detachment of F-35B belonging to VMFA-121 deplyed aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1) in the Indo-Pacific. The F-35B, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, conducted a series of qualification flights on Wasp over a multi-day period following those the F-35Bs and 2,300 Marines that make up the 31st MEU will deploy aboard ships of the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group  for follow-on operations in the Indo-Pacific region as part of a routine patrol to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept, a U.S. Pacific-fleet initiated concept that aims to provide lethality and survivability to a traditional three-ship amphibious ready group by integrating multi-mission surface combatants and F-35B into amphibious operations.

 

Here’s Why The Claim That Two Israeli F-35 Stealth Jets Entered Iranian Airspace Does Not Make Any Sense

Two Israeli Air Force (IAF) F-35 stealth fighters flew over Syrian and Iraqi airspace to reach Iran, report says. Most probably, just fake news or PSYOPS.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an article, that is slowly spreading through the social media, about an alleged IAF F-35 mission into the Iranian airspace originally reported by the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida newspaper. According to an “informed source” who talked to Al-Jarida, earlier this month, two Aidr stealth jets flew undetected over Syria and Iraq and snuck into the Iranian airspace, flying reconnaissance missions over the Iranian cities Bandar Abbas, Esfahan and Shiraz.

Here’s an excerpt (highlight mine):

“The report states that the two fighter jets, among the most advanced in the world, circled at high altitude above Persian Gulf sites suspected of being associated with the Iranian nuclear program. It also states that the two jets went undetected by radar, including by the Russian radar system located in Syria. The source refused to confirm if the operation was undertaken in coordination with the US army, which has recently conducted joint exercises with the IDF.

The source added that the seven F-35 fighters in active service in the IAF have conducted a number of missions in Syria and on the Lebanese-Syrian border. He underlined that the fighter jets can travel from Israel to Iran twice without refueling.

There are many weird things.

First of all the source. Al-Jarida is often used to deliver Israeli propaganda/PSYOPS messages, according to several sources. For instance, here’s how Haaretz commented a previous scoop of the Kuwaiti outlet (again, highlight mine):

“Al-Jarida, which in recent years had broken exclusive stories from Israel, quoted a source in Jerusalem as saying that “there is an American-Israeli agreement” that Soleimani is a “threat to the two countries’ interests in the region.” It is generally assumed in the Arab world that the paper is used as an Israeli platform for conveying messages to other countries in the Middle East.

Then, the Israeli Air Force operates more than seven F-35s (at least 9) and their range (about 2,000 km) does not allow the aircraft in stealth mode (i.e. without external fuel tanks) to fly to Iran, twice, without stopover or aerial refueling.

And, above all, although the involvement of the F-35 in real missions has been considered “imminent” by some analysts since the Israeli Air Force declared its first F-35 “Adir” operational on Dec. 6, 2017, it’s highly unlikely such a mission, if real, would be leaked.

Although the IAF has a long history of pioneering new aircraft and use new weapons systems in real combat pretty soon, this has usually happened for quite complex and daring missions with a real stategic value. In this case, flying a couple of its few new F-35s for a “simple” reconnaissance mission over Iran would not be worth the risk. And what would be the purpose of carrying out this mission and leaking the news? A “show of force” for deterrence? Or to demostrate the world (and the regional opponents) the IAF’s ability to freely operate inside the Syrian and Iranian airspaces, especially after suffering the loss of an F-16I earlier this year?

Indeed, on Feb. 10, 2018, Israeli F-16 fighter jets entered Syrian airspace, striking 12 Iranian targets in Syria in response to an Iranian drone that was shot down over Israel by an AH-64 Apache helicopter. One F-16I Sufa crashed during the air strikes, after being targeted by the Syrian Air Defenses. Many sources suggested that the first loss of an IAF jet to the enemy fire since the First Lebanon War could accelerate the commitment of the stealthy F-35Is for the subsequent missions. This is true, even though rushing a new and somehow immature aircraft into combat has some inherent risks.

In his story about the F-35I IOC (Initial Operational Capability) at The War Zone, journalist Joseph Trevithik wrote:

With limited numbers of the jets on hand, the IAF will have to decide whether or not to make a statement or make sure the aircraft it does have are in reserve for contingencies that absolutely require their advanced capabilities, such as quelling a more imminent threat against Israel itself or attacking targets over-long range that are defended by an advanced integrated air defense assets.

I completely agree.

This is what I wrote here at The Aviationist about the F-35 Adir’s possible involvement in the air strikes on Syria, you can expand it to consider the even more dangerous scenario in Iran:

“[…] the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern: the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

For these reasons, in the same way the U.S. spyplanes do with all the Russian Su-35S, Su-30SM, S-400 in Syria, it’s safe to assume Russian advanced anti-aircraft systems are “targeting” the Israeli F-35s and its valuable emissions, forcing the IAF to adapt its procedures and leverage the presence of other aircraft to “hide” the “Adir” when and where it could theoretically be detected. “This has created a situation in which the IAF is adapting itself to the F-35 instead of adapting the jet to the air force. The goal, they say at the IAF, is to use the F-35 to upgrade the fourth generation jets that will fly around the F-35,” commented Al-Monitor’s Ben Caspit.

Meanwhile the Israeli F-35s will probably see some action, validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft, fine tuning the ELINT capabilities of the “Adir” to detect, geolocate and classify enemy‘s new/upgraded systems, as well as testing the weapons system (and the various Israeli “customizations”) during real operations as part of “packages” that will likely include other special mission aircraft and EW (Electronic Warfare) support.

But only if really needed: the Israeli Air Force “legacy” aircraft have often shown their ability to operate freely in the Syrian airspace, using stand-off weaponry, without needing most of the fancy 5th generation features; therefore, it’s safe to assume the Israelis will commit their new aircraft if required by unique operational needs, as already happened in the past (in 1981, the first Israeli F-16s took part in Operation Opera, one of the most famous operations in Israeli Air Force history, one year after the first “Netz” aircraft was delivered and before all the F-16As were taken on charge by the IAF).”

There have been a series ofunconfirmed rumors that the F-35Is have been used to attack Syrian targets, but there is no confirmation that the jets have flown any combat missions yet. The mission over Iran seems to be just one of these: a bogus claim most probably spread on purpose as part of some sort of PSYOPS aimed at threatening Israel’s enemies.

Obviously, this does not change the fact that the more they operate and test their new F-35 stealth aircraft, the higher the possibilities the IAF will use the Adirs for the real thing when needed. But this does not seem the case. At least not in Iran and not now.

Anyway, we will continue to monitor the situation and will update this post accordingly.

Here’s South Korea’s First F-35A Lightning II Stealth Aircraft During Its Maiden Flight

The first F-35 destined to the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) has successfully completed its first flight.

On Mar. 19, 2018, the first F-35A destined to the ROKAF performed its maiden flight at Lockheed Martin Ft. Worth facility, Texas. Piloted by LM F-35 Chief Test Pilot and Test Flight Director Alan Norman, the aircraft flew as “Lightning 41”, taking off at 14.48LT and landing at 16.40LT. The photo in this post was taken by Highbrass Photography’s Clinton White during South Korea’s F-35’s first sortie (designated C01).

Known as AW-1, the aircraft is the first South Korean 5th generation combat aircraft out of 40 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) variant jets that the ROKAF with all aircraft slated for delivery by 2021.

The Republic of Korea concluded its F-X III fighter acquisition program with the signing of a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. and Korean governments on Sept. 30, 2014. In December 2017, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration established a process for procuring the 20 additional aircraft, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple government sources.

Make sure to visit Clinton White’s Flickr photostream for more cool shots (including many F-35s)!

H/T to Emiliano Guerra for the heads up.

 

The Italian F-35A Stealth Jets Declared Operational In The Air-To-Air Role

The Italian Air Force F-35A Lightning II have successfully achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in the air-to-air role.

The first Italian F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), based at Amendola air base, in southeastern Italy, have achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability), the Italian Air Force has announced.

Since Mar. 1, 2018, the first five stealth aircraft assigned to the Aeronautica Militare have been supporting the SSSA (Servizio Sorveglianza Spazio Aereo – Air Space Surveillance Service) with a Standard Conventional Load (SCL) that includes the AIM-120C5 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile) missile. This means that, if needed, the 5th generation aircraft can undertake regular QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) shifts or be diverted from a different mission to intercept and identify unknown aircraft.

An armed F-35 sits inside the shelter at Amendola Air Base. AIM-120s are housed inside the weapon bays (hence not visible). Image credit: ItAF.

Whilts the F-35 is a multirole aircraft (hence an air-to-air capability should not be too surprising) all the Italian Air Force combat planes (including Tornado and AMX fighter bombers as well as the T-346 advanced jet trainers) are required to be fully capable in the air-to-air role to support Italy’s Air Defense.

Scramble in progress!

The IOC in the air-to-air role comes after a long period of training that has seen the F-35s perform T-Scrambles (Training Scrambles) as well as joint drills with Typhoons, G550 CAEW (Conformal Airborne Early Warning) and T-346 jets. Last year, the Italian Lightnings took part in their first national large scale drills during Vega 2017 multinational joint exercise.

ItAF F-35 about to taxi from the shelter.

In December 2016, the Italian Air Force became the very first service to take delivery of the 5th generation stealth jet outside of the U.S. The IOC in the air-to-ground role of the Italian JSF has not been declared yet.

 

Norway Has Completed A Successful Verification Of The F-35 Drag Chute System, Unique To The Norwegian Aircraft.

The chute, housed under a small fairing on the upper rear fuselage between the vertical tails, is unique to the Norwegian aircraft.

On Feb. 16, the Royal Norwegian Air Force completed a successful verification of the F-35A drag chute system at Ørland Air Force Base.

The system, housed under a small fairing on the upper rear fuselage between the vertical tails, can be used to rapidly decelerate Norwegian F-35s after landing on the country’s icy runways under windy conditions.

Although the chute is unique to the Norwegian aircraft, other nations flying the F-35A may adopt it, if needed.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force is completing another round of cold-weather testing of the F-35A at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.

The RoNAF F-35 during the drag chute test (credit: RoNAF)

“Receiving the first three aircraft in November 2017 was a major milestone for Norway. The program delivers on all key criteria: Time, cost and performance. Through the verification of the production version of the drag chute on our production model of the F-35, the weapons system is expected to fully qualify for arctic conditions this spring,” says Major General Morten Klever, Program Director for the F-35 program in Norway’s Ministry of Defence.

The first three RoNAF F-35s have landed in Norway in November 2017. According to the Norwegian MoD, from 2018, Norway will receive six aircraft annually up until, and including, 2024.

Norway plans to procure up to 52 F-35A to replace its fleet of ageing F-16s, that will be replaced in 2021. The first two aircraft were delivered in 2015 followed by another two in 2016 and three more ones earlier in 2017, but these aircraft were based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where they are used for Norwegian and partner country pilot training.

Top image credit: Royal Norwegian Air Force