Category Archives: F-35

These Shots Show 388th FW’s F-35A Using the Internal Cannon For The First Time In Operational Training

The internal 25mm cannon fires up to 50 rounds per second.

On Aug. 13, pilots from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron fired the F-35A’s 25 mm internal cannon in a strafing run on two sets of ground targets on the Utah Test and Training range. It was the first use of the F-35A’s GAU-22/A in operational training.

The shots that the U.S. Air Force has released after the training event are particularly interesting, as they show the internal gun at work:  the GAU-22 gun is hidden behind closed doors to reduce the plane’s RCS (radar cross section) and keep it stealth, until the trigger is engaged.

The F-35’s GAU-22/A is based on the proven GAU-12/A 25mm cannon, used by the AV-8B Harrier, the LAV-AD amphibious vehicle and AC-130U Gunship, but has one less barrel than its predecessor. This means it’s lighter and can fit into the F-35A’s left shoulder above the air intake. The gun can fire at about 3,300 rounds per minute: considered the A model can hold 181 rounds only, this equals to a continuous 4 seconds burst or, more realistic, multiple short ones.

One of the two 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron F-35s involved in the strafing runs with the GAU-22.

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics in the past years:  not only did some criticise the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 25mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds, but also the accuracy has been disputed because of “a long and to-the-right aiming bias” reported in fiscal year 2017 report by the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E). It’s not clear whether the accuracy issues have been completely fixed or not.

Noteworthy, the training sortie was flown with the aircraft carrying two external pylons (with a single inert AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile).

While the F-35A will be equipped with an embedded GAU-22/A gun, the B (STOVL – Short Take Off Vertical Landing) and C (CV – Carrier Variant) variants carry it inside an external pod capable to hold 220 rounds.

“Out!”

According to the 388th FW’s website “Loading and firing the cannon was one of the few capabilities Airmen in the 388th and 419th FWs had yet to demonstrate. The F-35A’s internal cannon allows the aircraft to maintain stealth against air adversaries as well as fire more accurately on ground targets, giving pilots more tactical flexibility.”

Image credit: Air Force photo by Todd Cromar

 

President Trump Blocks Sale of F-35s to Turkey, Deepens Rift in Turkish/U.S. Relations.

Turkey Would Have Operated Both the F-35 and the Russian Engineered S-400 Missile System.

On Monday, August 13, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the new John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Named as a tribute to Arizona Senator John McCain, who is afflicted with brain cancer, the bill includes provisions that have significant implications for one of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s largest potential program participants.

In fact, the massive $716 billion U.S. Dollar defense bill, as currently written, will prevent U.S. weapons sales to Turkey for 90 days. Within the 3-month period, the DoD will have to detail how Turkey can be phased out of the production chain of the F-35 and how much this change of plans will cost the U.S. and other countries.

Turkey had planned to purchase 100 of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing variants of the Joint Strike Fighter, the same version used by the U.S. Air Force. Other countries participating in the Joint Strike Fighter Program include Australia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and South Korea. Ten Turkish companies are involved in the development and/or production of the 5th generation aircraft, with a total Turkish investment of more than $1 billion.

The move comes as Turkish pilots are already training in the United States to operate the F-35A at Luke AFB near Phoenix, Arizona. The training of the Turkish F-35 personnel will continue until the DoD report requested by the NDAA has been submitted to Congress for their decision on the way forward.

There are two Turkish F-35As based at Luke for the Turkish training program along with other international F-35 operators. According to a July 2, 2018 report by Air Force Times journalist Tara Copp, the Turkish F-35As, “will remain in U.S. custody for at least the next year.”

Chased by a LM two-seat F-16 the first F-35A destined to the Turkish Air Force flies over Ft. Worth. (Photo: High Brass Photo/Clinton White)

Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Colonel Robert Manning told reporters, “Following established agreements, the U.S. government maintains custody of the aircraft until custody is transferred to the partner.” Manning added, “The U.S. government has not made a determination on Turkey’s future participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.”

The decision to delay the F-35A deliveries adds to increasing tension between Washington and the Turkish government in Ankara. Turkey is a key U.S. ally in the region for reasons including its geographic proximity to the middle east. Turkey has also been a member of NATO since 1952. The country is home to Incirlik Air Base, a massive international installation currently home to several thousand U.S. military personnel and an important base for U.S. aircraft operating over Syria and Iraq. The U.S. also stores nuclear weapons at Incirlik as a part of its deterrent strategy in the region. The proximity of the base also provides the U.S. with quick transit to Iran in the event of a crisis. Turkey also controls the passage of naval vessels transiting to and from the Black Sea, a key strategic chokepoint.

The F-35 embargo fans the flames of Turkish discontent after Washington included the country in the recent sweeping round of international trade restrictions issued by the Trump administration.

The tough trade rhetoric from Washington creates frustration not only for Turkey, but also within the U.S. and potentially for other Joint Strike Fighter program participants. Pentagon correspondent to ForeignPolicy.com, Lara Seligman, wrote that, “Several key components of the jet are manufactured by Turkish companies, and the U.S. Defense Department estimates it will take two years to find and qualify new suppliers to replace any Turkish firms that are kicked out of the program. Meanwhile, the main European hub for the F-35’s engine repair and overhaul is in Eskisehir, in northwestern Turkey.” As a result of the engine repair hub being located in Eskisehir, Turkey, maintenance delays for other European users of the F-35 could emerge while other engine repair facility provisions are arranged.

The analysis of Seligman, Copp and others reporting on the F-35 program suggest that the delay in continuing the Turkish F-35A program may be just that, a delay, as opposed to a cancellation. Seligman wrote for ForeignPolicy.com that, “Lawmakers also want the Pentagon to assess the ramifications of Ankara’s planned purchase of the S-400 system.”

A part of the controversy over Turkey’s involvement in the Joint Strike Fighter program is their use of modern Russian designed S-400 anti-aircraft missiles. (Photo: File/NOSINT)

The relatively new Russian-built S-400 “Triumf” Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system has been characterized as an “anti-stealth” air defense system that could specifically threaten the F-35A and its user nations should technology from the aircraft trickle back to Russia as they provide support to Turkey for their S-400 program. The two weapons systems being potentially operated by the same country makes for strange bedfellows. Turkey has a reputation as being a center of international intrigue, including espionage, both in fact and fiction dating back to pre-WWII years. This history underscores concerns about sharing information that may cross borders outside Turkey.

Top image: USAF F-35A. Turkey was slated to receive 100 F-35A Lightning IIs as part of the deal that has been put on hold. (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

Watch A Dutch F-35A In CAS “Beast Mode” Configuration Fly At Low Level In the Sierra Nevada

The Dutch F-35 based at Edwards Air Force Base has carried out tests with the Lightning II in “Bomb Truck”/”Beast Mode” configuration lately.

323 TES (Test & Evaluation Squadron), the Dutch unit based at Edwards Air Force Base and responsible for the F-35 Operational Test and Evaluation Phase (OT&E) as part of the Joint Operational Test Team, has carried out a series of tests with external weapons last month.

Some of the missions flown by the RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) F-35A Lightning II involved the use of GBUs and AIM-9X AAM (Air-to-Air Missile).

World-renowned photographer Frank Crebas went to California to catch some cool images of the Dutch F-35s at work with the heavy load-outs.

Here it is:

As you can see, the aircraft was flying with 4x GBU-12 500-lb Laser Guided Bombs and 2x AIM-9X Sidewinders on the external pylons.

“I shot the video and photos on Thursday Jul. 26 at the Needles Lookout in California”, Crebas told us in a message. “This location is a navigation point on the famous Sidewinder low flying route of which the JEDI transition a.k.a. the Starwars Canyon is also part of. It was the very first time that the Dutch OT&E unit flew with a full external load out after they previous few with just the AIM-9X and ‘just’ two GBUs. The jets where flown by Colonel Albert ‘Vidal’ de Smit, the commander of the Edwards detachement and Lt Col Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight who is the commander of 323 TES. 323 is participating with just two aircraft and only 52 personnel in the F-35 OT&E at Edwards AFB alongside the US and UK.”

The external weapons configuration tested by the Dutch F-35 is also known as CAS (Close Air Support) “Beast Mode” (or “Bomb Truck”) configuration. Others call any configuration involving external loads a “Third Day of War” configuration as opposed to a “First Day of War” one in which the F-35 would carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors. However, as a conflict evolves and enemy air defense assets including sensors, air defense missile and gun systems and enemy aircraft are degraded by airstrikes (conducted also by F-35s in “Stealth Mode”) the environment becomes more permissive: in such a scenario the F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capabilities for survivability so it can shift to carrying large external loads.

In “Beast Mode“, exploiting the internal weapon bays, the F-35 can carry 2x AIM-9X (pylons), 2x AIM-120 AMRAAM (internal bomb bay) and 4x GBU-31 2,000-lb (pylons) and 2x GBU-31  PGMs (internal bay).

Lt Col Ian “Gladys” Knight preflying his jet ahead of a “Beast Mode” test mission. (Image credit: F. Crebas).

In January 2019 the first new Dutch F-35’s will be delivered to Luke AFB for training. These aircraft will be build by Lockheed Martin in Ft Worth. In November the first F-35As will be delivered for the first operational squadron based in the Netherlands, 322 (RF) Squadron at Leeuwarden Air Base. These aircraft will be build at Cameri FACO, in Italy.

Take A Look At These Photos Of Luke Air Force Base F-35s Engulfed By Sand Storm

A monsoon hit Luke AFB, Arizona, yesterday. These shots show F-35s being moved to shelters.

Not only are airfields in Afghanistan (such as the former UK’s main strategic base in the southwest Camp Bastion, Helmand) or Niger affected by sandstorms. For instance, fast moving dust storms, able to darken large areas in a very short time, regularly hit Arizona quite regularly. As happened yesterday, when a monsoon hit Luke AFB, about 15 miles west of Phoenix, Arizona, home of the 56th Fighter Wing, the largest fighter wing in the U.S. Air Force.

A thunderstorm collapses and causes air and dust to move through the atmosphere and transform into a sand storm at Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger, June 24, 2018. Air Base 201 was hit by four sandstorms throughout the last two weeks. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo by Airman 1st Class Thomas Jamison)

Besides some 77 F-16s, Luke is home to 68 F-35s: the base is the training hub for Lightning II’s pilot and maintainers from Australia, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan and Israel. F-35 pilot training began at Luke just over a year after the 56th Fighter Wing received its first F-35A in 2014 and, according to LM, eventually, the 56th Fighter Wing will be home to 144 F-35s in the future!

The images in this post, first published by the 56th FW on their FB page, show Luke and its F-35s engulfed in dust: a pretty unique sight.

Personnel moved the F-35 to shelter.

An F-35 is secured by personnel at Luke AFB.

The sand storm provided an opportunity for 56th FW’s maintainers, airmen and partners from LM and partner nations to cope with a phenomena the 5th generation aircraft might find one day in theater.

5th generation aircraft engulfed in dust.

It would be interesting to understand the extent of damage (if any!) to the stealth aircraft’s coating, engines, avionics, etc. caused by sand.

BTW If you want to see what a similar scene looks like from inside a C-130J click here.

All images: U.S. Air Force

Operation “Lightning”: Four Italian F-35A Stealth Jets Deploy to Rivolto And Engage “Polygone” range in Germany

The Italian 5th generation jets have made another step to declare IOC (Initial Operational Capability).

On Jun. 8, for Italian Air Force F-35s, belonging to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing) from Amendola airbase, landed at Rivolto, headquarters of the 2° Stormo, for their first operational deployment to another Italian airbase dubbed “Operation Lightning” (actually, the Italian Lightnings had already deployed to Decimomannu but as part of their first firing campaign in the Sardinian ranges).

During the subsequent week, the Italian stealth jets carried out a wide variety of activities including training operations with the SPADA missile systems Missile Group of the 2° Stormo. Interestingly, taking off from Rivolto and flying over Austria and Germany, the Italian F-35s also flew over “Polygone”, in Bann, Germany: the 5th generation aircraft performed an average of six sorties each day.

The activity was aimed at assessing and enhancing the skills required to conduct complex deployments far from the F-35’s main operating base and a step required to achieve the type’s Initial Operational Capability in the air-to-ground role (the IOC in the air-to-air role has already been achieved).

“Operation Lightning” came to an end on Friday Jun. 15, when the aircraft returned back to Amendola, along with the supporting personnel.

F-35 during ground refueling operations at Rivolto.

Image credit: ItAF