Category Archives: F-35

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

First Italian Navy F-35B Has Arrived At NAS Patuxent River After Completing Transatlantic Crossing

The first F-35B assembled outside the US has arrived at NAS Pax River, Maryland.

On Jan. 31, the first Italian Navy F-35B completed its transatlantic crossing landing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland.

At Pax River, the aircraft, serialled MM7451/4-01 and taken on charge by the Marina Militare at the Cameri FACO on Jan. 25, 2018 will obtain the Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification, before moving to MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina home of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B pilot training.

The F-35B during the transatlantic crossing.

One of the two test pilots with the Italian Navy Flag in the cockpit.

The ferry flight from Cameri to the U.S. was a joint effort that saw the Italian Air Force supporting the crossing (that included a stopover in Lajes): two test pilots, one belonging to the ItAF, the other one belonging to the Navy, both serving with the Reparto Sperimentale Volo (Italian Air Force Test Wing) flew the aircraft. During the navigation, the F-35B was also supported by a C-130J from the 46^ Aerobrigata (Air Brigade) from Pisa, in Oceanic SAR configuration, by a KC-767A tanker from the 14° Stormo (Wing) from Pratica di Mare, that refueled the aircraft, as well as by a two seater TF-2000A Eurofighter Typhoon belonging to the 4° Stormo from Grosseto, that chased the JSF along the way.

A TF-2000A, acting as chase plane, escorted the F-35B during the flight across the Atlantic Ocean.

Image credit: Italy MoD

Interesting Photos Show U.S. Air Force F-35A Stealth Jets Deployed To Japan About To Launch Without Radar Reflectors

Some recent photos of the Hill AFB F-35s deployed to Kadena Okinawa, seem to suggest the 5th Generation fighters have started operating in “stealth mode”.

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] 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.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area.

The two radar reflectors on the right side of the F-35A (the remaining two are located in the same positions on the left side). Image credit: LM (hightlight by Author)

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

The lack of reflector on the top left position of this F-35 is pretty evident in the following photographs:

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, goes through pre-flight checks prior to taxiing Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)


U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, performs pre-flight checks prior to a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, communicates with Maj. Matthew Olson, F-35A Lightning II pilot from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, before a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is deployed under U.S. Pacific Command’s theater security package program, which has been in operation since 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

For comparison, the following photo shows one of the 388FW F-35A jets on the ground at Kadena in November 2017 with the radar reflector.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Charles, 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, goes through pre-flight procedures Nov. 16, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Rotational forces are integral to increasing our military combat capabilities, which are essential to U.S. power projection and security obligations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Obviously the lack of radar reflectors is not a big deal: during their deployment to RAF Lakenheath last year, F-35As of the 388th FW have flown without reflectors some local sorties with the 48th FW F-15E Strike Eagles (for example on Apr. 26, 2017). However, photographs of deployed F-35s without Luneburg Lenses are pretty rare and, for this reason, interesting and newsworthy.



The First F-35B Assembled Outside The U.S. Delivered To The Italian Ministry Of Defense Today

The first Italian-build Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B Lightning II aircraft was delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense and assigned to the Italian Navy at the Cameri Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility today.

As planned, the Italian Ministry of Defense was delivered its first F-35B STOVL variant of the Lightning II aircraft at the FACO in Cameri, northwest Italy, on Jan. 25.

The aircraft, that had been spotted flying last week, was assigned to the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) during a ceremony attended by General Claudio Graziano, Chief of Italian Defense General Staff; Admiral Valter Girardelli, Chief of the Italian Navy; Italian Air Force Lt. Gen. Francesco Langella, Director ARMAEREO; Air Commodore Charles Docherty, F-35 Joint Program Office; Fillipo Bagnato, Director of Leonardo Aircraft Division; and Mr. Doug Wilhelm, Lockheed Martin F-35 Program Management Vice President.

Unfortunately, as happened during almost all the milestone events linked to the F-35 in Italy, no media representatives were invited/allowed to attend the ceremony and the few details about the ceremony we are able to report come from an official press release from Lockheed Martin. Indeed, whereas the delivery of the first Israeli or Dutch F-35s got a significant media coverage (with constant updates, live streaming on social media, etc.), the Italian MoD has kept a “low profile” about the F-35 program (in spite of the several firsts scored by the Italian Air Force with the 5th generation aircraft).

As already explained in the past, despite the cuts (from 131 to 90 examples, with the “promise” to consider more cuts if needed…), the program has attracted a significant chunk of Italy’s defense budget: for this reason the F-35 surely the most famous defense program in Italy. And the most controversial. In Italy the F-35 is still a “sensitive” subject: a large part of the public opinion, as well as many Italian lawmakers have always been against it, because they believe that the investment as a Tier II partner and no significant industrial gains couldn’t co-exist with the country’s fragile public finances. However, the Italian Government has been able to save the F-35 and ensure the Italian Air Force its 5th generation aircraft to replace the ageing (and for this reason costly) AMX and Tornado fleets, and the Navy its F-35Bs to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier jump jets.

Anyway, to date, nine F-35As and one F-35B have been delivered from the Cameri FACO, which is the only F-35B production facility outside the United States. Four of those jets are now based at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, for international pilot training and five are at Amendola Air Base, Italy.

The Cameri FACO is also programmed to produce 29 F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force and retains the capacity to deliver to other European partners in the future. The FACO is operated by Leonardo in conjunction with Lockheed Martin with a current workforce of more than 800 skilled personnel engaged in full assembly of the Conventional Take-Off/Landing F-35A and F-35B STOVL aircraft variants and F-35A wing production.

Top image: Italy’s first-built F-35B, aircraft BL-1, was delivered to the Italian Ministry of Defense and assigned to the Italian Navy at the Cameri, Italy, Final Assembly & Check-Out (FACO) facility, Jan. 25. (Ministry of Defense Photo)