Report: F-35Cs Descend in Mass on the USS George Washington During DT-III.
The USS George Washington (CVN-73) is hosting the F-35C in its final Developmental Testing cycle, DT-III through Aug. 23.
However, for a couple of days the two VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C Lightning IIs from NAS Patuxent River were joined by 5 F-35Cs from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” out of Eglin AFB. The 7 F-35Cs on the deck of the carrier represented the largest carrier contingent of F-35Cs to date.
F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.
Media were hosted on the USS George Washington Monday, Aug. 15 to witness the pilots completing their carrier qualifications (CQs) at the onset of DT-III. All pilots embarking must perform a number of “cats” and “traps” prior to executing the specific tests involved with DT-III.
F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.
DT-III includes validation of the aircraft’s flying capabilities with full internal and external stores (up to 4 GBU-12s and two AIM-9X on external hard points); handling tests with asymmetrical loads; testing for maximum weight launches (up to 65,000 lbs) at minimum power; evaluating all of these in a variety of wind and sea states.
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
As explained by Tom “Briggo” Briggs ITF (Integrated Test Force) Chief Test Engineer there were some additional aspects they wanted to evaluate. These areas to assess included shipborne evaluation of tweaks made to control laws (based on previous DT testing), shipborne logistical support and some night launches to verify adjustments made to the Gen 3 helmet performed as desired.
The ITF (Integrated Task Force) and supporting team of personnel have worked tirelessly to bring the program to this point, and yet the reality of DT-III was – “business as usual.”
Media probed for human interest stories from the cadre of pilots on board, “What was it like, after all the simulator hours and practice landings at the airfield to actually land on the ship?” From pilots who had 50 traps with the F-35C to those who had just realized their first – they struggled to provide any other answer; “no drama, no surprise, performed as expected, very vanilla, pretty easy.”
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.
The preparation had been solid and thorough and DT-III itself was simply moving according to plan – that is if you can plan to be ahead of schedule after only 1.5 days!
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
In many ways DT-III was “upstaged” by the appearance of VFA-101, and yet it was upstaged in a fashion that brought ultimate satisfaction to the ITF’s efforts.
As U.S. Navy Commander Ryan “Flopper” Murphy, F-35 ITF lead said, “the greatest satisfaction was to watch the fleet (VFA-101) start to utilize the aircraft.” After all, that was the point of all the years of work; to equip and empower the Fleet with the F-35C.
160814-N-XW558-090 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)
12 VFA-101 pilots with 5 F-35Cs completed their CQs in just over 1.5 days. As Capt. James Christie of VFA-101 described, that includes 10 landings and 2 touch and gos each. A total of 120 cats, 120 traps and 24 touch and goes. Simultaneously the 5 VX-23 pilots performed their CQs. F-35Cs were all over the carriers deck, moving, landing, and launching – much like I would imagine an operational tempo.
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
There were instances of hot refueling, with pilot changes during refuel and the aircraft cycling back for more CQs.
As VX-23 F-35C pilot Ted “Dutch” Dyckman explained, everybody completed their CQs faster than with the Hornet or Super Hornet. The additional fuel on the F-35C, the ease of landing due to Delta Flight Path mode, along with aircraft reliability all played a part in the accelerated CQs.
The innovative “Delta Flight Path” mode that is engaged on approach alters the F-35C control laws, setting auto throttles and maintaining the optimal 3 degree glide slope to landing. This approach makes landing on the carrier much easier, and pilots were hitting the desired 3 wire virtually 100% of the time.
160814-N-MY901-131 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)
Delta Flight Path utilizes the flaps to add or decrease lift during approach to maintain the glide slope. Observers can see a tremendous amount of flap movement during the aircrafts approach to the deck.
These movements are all controlled by the computer to provide the pilot what they want – stable glideslope to the deck. The F/A-18E/F and EA-18G control laws are being modified to feature the same Delta Flight path in an initiative called “Magic Carpet.”
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
As Briggs explained, DT-III is to prepare the aircraft launch and recovery bulletins (ALB/ARB). These are the operating guides the Navy will utilize to determine the appropriate launch and recovery parameters for the aircraft, given weights and conditions. These bulletins are required for operations, and ensure the aircraft can safely launch and recover with the desired loads to complete assigned missions.
F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016
Recently appointed to the new position, Director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration, Rear Admiral Roy “Trigger” Kelley was also aboard the USS George Washington. Kelley will be directing the F-35C program towards IOC between August 2018 and Feb 2019. Kelley is excited about the capabilities the F-35C will bring to the Fleet; first day access into contested areas that host sophisticated integrated air defense systems; the ability to utilize stealth and sensors to define the battlespace combined with advanced command and control capabilities that will empower the entire fleet.
DT-III is a significant milestone, and it is clear the F-35C is now tracking very quickly and methodically to a IOC with the U.S. Navy.
F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.
The Aviationist would like to thank the following for their support: Sylvia Pierson, F-35 ITF/JPO PA; CDR Dave Hecht, Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO; Capt. Timothy Kuehhas, CO USS George Washington; and the many supporting PAOs on and off shore, pilots, engineers, and C-2 Greyhound crews. The entire US Navy team were professional, gracious hosts.
Italian Air Force fighter jock becomes fully-qualified F-35A IP at Luke AFB.
An ItAF combat pilot has recently become the first Italian F-35A IP (Instructor Pilot) with the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke AFB, Arizona.
The Italian IP has got the qualification to train Italian and partner nations pilots on the Joint Strike Fighter through a 6-month syllabus made of two distinct classes respectively called “Transition” and “Intructor Pilot Upgrade” (IPUG).
During Transition the pilots train in various forms of flight: air-to-air combat, air-to-ground missions including SEAD/DEAD tasks (Suppression / Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses). At the end of this stage, the student IPs have gained skills to fly these missions in all-weather conditions.
During the subsequent IPUG class, the students are taught how to teach follow-on pilots to fly and fight in the F-35A. The IPUG course ends with a check ride required to achieve the IP qualification.
The syllabus has become more focused on full combat training last Spring, as the U.S. Air Force prepared to declare the F-35A Lightning II ready for war by the U.S. Air Force with the 34th Fighter Squadron based at Hill AFB in Utah (that eventually achieved the Initial Operational Capability on Aug. 2).
[For a detailed analysis of the IOC milestone, please read our report published here.]
The newly qualified Italian IP will serve in the multinational pilot training center at Luke AFB in Arizona, the world’s premier conventional F-35 training base where, under a pooling arrangement, USA, Australia, Norway and Italy, share IPs and aircraft to train new pilots and instructors within the same standardized framework.
Two Italian F-35As are already part of the “shared pool” at the airbase near Phoenix: the first one, dubbed AL-1 and serialled MM7332, the ItAF’s first F-35, the first JSF built outside the U.S., arrived in the U.S. at the end of the type’s first ever transatlantic flight on Feb. 5, 2016.Image credit: ItAF
The video was filmed by Star SAFIRE 380-HDc a compact, high performance, stabilized, HD imaging systems specifically engineered for helicopter.
According to FLIR, the manufacturer of the Star SAFIRE 380-HDc and a leader in such systems, the camera “provides an unmatched SWaP-C advantage for airborne applications that demand high performance ISR [Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance] in a light-weight, compact package. Specifically tailored to excel at long range performance under extreme rotary aircraft conditions.”
Needless to say, the IR signature of the F-35B during hovering is impressive.
The heat signature of a LO (Low Observability) aircraft is also what IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) sensors of a “legacy” unstealthy aircraft will seek during an aerial engagement against a stealth plane.
On Aug. 2, 2016, the F-35A was declared “combat ready” by Gen. Hawk Carlisle, the commander of Air Combat Command. “A historic and monumental day for the program” according to Lockheed Martin; just an “Initial” capability, according to many others.
About 15 years after Lockheed Martin was awarded with a contract to develop the Joint Strike Fighter, currently known as the F-35 Lightning II, the fifth generation stealth plane, has eventually achieved the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the U.S. Air Force.
The first squadron declared to be operational is the 34th Fighter Squadron based at Hill AFB in Utah that was required to have at least 12 airframes ready for deployment operating as a basic close air support and air interdiction and limited SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) platform.
Along with other personnel, maintenance and support requirements the Air Force squadron was also expected to ensure that enough pilots are combat ready, and pass proper examination: as of Jul. 27, 21 pilots and 12 F-35A airframes could be deployed in theater.
Well, for the moment, one of those featuring low-lethality threats or where the limited, initial capabilities of the F-35 are considered enough to counter the enemy air defenses: although the JSF has improved a lot through the years, slowly solving the long series of issues the program has experienced since the beginning (some of those still being solved), it is still far from being the aircraft advertised in the beginning.
For sure, as claimed by the head of the Air Combat Command, General Herbert “Hawk” Calisle, its stealth properties, along with the net-centric battlefield capabilities and electronic countermeasures, are the elements which are required in order to face the challenges of the dynamically changing environment of the contemporary battlefield, especially when one considers the enemy weapons systems the F-35 would be required to face.
For the type of threat faced by the U.S. combat planes in the current theaters an IOC F-35 could be more than enough to well perform in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, but a “real” air war against an enemy who shoots back would require an aircraft with the ability to conduct Anti-Access Offensive Counter Air, full SEAD/DEAD (Destruction of Enemy Air Defenses) missions and something more that the U.S. Air Force Lightning II is simply not ready to perform.
So, does this IOC matter? Yes and no.
Surely, after cost overruns, delays, issues of various types, it marks another achievement for the USAF F-35A but, as widely reported for instance by War Is Boring, the initial IOC requirements have been watered down to meet the deadlines.
As Defense News notes, the main concern for the Air Force is the 3F software suite of the jet, facing some instability issues, which is expected to be patched up throughout the year 2017, giving the aircraft a capacity to use new armament such as the SDBs (Small-Diameter Bombs), alongside the interface changes.
Also, Lockheed’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, ALIS 2.0.2 – an update of the logistics/maintenance suite – is not expected to be ready by the end of October, even though the Hill AFB personnel stated that the ALIS issue was not a “limiting factor”.
So, in spite of the media hype following the IOC, coherent with the usual PR support that surrounds every F-35 achievement, there is still much room for improvements, development and true operational testing.
The F-35 is now going to take a path of operational deployments, in clearly defined stages. First the Red Flags, and then – inevitably – the jet is going to become a part of the “Theater Security Packages” sent to Europe and Asia.
Some claims also emerged that within 18 months Lightning II would be stationed at RAF Lakenheath (but not permanently – this would happen around 2021, and the jets would rather complement than replace the F-15s stationed there), which would also mean that Mach Loop low-level operations could also be expected within that period, as well as some “hop-like” deployments around the continental Europe.
The prospects of development assume that Hill AFB is going to become a home for two more operational F-35 squadrons, with a view of Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont becoming the second operational base — and the first Air National Guard base — to host the F-35.
Burlington is going to use 18 F-35 airframes replacing its F-16 jets. Next up, 24 F-35 jets would be stationed in Alaska, around 2020 – at the Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, as Defense News reports, forming an added capability, not replacing any assets stationed in the northernmost US state.
Three more bases are to be selected soon, with fifth and sixth belonging to the ANG, while the seventh one would be established in one of the bases that currently host F-16s or A-10s: Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona or Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth in Texas.
Summing up, the much troubled and costly F-35 has grown: probably a bit more than the detractors want you to believe and probably less than both LM, the U.S. armed forces and other operators want you to believe. Hence, there is still much work to do, but we’re probably on a good path.
Air Combat in the F-35, a new chapter in the saga.
In March 2016, we published an article written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, a Royal Norwegian Air Force experienced pilot with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16, a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate and the first to fly the F-35.
In that post “Dolby” provided a first-hand account of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looked like to a pilot who had a significant experience with the F-16.
Here below, reposted under permission, you can read the latest story “Dolby” has written for Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.
Although it’s written by someone with a bias for the plane (he flies the F-35 as the Assistant Weapons Officer with the 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona), once again it’s worth a read as it provides some interesting details about the way the Lightning II performs during mock air combat against several adversaries.
Someone may argue the A-4 Skyhawks are quite obsolete aircraft and not even comparable with modern 4th generation enemies. True, but these are the same aggressors that train many modern combat planes (don’t forget the F-22s practice their air-to-air skills against the T-38s) and take part in Red Flag exercises.
To summarize what has been written about the F-35 dogfighting capabilities in the past:
at the same time we also highlighted that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by War Is Boring according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat involved one of the very first test aircraft that lacked some cool and useful features.
Needless to say, each of the above news stories caused much debate, with many analysts suggesting the exercises where the F-35 performed fairly well were just PR stunts arranged in such a way the JSF could not be downed, and others claiming more or less the opposite.
Whatever you think, here’s the new story by “Dolby.”
Air Combat in the F-35 – an update
In this post I’m giving a brief overview of my impressions after having flown several sorties over the past few weeks against A-4 Skyhawks. This post is intended as a supplement to my previous posts on modern air combat and stealth.
First thing first – is it relevant to train air combat against an old A-4? Can we draw any relevant lessons from this at all? After all, this is an aircraft that served during the Vietnam war!
I believe this kind of training is relevant for several reasons:
The F-35’s sensors and “fusion” provides me as a pilot with good situational awareness. For an F-35 to simulate an opponent against another F-35, it has to restrict the effects of fusion and the various sensors. Even then it is difficult to “dumb down” the aircraft enough. It requires discipline to not be tempted to using information that an opponent in reality would not have access to.
The A-4s we faced in these exercises had sensor performance along the lines of our own upgraded F-16s. They also carried jammers intended to disturb our radar.
The pilots we faced were very experienced. We are talking 2000 hours plus in aircraft like the F-16, F-15E, F-15C and the F-22, with detailed knowledge of “fifth generation” tactics and weapons. When also cooperating closely with intercept controllers on the ground (GCI) they could adapt the training and offer us a reactive and challenging opponent. Note the word “reactive.”
The A-4 is a small aircraft with a corresponding signature. Many potential opponents in the air are bigger and easier to find than the tiny A-4.
So what did I experience in my encounters with the A-4? I got to try out several different sets. (Everything from one-on-one “Basic Fighter Maneuvers” to one F-35 against two A-4s, two F-35s against two A-4s, two F-35s against four A-4s and three F-35s against four A-4s). I am left with some main impressions.
The individual sensors of the F-35, one for one, are good. I flew one sortie alone against two A-4s, and limited myself to using only the radar during these sets (no support from ground controllers, no Link-16, no data sharing from other formation members, no support from passive radar warning systems or IFF – Identification Friend or Foe). Nonetheless my radar detected the targets in time for me to optimize my intercept, deliver weapons at range, and if necessary, arrive undetected to the visual arena.
“Fusion” means both automatic control of the various sensors, and the combination of all different sensor data into one unified tactical picture. I believe “fusion” to be one of the most important aspects of the F-35. “Fusion” allows me to focus on the tactics, rather than detailed management of my sensors. In my encounters with the A-4s, “fusion” worked better than I have seen it before. It was reassuring to see how well it worked. The good «situational picture» that I saw provides us with several advantages; we can make smarter tactical decisions, and it takes less time before we can gain full “tactical value” from fresh pilots. (I had to smile a little when two of us in the F-35s effortlessly kept tabs on four opponents. That is no trivial thing in the F-16.)
The most important lesson for me personally was to see just how hard it was for the A-4s to find us, even with GCI support. We deliberately made high-risk tactical decisions to see just how far we could stretch our luck, and still remain undetected. At least for my part, this reinforced my confidence in the effectiveness of our tactics. I hope all my colleagues in the F-35 get to have the same experience as I have.
(BFM – F-35 against A-4, might not be fair. Still, the A-4 started as the offensive part every time. At the end of each set, I was pointing at the A-4. Every time.)