Category Archives: Rogue States

Details Emerge About First U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Combat Mission in History.

Successful Strike Honored Marine Pilot Killed in Combat in September 2012.

New details and photos have emerged from last week’s first-ever combat mission by a U.S. military F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

The mission, flown by an undisclosed number of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant aircraft, took place in the early morning hours of Thursday, September 27, 2018 and struck insurgent targets in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit flew the strike mission.

According to a story published late Tuesday, October 2, 2018 in the Marine Corps Times by journalist Shawn Snow, “Later that afternoon, photos of the historic feat published to the Defense Department’s imagery website displayed the name of a [deceased] squadron commander on one of the F-35Bs, who was killed in an infamous attack on Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, in September 2012.”

Snow went on to write that, “Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s name appeared near the canopy of an F-35B prepping for the strike on the deck of the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Essex. Often it’s a current pilot in the squadron whose name is on the plane.”



The USMC F-35B Lightning II shown in the photo from the Monday, September 27, 2018 strike in Afghanistan was named to honor the memory of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible and his remarkable story of heroism while commanding the very same unit that flew this historic first U.S. F-35 strike.

On September 15, 2012 U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col Chris “Otis” Raible was commanding Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) the “Wake Island Avengers” then operating from Afghanistan’s Camp Bastion.

Lt. Col. Raible was nearing the end of his combat deployment in Afghanistan. Just after 2200 local time Lt. Col Raible was returning from dinner after flying a combat mission in an AV-8B Harrier earlier that day. Fifteen Taliban insurgents wearing stolen U.S. uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion’s security perimeter and attacked U.S. Marine AV-8B Harriers parked inside the compound using rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), machine guns and suicide vests.

In response after insuring the safety of his Marines Lt. Col. Raible, armed only with a sidearm, hurried to the area of the attack. Lt. Col. Raible determined the well-organized insurgent force had split into three groups: two tasked with destroying Marine AV-8B Harriers and the third group moving to kill U.S. Marines in their sleep.

Lt. Col. Raible ran 100-yards across open area under insurgent fire and rallied a group of aircraft maintenance personnel to mount a counter attack against the insurgents. Armed only with a handgun, Lt. Col. Raible’s swift, aggressive action temporarily stopped the Taliban insurgent attack and enabled Marines to organize an effective counterattack that lasted over four hours. The counterattack by Marines eventually neutralized the infiltrating insurgents after they had destroyed six AV-8B Harriers. Unfortunately, Lt. Col. Chris Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell were killed during the counter-offensive. It was also the greatest loss of U.S. Marine aircraft since the Vietnam War.

A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier sits on the flight line at Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan Sept. 26, 2012. The Harrier was one of six relocated to Camp Bastion to increase the overall readiness level of Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 and is painted in memory of Lt. Col. Christopher K. Raible and Sgt. Bradley W. Atwell, who were killed during an attack on Camp Bastion Sept. 14, 2012.

One Marine wounded during the attack later told a reporter about Lt. Col. Raible’s gallantry, “My commanding officer never feared death and would want us to keep fighting. That’s what he would do.”

Lt. Col Chris “Otis” Raible’s name painted on one of the F-35B strike force aircraft in last week’s historic raid served to avenge his death and memorialize his heroism.

USMC Sgt. Bradley Atwell and Lt. Col. Chris Raible were both killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012. (Photos: U.S. Navy)

Finally, some observers of last Monday’s first U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter combat mission have speculated about the reasons for using USMC F-35B Lighting IIs. The aircraft launched from the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex in the Arabian Sea and flew a significant distance to strike their targets. But this has been pretty common: U.S. Navy aircraft launching from aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf or in the Indian Ocean off Pakistan have supported Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan for decades now.

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.

The aircraft carried the external gun pod along with the two upper Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors.

Dealing with the radar reflectors, it’s pretty obvious that they were carried because there is no need to hide from any Taliban radars over Afghanistan.

Our own Editor David Cenciotti has observed that,  during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses two radar reflectors in the upper rear fuselage and one centerline in the lower rear fuselage. However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the aircraft sports only two upper side radar reflectors. We have not found any image showing the aircraft with the external gun pod and without the Luneburg lenses.

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I have made an interesting and geeky discovery today analyzing the shots of the USMC F-35B deployed for the first time near the Horn of Africa (article at TheAviationist.com). Therefore, during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses radar reflectors (unless it has to remain stealthy – during the first days of a war): 3 reflectors (2 in the upper rear fuselage, 1 centerline in the lower rear fuselage – the one underneath the fuselage can be seen in the bottom image) as opposed to the F-35A (middle photo) that wears 4 ones (2 upper side and 2 lower side). However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the F-35B carries only 2 upper side radar reflectors (you can only see one of these in the top image): most probably the external pod degrades the RCS so much no additional reflector is needed. #theaviationist #f35 #f35b #stealth #radarreflector

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Anyway, capabilities unique to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter include greatly enhanced situational awareness and information sharing through the aircraft’s Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL). The MADL allows sensors on the aircraft to relay real-time intelligence to other assets including aircraft and ground forces, enabling them to work in the same informational space. While some version of this capability has been available with previous targeting pods and sensors, it was not designed-in and has not approached the intelligence gathering and sharing capability of the F-35s sensor and communications suite.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B taxi to the runway at KAF the morning after conducting the first air strike in Afghanistan.

In the dynamic insurgent conflict in Afghanistan very small targets are difficult to locate, move quickly and disappear easily. The F-35’s enhanced sensors and ability to immediately share dynamic intelligence across a wide spectrum in all conditions must be key to maintaining situational awareness and providing accurate targeting.

Seen from behind, the two VMFA-211 F-35B jets taxiing at KAF.

It’s possible the F-35Bs were tasked with this mission in Afghanistan, because they could share intelligence data in real-time with ground forces in both directions and “see” the targets better than any previous strike aircraft rather than because they are stealth (indeed, the presence of the radar reflectors shows they were exploiting Low Observability).

Top image: One of the USMC F-35Bs from the USS Essex carried the name of USMC Lt. Col. Christopher Raible who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Watch This: Ukrainian Air Force Su-24M Fencer Insane Low Pass

You can’t fly lower than this….

We have already posted quite a few videos of Ukrainian Air Force aircraft performing ultra-low level passes. The most famous ones are those of a MiG-29 performing a show of force onpro-Russia separatist blocking rails; a big Ilyushin Il-76 buzzing some Su-25s (and the Frogfoots returning the favor while buzzing the tower); a Su-25 flying low over the heads of a group of female soldiers posing for a photograph and then performing an aileron roll; a Su-27 Flanker performing a low pass right after take off; and a Su-24MR tactical reconnaissance aircraft flying low over the flight line at Starokostiantyniv.

The latest footage is really impressive. It shows what is probably a Su-24M Fencer, a supersonic, all-weather,  twin-engined, two-seater plane with a variable geometry wing, designed to perform ultra low level strike missions developed in the Soviet Union and serving, among the others, with the Syrian, Iranian and Libyan Air Force buzzing the flight line at an airbase in Ukraine, probably once again “Staro”, where the Fencers of the 7th Tactical Aviation Brigade are based.

Although Ukrainian Air Force pilots regularly fly at low altitude, this time the Su-24 appears to be lower than comfortable for the camera man, missing the other Fencers on the apron by a matter of a few meters (or maybe centimeters…).

Anyway, here’s the footage for you to judge:



H/T MilitaryAviation.in.UA

U.S. F-35B Joint Strike Fighters Perform Their First-Ever Air Strike On Targets in Afghanistan

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightings Of VMFA-211 Hit Targets in Afghanistan From USS Essex.

For the first time in history U.S. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters flew in combat on Sept. 27, 2018. Official U.S military sources characterized the mission as “successful”.

U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, the “Wake Island Avengers”, of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, used their F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters to hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province early Thursday morning.

The long-range strikes were launched from the U.S. Navy Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on station in the Persian Gulf. The USS Essex recently transited the Gulf of Aden as it sailed through the North Arabian Sea and finally to combat stations in the Persian Gulf where today’s historic first-ever long range strikes were launched.

The Israeli Air Force was the first in the world to employ the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in combat earlier this year when they used their F-35I Adir aircraft to hit undisclosed targets at least twice.

While the Joint Strike Fighter program has advanced since 2006 without a major in-flight mishap or loss of life and established numerous technical milestones it has been the focus of intense criticism due to costs and perceived delays.

Today’s U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II strikes may either begin to temper criticism of the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program or increase it even more. Indeed, while it represents the baptism of fire for the American 5th generation multirole aircraft in the STOVL variant, it also raises questions. Among them, the most obvious is: was a stealth aircraft, the most expensive defense program in history, required to hit Taliban targets in Afghanistan?

Thursday’s historic U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II mission was “in support of ground clearance operations” according to a report in the Military Times by defense experts Tara Copp and Valerie Insinna released just hours ago.



The U.S. Marine Corps was the first military service in the world to integrate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter into operational service during 2015. Of the three U.S. versions of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II is the most complex, using an innovative vectored thrust and lift-fan configuration to take off from a ship’s flight deck without a catapult in a short distance and land back on board vertically from a hover. U.S. Marine F-35Bs used in the strikes today were also equipped with the externally mounted GAU-22 25mm gun pod in addition to the weapons in the internal bays.

The photos released by the DoD, show the F-35B being prepared for the first air strike with what seems to be a GBU-32 1000-lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) under the weapon bay.

viationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/VMFA-211-F-35-Essex-loading.jpg”> 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)

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[/caption]By contrast to the U.S. Marine  F-35B Lightning II, the U.S. Navy uses a version of the Joint Strike Fighter called the F-35C with wider wings and different landing gear to facilitate catapult launches and arrestor hook recoveries onboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The U.S. Air Force flies the F-35A Lightning II, a conventional take-off and landing aircraft that flies from land based runways. While the U.S. Air Force has declared their F-35A Lightning IIs as operational the U.S. Navy is still in the final implementation phase of their wide-winged F-35C Lightning IIs.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Commander Vice Admiral Scott Stearney told reporters that, “The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” The Vice Admiral went on to say, “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

Here Are Some Cool Air-to-Air Shots Of The Saudi Special Colored Aircraft During The National Day Celebrations

Take a look at these photographs of the five RSAF (Royal Saudi Air Force) jet in special livery for the 88th National Day Celebrations.

As already revealed in a previous post, on Sept. 23, 2018, Saudi Arabia celebrated the 88th Saudi National Day with five special colored aircraft: an F-15C belonging to the 13th Sqn; an F-15S from the 92nd Sqn; a Tornado from the 7th Sqn; a Eurofighter Typhoon from the 10th Sqn; and an A330 MRTT (Multi-Role Tanker Transport) belonging to the 24th Sqn.

The five “Greens” performed flyovers alongside the Saudi Hawks display team in three cities Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran and, with the help of our friend we are able to share some really impressive shots of the special painted aircraft in flight.

As you can see, the special colored MRTT, one of the 6 MRTT tankers operated by the RSAF, trailed the four fast jets and refueled these even though they are equipped with different IFR (In-Flight Refueling) systems: the MRTT is equipped with both the ARBS (advanced Air Refueling Boom System), used to refuel the F-15s, and a pair of underwing hose-and-drogue refueling pods suitable for use with the Saudis’ Tornado IDS and Eurofighter Typhoon jets.

Over the city of Riyadh on Sept. 24. (Image credit: Fahad Rihan)

Air to air refueling on the way to Taif on Sept. 22. (Image credit: Rami Al Omrani).

Over the Red Sea, Jeddah, with the Saudi Hawks team, Sept. 23. (Image credit: Rami Al Omrani).

Over Jeddah. Sept. 23. (Image credit: Rami Al Omrani).

Off Jeddah Corniche flying in formation with the Saudi Hawks and Al Fursan team on Sept. 23. (Image credit: Rami Al Omrani).

The following one is a bonus shot, not taken in flight, still interesting and worth publishing:

Taxiing at King Fahad AFB, Taif, on Sept. 22. (Image credit: Fahad Rihan).

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Jets Involved In First Operational Deployment Near the Horn of Africa Flying With External Gun Pod

Photos show Marines F-35B aircraft carrying the external gun pod during exercise off the coast of Djibouti.

For the last two weeks, U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers”, deployed with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, have undertaken the type’s first operational deployment in international waters off the coast of Djibouti.

Beginning on Sept. 8, the aircraft have taken part in a Theater Amphiobious Combat Rehearsal (TACR) operating from the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility near Horn of Africa along with the rest of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, that includes the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock USS Anchorage (LPD 23) and Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore (LSD 47).

The F-35B were involved in CAS (Close Air Support) missions, supporting Marines on the ground during drills in the military ranges in Djibouti that, according to USNI News, involved Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (Reinforced)’s complement of CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, UH-1 Huey utility helicopters and AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters

“The addition of the F-35 to the ARG is a very significant enabler for me and for my team. It increases battlespace awareness with data fusion and the ability to share information with the ships and the ships’ combat control system. So it’s really an extension of our sensors, and it also brings to the table a greater increased lethality than what we had with previous generation aircraft,” Capt. Gerald Olin, Amphibious Squadron 1 commander and Essex ARG/MEU commodore, told USNI News.

The STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the stealthy F-35 Lightning II is a key player to the amphibious force: it brings advanced ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) capabilities where is needed as part of CSO (Crisis Support Operations) that involve the commitment of a quick reation force to respond to tensions in theather to a major conflict that requires the whole capability of the MAGTFs (Marine Air-Ground Task Forces).

Interestingly, photos of the aircraft performing air-to-air refueling from U.S. Air Force KC-135s have been released by the DoD. The shots clearly show the F-35B carrying the GAU-22 25mm gun pod that was test fired for the first time in flight in 2017.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II assigned to the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, flies alongside the wing of a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron after receiving in flight fuel during an aerial refueling mission near the Horn of Africa, Sept. 15, 2018. The F-35B combines next-generation fighter characteristics of radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, fighter agility and advanced logistical support with the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in the U.S. inventory, providing the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) significantly improved capability to approach missions from a position of strength. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Keith James)

The new General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. Noteworthy, although it was designed with LO (Low Observability) characteristics, the external pod degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this should be acceptable (as it is for the non-stealthy AV-8B Harrier jets they will replace) for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs will be called to carry out CAS missions (read here about the so-called “third day of war” configuration).

The GAU-22A Gun Pod. It has a reported rate of fire of “up to 3,300 rounds per minute”. (Image credit: LM)

The 2018 deployment follows the relocation of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017. Since then, the F-35B have started operating in the region, taking part in local drills as well as some routine “shows of force” near the Korean Peninsula: 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.