Tag Archives: 5th generation fighter

U.S. Marine Corps Planning F-35B Deployment to CENTCOM Area Of Responsibility To Get “First Taste Of Combat” In 2018

The USMC may have their “baptism of fire” with the F-35B next year.

The F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Lightning II 5th generation aircraft is expected to deploy to the Pacific and Central Command theaters in 2018, the Marine Corps Times reported.

According to Jeff Schogol, the F-35B, that can operate from amphibious assault ships, “is expected to deploy with two Marine expeditionary units to the Pacific and Central Command theaters in the spring and summer. […]  The first deployment will be with the 31st MEU aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp and the second will be with the 13th MEU aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Essex, said spokeswoman Capt. Sarah Burns.”

The first deployment to the U.S. Central Command AOR (area of responsibility) – that includes Iraq, Syria, Iran, Yemen and Afghanistan – has long been anticipated. In 2016, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told reporters that the service was planning to deploy the F-35B to the CENTCOM area of operations aboard the USS Essex (six more F-35Bs were to deploy to the Pacific aboard the USS Wasp).

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.

A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 departs Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, Sept. 18, 2017. The F-35B Lightning II aircraft joined United States Air Force, Japan and Republic of Korea Air Force aircraft in a sequenced bilateral show of force over the Korean peninsula. This show-of-force mission demonstrated sequenced bilateral cooperation, which is essential to defending U.S. allies, partners and the U.S. homeland against any regional threat. Note the AIM-120 barely visible inside the weapons bay (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Aaron Henson)

As already reported, the F-35s would be probably involved in the Phase 4 of an eventual pre-emptive air strike on Pyongyang, the phase during which tactical assets would be called to hunt road-mobile ballistic missiles and any other artillery target that North Korea could use to launch a retaliatory attack (even a nuclear one) against Seoul.

Moreover, during the opening stages of an air war, the F-35Bs would be able to act as real-time data coordinators able to correlate and disseminate information gathered from their on board sensors to other assets contributing to achieve the “Information Superiority” required to geo-locate the threats and target them effectively.

Considered that Marine aviation officials have said that up to half of the current F/A-18 Hornets are not ready for combat, the deployment to the CENTCOM AOR a 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.

Touchdown imminent during “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the USS America (LHA-6) November 19, 2016. (Todd Miller)

In October 2016, a contingent of 12 F-35Bs took part in Developmental Test III aboard USS America followed by the Lightning Carrier “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the carrier on Nov. 19, 2016. During the POC, the aircraft proved it can operate at-sea, employing a wide array of weapons loadouts with the newest software variant and some of the most experienced F-35B pilots said that “the platform is performing exceptionally.” The eventual participation in a real operation such as Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) over Syria and Iraq, albeit rather symbolic, will also be the first opportunity  to assess the capabilities of the platform in real combat. As for the Israeli F-35s, the airspace over the Middle East (or Central Asia) could be a test bed for validating the tactical procedures to be used by the new aircraft in the CAS (Close Air Support) mission with added Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) and Command & Control (C2) capability.
If committed to support OIR, the F-35B will probably operate in a “first day of war” configuration carrying weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors playing both the “combat battlefield coordinators” role, collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data, and the “kinetic attack platform” role, dropping their ordnance on the targets and passing targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16. More or less what done by the USMC F-35Bs during Red Flag 17-3 earlier in 2017; but next year it will be for the real thing.

Top image credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Becky Calhoun

A glimpse into the future with the first F-35C catapult launch video

Ok, it isn’t taken on the deck of USS Nimitz. However, the following video, just released by the US Navy, gives you an idea of what US (and British) naval aviation will look like in the future. Just imagine some more green, blue, yellow, red jackets, the typical “island” of a supercarrier in the background, steam coming out of the catapults, and the sea at the end of the deck. To be honest, to add some more realism, we should add some payload (weapons and tanks) to that clean and light aircraft….

The video was taken at Lakehurst on Jul. 27, 2011 when Navy test pilot Lt. Christopher Tabert took off with the F-35C CF-3, the  designated carrier suitability testing aircraft, launched by a steam catapult during catapult and jet blast deflector testing.

Noteworthy, as the F-18, the F-35C has the rudders deflected inwards during catapult launches to help the nose raising as the aircraft leaves the ship.

The F-35C is the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, with larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear for slower catapult launch and landing approach speeds and deck impacts associated with the demanding carrier take-off and landing environment than the A (Conventional) and B (STOVL) variant.

Aircraft carriers with no aircraft…..

The following defense news article deserves a read:

RAF: Harrier Retirement Won’t Hurt F-35C Skills
Published: 17 Dec 2010 08:55
One of Britain’s senior Royal Air Force commanders has rebutted suggestions that retiring the Harrier GR9 will damage the ability to regenerate skills to operate the new F-35C variant of the Joint Strike Fighter off a new aircraft carrier when it enters service around 2020. “Anybody who thinks that operating a Harrier today was somehow going to link you with the F-35C on the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier is . It is just not true,” said Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell.
The Harrier is a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft, while the F-35C is a conventional aircraft requiring catapults and arrestor wires to operate. The latter aircraft is destined to be used on the new 65,000-ton carriers now being built by a BAE Systems-led alliance. Britain originally intended to acquire the STOVL F-35B version of the Joint Strike Fighter, but as part of the strategic defense and security review in October opted to switch to the conventional F-35C variant. At the same time, the British government decided to immediately ax the joint RAF/Royal Navy Harrier GR9 force and decommission the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, leaving Britain without a maritime air strike capability until 2020, when the F-35C and the Queen Elizabeth-class warship are available. Britain’s joint force of 79 Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier GR9’s aircraft took off into retirement Nov. 15 from their base at Cottesmore in eastern England and will now be scrapped, unless they can be sold or a new use for them is found. The Daily Telegraph newspaper said earlier this week the MoD was looking at a proposal to create a reserve squadron using the Harriers. The decision to decommission the Harrier and the Ark Royal has caused huge controversy, in part because its opponents say it will be difficult to regain the skills needed to run carrier strike operations in the future. Bagwell said he does not underestimate the challenges and risks involved in building the F-35C operation, but he thinks the RAF and the RN forces would have faced the issue regardless of whether the Harrier had stayed in service.
“The techniques and procedures to recover a conventional carrier aircraft using catapult launches and arrestor gear recoveries, or ‘cats and traps,’ are totally different from that of a STOVL aircraft,” he said. “That is just as true for the aircrew as it is for the ships crew. Whilst the Harrier would have preserved the requisite skill sets for the F35B STOVL variant of the Joint Combat Aircraft” – the name the British called their JSF program – “they are largely irrelevant to that needed to operate the F35C.
“Effectively, we need to build the skill sets for the new aircraft and carrier configuration from scratch. We all ready have plans in place to begin that build up over the next 10 years with our allies and partners.” He said it was a “tall order,” but regaining carrier skills is a problem Britain had previously faced and overcome. One senior Royal Navy commander agreed with Bagwell’s assessment and said there was a much bigger question mark over regaining deck skills than the capabilities of pilots Bagwell, who commands all of Britain’s fast jet operations, said the RAF and the RN “have 10 years to get our act in gear and understand what operating the F-35C variant means for training and other preparation. Some we will have to learn from the USA and France,” he said. The British already have a pilot exchange program with the U.S. with officers flying carrier operations with the F-18. Bagwell said he was confident British pilots would also be flying French Navy jets as well “We will be flying Rafales from French carriers within a few years. I’m sure of it,” he said.
The British are targeting the availability of a single squadron of F-35Cs by 2020 to equip a joint RAF/RN operation. Briefing reporters last week, Bagwell said that would require an initial order for about 40 aircraft. How the aircraft will be employed in the future has yet to be worked out, but said he thought the aircraft would not be tied to the aircraft carrier. “They are there to project air power. It’s irrelevant where they are launched from. The Royal Navy will hate me for this, but sometimes they will be launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier for good reason. Other times it will be in-country closer to the problem,” he said. Either way, he said the F-35C gave the British better deep penetration, ISTAR and other capabilities than the more limited STOVL F-35B.

Anything weird? Apparently, not. As Bagwell affirms, the Harrier could not contribute to generate the skills required to fly the F-35C since the conventional carrier variant has not a STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) capability. Right. Unfortunately, what must be underlined is that Britain had originally chosen the STOVL variant before the Strategic Defense and Security Review in October deciced to switch to the C variant making the Harrier GR9s APPARENTLY useless. It’s a matter of logic: the Harrier was not scrapped because of the C variant; the C variant was chosen because the Harrier was sacrificed (along with the Ark Royal aircraft carrier). With this decision, UK will not have aircraft to equip aircraft carriers until 2020. Since the development of the F-35 is taking more than expeceted in both terms of time and costs, was this the right pick? I don’t think so.

Below, a of RN Sea Harrier FA.2

Two RAF Harrier GR7s (the left one photographed during an air-to-air refueling mission on board a Spanish KC-130 from Aviano in 2000; the right one taking off during RIAT 2002).

Is it Italy facing the same risk? Absolutely not. The current scenario offers just two options for the Italian Navy that can’t afford building a new catapult-equipped aircraft carrier in the short-mid period:

1) the F-35B is axed and the I GrupAer AV-8B+ will keep flying from the Cavour aircraft carrier until the aircraft lifetime expires

2) the Italian Harriers are replaced by the STOVL F-35B as soon as it becomes available.

Below, AV-8B+ Harrier of the Marina Militare refueling from a B707 tanker.

How does the F-35 JSF fly and fight?

In May 2006, I wrote an article about my experience flying with the F-35 using the Lockheed Martin’s JSF Cockpit demonstrator. Since the article was written only in Italian and many foreign readers have been following my recent comments and articles about the F-35B, the Harrier and the STOVL debate, I thought it could be interesting for them to read it in English, especially because I describe also the way the aircraft flies and the way it transits from horizontal to vertical flight. I will also add the slide which were presented during the press briefing that preceeded the cockpit demo that I received from LM some weeks after my “flight”: even if they are some 5 years old, they provide an interesting look into some of the technologies introduced by the JSF.
Have a good read.

Today (May 9, 2006) I had the opportunity to travel in the future (even if it was a short-range trip, let’s say fifteen years ahead) as I attended an orientation session with the JSF cockpit demonstator. Under the supervision of a Lockheed Martin F-16 pilot, I virtually flew the F-35, a 5th generation highly advanced fighter which makes the so-called “sensor fusion” a reality and provides the pilot a stunning situational awareness, while still allowing for simple handling. The first feeling that I had when I was aboard the simulator, hosted by the Comando Squadra Aerea of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) at Centocelle, Rome, was that of being in front of a popular flight simulator from Digital Image Design: “Super EF-2000”. SEF2000 is a PC game that came out in 1997 and that I enjoyed a lot in 1998-99. The graphics for that time was excellent, the scenario’s complexity was good, the only flaw was the being too “easy”. It was basically a game and not a real flight simulator like Microsoft Flight Simulator or Falcon 4.0. The flight model was realistic but the plane was too easy to fly even for a newbie and the information provided by the avionics was too “user friendly”, rather different from those actually provided by aircraft of the 3rd generation. Well, I found the same easiness, the same “at a glance” symbology right in the JSF. The aircraft does not have a HUD (Head Up Display), but has one big touch screen that can be configured at will by tapping the screen with your fingers (like a PDA). The information normally presented to the pilot in the HUD are “projected” directly into the pilot’s helmet that is capable, through the sensors of the aircraft, to see in all directions through any surface. The pilot then has the impression of flying into the air (without an aircraft surrounding him) and can visually track the enemy aircraft with is sight not hampered by the tail or wing of his plane. Then, during a hypothetical dogfight the pilot is able to follow the enemy aircraft through the cockpit mounts, as if suspended in space. For the rest, as mentioned above, the symbolism is clear enough: the red triangles represent the enemies, the white are “unknown” and the greens are friendly aircraft. The JSF is able to share all its information via a network with the other elements of the flight or with AWACS and Rivet Joints. The menu can be browsed with a cursor moved by a small joystick located on the throttle. In short, everything pretty straightforward for someone like me, used to work at the computer; an experience somewhat “shocking” for those pilots who are accustomed to the analogue Starfighter-style cockpits. Obviously, with the JSF the pilot should focus on mission and information management, rather than worrying about “flying the aircraft”. By means of the DAS, the pilot can see all the electronic emissions on the 360 degress around the aircraft. He may even know the search and tracking frequency of the ground radar. Of particular interest was the opportunity to test the hovering capabilities of the aircraft, that is in fact also available in the STOVL version that interests both the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) and the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF). The pilot, by means of a switch manages the transition from conventional flight to the Harrier-style, so to speak. The aircraft autonomously directs the nozzle and reduces the speed to the IAS (Indicated Air Speed) previously set through a dedicated button on the throttle (which is also operated in automatic mode). Once in “vertical” mode, the aircraft is extremely simple to fly, even thanks to the camera underneath the fuselage that allows the pilot to see downwards, and to decide where to place the wheels. Moving the stick forward or backward the aircraft climbs or descends: with a couple of attempts, you can also manage to maintain the desired vertical speed. With the rudder, you can point the aircraft nose wherever you want and even a novice can land with some precision and without major problems. The only difficulty I encountered during the flight was distinguishing between all the switches on the throttle, that pushed up with the little finger, allowed me to select the autothrottle. As for the rest, airplane is a real dream, extremely easy to be piloted and able to provide the pilot with all the information he might need, in the preferred layout.

The end of an era

TodayH5396/10: Formation flying will take place
Q) EGTT/QWVLW/IV/M/W/000/030/5250N00010W040
5239N 00033E (MARHAM AD) 1318 HR
5221N 00006W (WYTON AD) 1322 HR
5237N 00029W (WITTERING AD) 1326 HR
5239N 00029W (STAMFORD) 1327 HR
5302N 00029W (CRANWELL AD) 1401 HR
5310N 00031W (WADDINGTON AD) 1402 HR
5318N 00033W (SCAMPTON AD) 1404 HR
5306N 00010W (CONINGSBY AD) 1411 HR
5244N 00039W (COTTESMORE AD) 1415 HR
5240N 00044W (OAKHAM) 1416 HR
5244N 00039W (COTTESMORE AD) 1420 HR
LOWER: Surface, UPPER: 3,000 Feet AMSL
FROM: 14 Dec 2010 12:55 GMT TO: 15 Dec 2010 14:40 GMT
SCHEDULE: 1255-1440

The above NOTAM has a particular historical value. It provides the route flown during the rehearsal and final flight of the last Harrier GR9s belonging to the Joint Force Harrier. In fact, on Dec. 15, 2010, Cottesmore airbase launched a 16 ship formation that overflew various RAF stations and local towns, which have been associated with the Harrier over the last four decades to bid farewell to the famous STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft. Beginning today, the STOVL concept is history for UK’s RAF and RN that were due to continue operating the Harrier until at least 2018, when the Joint Force was to have transitioned to Lockheed Martin’s F-35B. However, the iconic jump jet was decommissioned after 41 years of service as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) to ensure the survival of a reduced number of Tornado GR.4s, a decision that, along with that of shifting to the carrier variant F-35C, was criticised by many because will leave UK without aircraft for its aircraft carriers, hence without maritime strike force, for at least a decade. The last flight on Dec. 15, was preceded by another historical flight on Nov. 24, 2010, when the HMS Ark Royal, the United Kingdom’s Flagship, facilitated the last ever launch of a Harrier GR9 from her deck at 09.00LT while sailing approximately 40 nautical miles off the coast of Newcastle. HMS Ark Royal is being decommissioned too under the SDSR with a considerable loss in British capabilities to project power and strike globally with an extremely versatile and flexible asset.

This is an excerpt from the RAF news release:

Harrier pilot Lieutenant Commander James Blackmore, the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier from the decks of HMS Ark Royal, said:
“This is a truly memorable day. We accept the decision to decommission both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal; however, of course the final launch will be emotional. I have flown over 90 sorties off the Ship and combat sorties in Afghanistan, and the aircraft’s capability still astounds me. Landing an aircraft on a runway which is not in the same location as where you launched from gives exceptional flexibility.
I remember witnessing a Harrier in the hover when I was just 8 years old, since then I had wanted to do nothing else. I have flown Harriers for over 10 years, the training is complex and challenging but the added challenge and excitement of hovering a Harrier off the port side of HMS Ark Royal before landing vertically is an experience I will miss immensely.
I feel honoured and proud to be the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier jet from HMS Ark Royal.”
Deliberately keen to highlight the very Joint nature of Joint Force Harrier the last jet to recover in HMS Ark Royal was an 800 NAS jet piloted by a Royal Air Force officer, today the last jet to launch was a 1(Fighter) Squadron RAF jet piloted by a Royal Naval officer. Departing the Ship in one wave of four aircraft, the launch was led by Capt Mike Carty RM followed by: Lt Matt Fooks-Bale RN and Flt Lt Em Rickards before Lt Cdr James Blackmore’s historic final launch.
After the launch, the 4 aircraft conducted a 2 ship fly past, each squadron flying low past the port side of the Ship before conducting a final fighter exercise controlled by 849 NAS’ Seaking Mk7 helicopter, prior to returning to RAF Cottesmore.

Both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal are due to leave the Service next year.
Reflecting on the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal, Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer said:
“As the last Harriers lift off the deck of HMS Ark Royal for the final time it is with a real sense of pride that we remember the fantastic contribution they, and the carriers, have made to UK Defence around the world. The tremendous reception we received in Newcastle last weekend, where Ark Royal was built, reflects the very deep fondness for this iconic warship and her air group. Although we now look back on the significant achievements of the Harrier with immense pride and a tinge of sadness at our loss, we can now look forward to an exciting new chapter of Naval aviation as we continue the training for and procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship will enter service from 2015 and together with their helicopters and the Joint Strike Fighter, they will be a very powerful strategic asset able to project serious power anywhere in the world, delivering 21st Century Carrier Strike capability. Add to this the new Type 45 Destroyers, the forthcoming Type 26 frigate, the Astute class submarines and the Royal Marine Brigade, the United Kingdom will have a balanced Naval Service that remains in the premier league, working for Britain to deter potential threats, defend our global interests and, if necessary, defeat our enemies.”

The fate of the (+50) early retired Harriers is still unknown. Being perfectly airworthy and far from being too obsolete to serve in some air force, they might be cocooned or preserved until the time to be sold comes. Maybe some air forces could be interested in the aircraft, especially if we consider the uncertain future of the F-35B. Even if I think there are little chance that the B version of the F-35 will be canceled, those services that had planned to get their STOVL variant of the Lightning II as a Harrier replacement will look at the GR9s retired today with some interest.