Tag Archives: F-35B

UK’s First Four F-35B Jets Currently On Their Way To The UK and Their New Home Of RAF Marham

The first F-35B aircraft are expected to land later today to join the RAF 617 Squadron “Dambusters”.

Earlier today four Lightning jets of 617 Squadron took of from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina, where the famous “Dambusters” unit was reactivated on Apr. 17, 2018, to undertake the transatlantic crossing and arrive at RAF Marham, the new home of the UK’s Lightning Force.

The F-35Bs are being supported by three RAF Voyagers tankers: ZZ330 (RRR9101, radio callsign “Ascot 9101”), ZZ335 (RRR9102, “Ascot 9102”) and ZZ331 (RRR9103 “Ascot 9103”). ZZ330 departed Charleston and picked up the four  F-35Bs from MCAS Beaufort. That took the Lightning as far as ZZ331 and ZZ335 out from Gander that are towing the F-35 across the Atlantic. Supporting the transatlantic trip is also an A400M ZM401 (RRR4085).

The four jets are due to land at RAF Marham this evening, one day later than expected: their mission was delayed 24 hours by the bad weather along the planned route.

The Royal Air Force has also shared a video on social media showing one of the Lightnings during aerial refueling:

According to Air Forces Monthly, nine of the 11 UK F-35Bs currently on strength at MCAS Beaufort (where the British squadron operates under Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501) are expected to arrive in the UK for the RAF’s centenary celebrations this summer, including a flypast over London. And, above all, later this year, the UK F-35Bs will deploy aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time.

“Lightning II has been designed from the outset to carry out a wide range of mission types, able to use its very low observable characteristics to penetrate Integrated Air Defence Systems and strike a number of types of targets. In a permissive environment, Lightning II is able to carry weapons on external pylons, as well as in the internal weapon bays. This will allow a maximum weapon payload of 6 Paveway IV, 2 AIM-120C AMRAAM, 2 AIM-132 ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) and a missionised 25mm gun pod,” says official RAF documentation.

“In 2019 we will also start our integration work for the new Meteor [beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, BVRAAM] and SPEAR Cap 3 [Selective Precision Effects At Range Capability 3] weapon in order to deliver a phase one capability for those assets in 2021,” Martin Peters, BAE Systems’ F-35 flight test manager and test lead for STOVL (short take-off and landing), told AFM.

Top image credit: Crown Copyright

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)

First F-35B Assembled Internationally And Destined To The Italian Air Force Has Completed Its First Short Take Off And Vertical Landing

The first Italian F-35B has performed its first STOVL test flight.

On Oct. 30, the first Italian F-35B, the first assembled outside the US, carried out its first flight in short-take and vertical landing mode (STOVL) from Cameri airfield, home of the Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility, in northwestern Italy.

According to an official LM release, during the flight, a Lockheed Martin test pilot performed perfectly all STOVL mode operations, including hovering on the runway, reaching another milestone for the F-35 program in Italy. The test pilots will perform other tests before the official BL-1 aircraft is delivered to the Italian Air Force: this is worth of note since a previous release stated that the first Italian F-35B would be taken on charge by the Italian Navy. Indeed, Italy plans to procure 90 F-35s, 60 F-35As for the Air Force and 30 F-35Bs for both the ItAF and Italian Navy. Therefore, the Italian Air Force will operate a fleet of CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) and STOVL stealth jet with the latter considered to be pivotal to operate in expeditionary scenarios: a decision that has long been debated, with some analysts considering the STOVL variant unnecessary for the ItAF given that the the F-35 CTOL features a longer range and a reduced logistic footprint than the F-35B, especially in the TDY scenarios.

The aircraft, designated BL-1, had successfully completed its maiden flight on Oct. 24.

After delivery to the Italian MoD, scheduled by the end of the year, the Air Force will transfer the aircraft to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, early 2018, to obtain the Electromagnetic Environmental Effects certification.

Image credit: Sergio Marzorati via LM

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Stealth Fighters With Radar Reflectors Take Part In Latest Show Of Force Against North Korea

The U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II, joined United States Air Force B-1B Lancers for the first time in a show of force over the Korean Peninsula.

On Aug. 30, two B-1Bs from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam accompanied by two Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self-Defense Force) F-15Js and four Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-15Ks took part in a joint mission over South Korea: a direct response to North Korea’s intermediate-range ballistic missile launch which flew directly over northern Japan on August 28 amid rising tension over North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile development programs.

Even though such missions have become more or less a routine, what make the latest “show of force” a bit more interesting is the participation of four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II that joined the USAF Lancers for a 10-hour mission that brought the “package” over waters near Kyushu, Japan, then across the Korean Peninsula to release live weapons at the Pilsung Range training area before returning to their respective home stations.

Although the F-35B is the most modern combat plane in the region and can theoretically be used as part of a larger package to hit very well defended North Korean targets in case of war, the presence of a handful stealth multirole aircraft is mainly symbolic.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing that achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the JSF on Jul. 31, 2015, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, from MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, on Jan. 9, 2017.

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.

Escorted by ROKAF F-15s, the JSF dropped their internally-carried GBU-32s on a range in South Korea (all images via PACAF).

In case of war, the stealthy aircraft would only be part of a wider military force including U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers (that have already conducted extended deterrence missions over the Korean Peninsula in the past years) along with the B-1B Lancers already deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission; as well as other USAF assets from land bases and U.S. Navy aircraft from aircraft carriers, such as the F-16 in Wild Weasel role and the EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack, to name but few.

In fact, the F-35s would be 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.

During the Aug. 30 mission, the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors used to make LO (Low Observable) aircraft clearly visible on radars: a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area. Furthermore , the Joint Strike Fighters also dropped their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) on Pilsung firing range.

F-35Bs dropping their 1,000-lb GBU-32 JDAMs

With a “first day of war” configuration the F-35B would likely carry weapons internally to maintain low radar cross-section and observability from sensors as done during the mission flown yesterday. 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 the environment becomes more permissive and the F-35 no longer relies on low-observable capability for survivability. This is when the Lightning II would shift to carrying large external loads to accelerate the prosecution of ground targets in an effort to overwhelm an adversary with highly effective precision strikes.

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.

“The F-35 embodies our commitment to our allies and contributes to the overall security and stability of the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” said Lt. Gen. David H. Berger, commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific in a PACAF release. “By forward-basing the F-35, the most advanced aircraft in the world, here in the Pacific, we are enabling the Marine Corps to respond quickly during a crisis in support of Japan, the Republic of Korea, and all our regional partners.”

Four F-35s took part in the latest show of force against North Korea.

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This Footage *Allegedly* Shows A Russian MiG-31 Shooting Down A Cruise Missile In The Stratosphere.

According to the Russian MoD this video shows a Russian MiG-31 Foxhound taking down a cruise missile.

According to the press center of the Pacific Fleet of Russia, a Russian Navy MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor launched from the Kamchatka Peninsula, intercepted a supersonic cruise missile in the stratosphere during exercises that were conducted on the eve of the celebration of the Day of Naval Aviation.

The missile was launched from the water area of the Sea of Okhotsk at an altitude of more than 12 kilometers at a speed three times the speed of sound, Pravda new outlet reported.

The Mig-31 Foxhound is a two-seat Mig-25 Foxbat derivative in service since 1983.

Whilst the MiG-25 was built as a high-speed, high-altitude interceptor, capable of reaching the speed of Mach 3.2 to intercept American B-58 and B-70 bombers, the MiG-31 was designed to intercept the B-1B bomber, which was designed to operate at low-level, below the radar coverage.

The MiG-31 has quite good low-level capabilities (which MiG-25 does not) and is equipped with an advanced radar with look-down-shoot-down capability (needed to detect low-flying bombers), and data bus, allowing for coordinated attack with other fighters.

The production of the Mig-31, one of the world’s fastest tactical fighter in active service with top speed of Mach 2.83 and a range of 1,450 km, ended in the early 1990s, but the interceptor is being upgraded to extend its operative life up to the 2028 – 2030.

The Russian MiG-31BM jet, capable to carry up to four long-range R-33 missiles and four short-range R-77 missiles, was expected to carry a weapon able to shoot down space satellites; according to some sources, the ability to intercept a cruise missile, previously Kh-55 and now Kh-101, is something practiced by the Russian Foxhounds for years.

The video below, released by the Russian MoD, is said to show the test conducted on Jul. 17 (even though the actual interception of the cruise missile can’t be seen.)

Generally speaking, combat aircraft can intercept cruise missiles and engage them. However, such missiles are quite difficult to detect: they are optimised for low level flying through the Terrain Following capability, have a low radar cross-section and heat signature and, they are small.

This means that an inteceptor using a long-range missile from the right position and altitude might be able to do the job. But it shouldn’t be something too easy.

Testing conducted by the U.S. Navy has shown that shooting down cruise missiles, flying at low-level and high-speed is actually a pretty difficult task: on Sept. 12, 2016, a live test fire demonstration involved the integration of U.S. Marine Corps F-35B from the Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron (VMX 1), based in Edwards Air Force Base, with existing Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) architecture.

F-35 and Aegis Combat System Successfully Demonstrated Integration Potential in First Live Missile Test (Lockheed Martin)

The F-35B acted as an elevated sensor (to detect an over-the-horizon threat as envisaged for the F-22) that sent data through its Multi-Function Advanced Data Link to a ground station connected to USS Desert Ship (LLS-1), a land-based launch facility designed to simulate a ship at sea. Using the latest Aegis Weapon System Baseline 9.C1 and a Standard Missile 6, the system successfully detected and engaged the target: a test that proved how detecting, tracking and engaging cruise missiles requires cutting edge anti-surface and anti-air weapons.

On the other side it is somehow interesting to note that a rather old weapons system, the MiG-31, albeit operating a Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar, can be able to intercept stealthy cruise missiles (like the Kh-101 reportedly used in some tests), with the support of an AWACS plane.

We don’t actually know the exact type of test the Russians conducted. For sure it wasn’t a low flying cruise missile like a Tomahawk, since this was reportedly flying in the “near space.”

The video below shows a past test when four MiG-31s, supported by an A-50 Mainstay, reportedly fired and hit a Kh-55 launched by a Tu-95 Bear.

“The cruise missile was destroyed at an altitude of 300 meters above the ground from a distance of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from the target,” the Russian MoD said in a statement, quoted by Russian-owned outlet Sputnik News, back in 2015.

Anyway, Russia has other weapons systems nominally capable of repelling cruise missile attacks, as well as jets and drones: the S-400 anti-aircraft defense is able to engage all types of aerial targets including aircraft (someone says even VLO – Very Low Observable ones), drones and ballistic and cruise missiles within the range of 250 miles at an altitude of nearly 19 miles.

Let us know what you think and know about the MiG-31 ability to intercept waves of cruise missiles.

Top image: file artwork by Pravda.ru

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