Tag Archives: F-35B

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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Marine Corps, Air Force F-35 Jets Take Part In Red Flag Exercise Together For The First Time

Red Flag 17-3 underway at Nellis Air Force Base features both U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force F-35s, for the first time together.

Red Flag is simply one of the largest and more realistic exercises in world, designed to simulate the first 10 days of a modern conflict.

Hundred of combat aircraft along with pilots, ground forces, intelligence analysts, cyber and space operators take regularly part in RF exercises at Nellis AFB, just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, to validate tactics and weapon systems employment within the context of the Nevada Test and Training Range.

As already explained the RF scenario continuously changes in order to adapt to the real world threats: the old “fixed” battlefields, where the location of the enemy was known and remained pretty much unchanged until the aircraft reached the target area, have evolved in a more dynamic and unknown battlespace that requires real-time data coordinators able to disseminate information on the threats and targets gathered from a variety of assets and sensors. In such new “networked” scenarios, stealth technology (capability to survive and operate effectively where others cannot) combined with 5th Generation features (sensor fusing), are extremely important to achieve the “Information Superiority” required to geo-locate the threats and target them effectively.

That’s why the presence of 5th Gen. aircraft teaming with and “orchestrating” 4th Gen. combat planes (lacking the Low Observability feature but able to carry more ordnance) will become the leit motiv of the future Red Flags.

For instance, Red Flag 17-3, underway at Nellis from Jul. 10 to 28, sees two F-35 Lightning II squadrons (and as many JSF variants) participating in the drills together for the very first time: the Marine Corps’ F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft from VMFA-211 based at MCAS Yuma and the Air Force’s F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) from 33rd Wing from Eglin AFB, Fla. Furthermore, during RF 17-3, the two different variants of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) operate alongside the F-22 Raptors from Tyndall AFB, also taking part in the exercise.

The cooperation of the three radar-evading aircraft, including the controversial F-35s, is going to be particularly interesting.

According to the USMC, VMFA-211 will conduct defensive counter air (DCA); offensive counter air (OCA); suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD); destruction of enemy air defense; dynamic taskings, which involve finding a time-sensitive target or series of targets and eliminating them; electronic warfare (EW); preplanned strikes; and combat search and rescue (CSAR).

Whereas U.S. Air Force F-35s (from a different unit) have already taken part in RF, the missions they flew during RF 17-1, at least based on reports and official statements, focused on OCA and air interdiction in a highly contested/denied aerial environment: Air Force F-35As penetrated denied airspace and directed standoff weapons from B-1B heavy bombers flying outside the denied airspace. During these missions, the F-35As with IOC (Initial Operational Capability – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) entered the denied airspace and engaged both aerial and ground targets, not only with weapons they carried but also with weapons launched from other platforms such as the B-1Bs as they loitered just outside the threat environment acting as “bomb trucks.” Moreover, during the RF 17-1 sorties, flying alongside the F-22 Raptors, the F-35s achieved the pretty famous kill ratio of “20-1.

Interestingly, even though it will probably not embed simulated shipborne or remote base operations (that are what the F-35Bs, in spite of the limited range and internal weapons capacity, was somehow designed to conduct) the Marine Corps will expand the role of the 5th Gen. aircraft in RF, covering also EW and CSAR support tasks.

“It’s … important to practice integrating assets from all across the [Armed Forces’] inventory because if we go to conflict, we don’t want that to be the first time we all integrate with each other,” said Maj. Paul Holst, VMFA-211’s executive officer, in a public release.

“This is the first time we [VMFA-211] have deployed on this scale … we brought 10 F-35s here with all of our maintenance equipment, all of our support equipment and personnel,” said Holst. “For the pilots, the opportunity to participate in these exercises prepares us for combat … and the opportunity to integrate and plan with the rest of the force is something you just don’t get anywhere else.”

“A lot of times at home station, we’re basically working just with each other or we’re doing things that are [smaller in] scale and only focusing on our specific mission sets that we do,” said Maj. Chris Brandt, a pilot and administration and logistics officer in charge with VMFA-211. “When we actually deploy, we’re most likely going to be part of a joint force so coming here you get that experience. It’s not until you come to exercises like these that you get to train across services and [train] with platforms that you typically would not work with at your home station.”

According to Holst, Red Flag allows each service and subordinate unit to understand the capabilities of other services, units and their equipment.

“For example, the E/A-18G exists in the Navy and the Air Force doesn’t really have a comparable asset to that. There may be situations where the only F-35s in theater are Marine Corps F-35s … and you have to integrate the F-35s into the entire package,” said Holst. “It’s always going to be necessary to bring everyone’s assets together and practicing that is really important.”

The F-35s of both variants should play a dual role: “combat battlefield coordinators,” collecting, managing and distributing intelligence data while also acting as “kinetic attack platforms,” able to drop their ordnance on the targets and pass targeting data to older 4th Gen. aircraft via Link-16, if needed. More or less what done by the USMC F-35B in exercises against high-end threats carried out last year with some jets configured as “bomb trucks” and others carrying only internal weapons.

As a side note it’s worth mentioning that the integration of the F-35A and B variants is something another partner nation is going to explore in the future. In fact, Italy will have both A and B variants, with the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) ones serving both the Air Force (that has already taken on charge its first 7 F-35As with the eight example that has recently performed its maiden flight at Cameri FACO) and the Italian Navy, that will use them on the Cavour aircraft carrier. One day we will analyse (again) whether the F-35B was really needed by the ItAF, but this is going to be another story.

 

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U.S. Marine Corps F-35B to take part in South Korean drills amid growing nuclear tension with North

The USMC Joint Strike Fighters based in Japan will take part in Foal Eagle joint exercise with South Korea. A rather symbolic move.

Some F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) are taking part in Exercise Foal Eagle in South Korea, according to U.S. military sources who talked to Yonhap News Agency.

The aircraft Lightning II will carry out “ground attack” tasks during the two-month drills.

“The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula,” an official said to the South Korean media outlets.

Earlier this week North Korea fired off four ballistic missiles into the seas near Japan in the latest of a long series of nuclear threats to the US, Japan and South Korea.

Although the attendance of the 5th generation stealth aircraft in the exercise can be seen as a message in response to Kim Jong Un’s growing missile threats it was first speculated as the first U.S. Marine Corps F-35B squadron was deployed to its new homebase in Japan.

Indeed, on Jan. 9, 2017, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), an F-35B squadron with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, departed MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Yuma, Arizona, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

Formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the VMFA-121 “Green Knights” has achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the JSF on Jul. 31, 2015.

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.

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 (just 10 aircraft deployed to Japan, 6 more are reportedly joining the USMC squadron at Iwakuni by August this year), is mostly symbolic and must be considered as part of a wider military force, an armada that, if needed, would also include B-1B Lancers deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission, 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 other USAF from land bases and U.S. Navy aircraft from aircraft carriers, including the F-16 in Wild Weasel role and the EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack assets, to name but few.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin