Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

The U.S. Air Force F-35A is ready for war. More or less.

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.

Which one?

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.

F-35 IOC timeline

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.

Written with Jacek Siminski

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Watch the F-35B Lightning II fly, hover and perform vertical landing in this cool 4K video

Some cool F-35B footage in 4K

As the aircraft performs its British debut at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) at RAF Fairford here’s an interesting video filmed in 4K that was released by the British MoD.

It shows the first British F-35B Lightning II, flying along with one of the two U.S. Marine Corps airframes that also flew from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, to RAF Fairford airbase, UK, during the type’s first transatlantic flight, and performing the peculiar Vertical Landing of the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant.

The participation of the controversial 5th Gen. stealth aircraft to an airshow in the UK was planned to take place in 2014 but it was cancelled shortly before the four USMC F-35Bs started their transatlantic trip after a runway fire incident involving an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, on Jun. 23, 2014, caused a temporary fleet-wide grounding.

Two years later the F-35B is the highlight of the RIAT.

The image below, taken by Tony Lovelock, shows the USMC F-35B 168727/VM-19 VFMAT-501, seen here going into Hover mode during a short display at RAF Marham ahead of the display at RAF Fairford.

This aircraft accompanied by Tornado ZG777, and ZM137 F-35B Lightning II of the RAF had previously overflown Rosyth where the new British Carrier is being built for the Royal Navy.

USMC F-35B 168727

Top Image credit: Lockeed Martin

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Cool videos show UK and USMC F-35Bs and USAF F-35As during their first transatlantic flights

The F-35B  aircraft refueled 15 times (in total) during their trip across the Pond. And here’s some cool footage that shows the difference between the A and B variants.

On Jun. 29, the first British F-35B Lightning II, accompanied by two U.S. Marine Corps airframes, flew from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, and landed at RAF Fairford airbase, UK, successfully accomplishing the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant’s first transatlantic flight.

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During the journey, the F-35Bs were assisted by two U.S. Air Force KC-10 tankers that refueled the Lightining II 5th Generation aircraft 15 times over the Atlantic (note: this *should* be the total aerial refueling operations, meaning that each stealth plane plugged the In-Flight Refueling probe 5 times into the tanker’s hose).

The following B-roll shows the aircraft during the AAR (Air-to-Air Refueling) ops.

The three STOVL variants were followed by three F-35A of the U.S. Air Force Heritage flight on the following day: this was the first time USAF F-35s crossed the Pond.

Interestingly, AW&ST’s James Drew was aboard one of the KC-10s and filmed the refueling operations of the F-35As. You will notice that the A model is refueled by means of the USAF’s standard flying boom system, as opposed to the F-35B that instead of the fuel receptacle use the on-board IFR probe required by the hose and drogue system, the Navy/Marines standard. Noteworthy, according to Drew, the F-35As required 4 aerial refueling operations each: the F-35A has a max range of 1,200 miles, while the F-35B has a max range of 900 miles (thus the need for an additional AAR).

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[Photos] Eurofighter Typhoons escort three British and American F-35Bs arriving in the UK for the first time

Here are some cool photographs of the first British F-35B welcomed by the RAF Typhoons and escorted to the first landing in UK.

On Jun. 29, the first British F-35B Lightning II, piloted by RAF pilot Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols and accompanied by two U.S. Marine Corps airframes and by a pair of U.S. Air Force KC-10 tankers and USMC KC-130Js, landed at RAF Fairford airbase, UK, at the end of the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant’s first transatlantic crossing that marked the first landing of an F-35 in the UK.

An event that was broadcast live by the U.S. Marine Corps on their Facebook page.

F-35B arrives with escort

Using callsign “Tabor 01,” the flight flew to the UK from MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, to attend the Royal International Air Tattoo 2016 and Farnborough International Airshow in the next few weeks.

The first UK appearance of the controversial 5th Gen. stealth aircraft was initially planned to take place in 2014 but it was cancelled shortly before the four USMC F-35Bs started their transatlantic trip after a runway fire incident involving an F-35A at Eglin Air Force Base, on Jun. 23, 2014, caused a temporary fleet-wide grounding.

F-35B arrives with escort 2

Interestingly, the formation was welcomed into the British airspace by three RAF Typhoons.In this post, some cool photographs released by the British MoD of the formation heading to Fairford along with the escort fighters.

F-35B arrives with escort 3

Image credit: Crown Copyright. H/T UK Defence Journal

Watch the F-35 perform its international airshow debut with an Air Power Demo

The F-35 made its debut in European Airshow circuit at the Leeuwarden air show, in the Netherlands.

On Jun. 10, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter made its international airshow debut during the “Luchtmachtdagen 2016” airshow at Leeuwarden Air Base.

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The first two Dutch F-35A aircraft, AN-1 (F-001) and AN-2 (F-002), that had arrived at Leeuwarden at the end of the type’s first eastbound transatlantic crossing, on May 23, performed an “Air Power Demo” along with RNlAF (Royal Netherlands Air Force) F-16s, AH-64, Chinook that simulated a series of attacks on the airfield.

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The Dutch F-35As were deployed to the Netherlands to conduct both aerial and ground environmental noise tests and perform flights over the North Sea range.

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The F-35 also performed a flyover in formation with a Spitfire and an F-16.

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Here below you can find an interesting clip showing the “Air Power Demo” by Robin van der Reest.

All images, credit: Marco Ferrageau