Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin

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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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.

Union Jack

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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Lockheed Martin has officially unveiled Israel’s first F-35

Here’s the F-35A “Adir” (“Mighty One”): the first Lightning II for the Israeli Air Force.

With a ceremony broadcast live on Youtube, the first Israeli F-35 was rolled out on Jun. 22 at Lockheed Martin production plant at Ft. Worth, Texas.

The 5th Generation aircraft, designated AS-1, is expected to be delivered to the Israeli Air Force (IAF) later this year.

According to the Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who spoke during the arrival of the F-35 stealth fighter, “the most advanced in the world and the best for safeguarding Israel’s aerial superiority,” will enhance the Israeli deterrence against its enemies for many years to come.

Israel has contracted for 33 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales program with an option for 17 more Joint Strike Fighters.

The aircraft will have components contributed by Israeli companies, including Israel Aerospace Industries that will produce the F-35’s outer wings, Elbit Systems-Cyclone, that will provide center fuselage composite components as well as Elbit Systems Ltd. that will provide Gen. III helmet-mounted display systems to be worn by all Lightning II pilots.

It’s still not clear how many “domestic” modifications, including EW (Electronic Warfare) pods, weaponry, C4 systems etc. the aircraft, sometimes dubbed F-35I (for Israel) will embed.

F-35 IAF 2

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The Italian Air Force has successfully accomplished the F-35’s first transatlantic crossing

The Italian Air Force made the history by successfully accomplishing the F-35’s first transatlantic crossing.

On Feb. 5, the first Italian Air Force F-35, the first JSF built outside the U.S., landed at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Mariland, at the end of a 7-hour transatlantic flight from Lajes Air Base, in Portugal.

The aircraft, dubbed AL-1 and serialled MM7332 departed from Cameri on Feb. 3 and was scheduled to land in the U.S. on the following day but the trip was delayed due to strong winds over the Atlantic Ocean.

The aircraft was piloted by one of the two ItAF pilots who successfully completed the training at Luke AFB last year.

F-35 ground

F-35 left side

The aircraft arrived at Pax River, where it will be involved in testing activities before moving to Luke Air Force Base, was accompanied by two KC-767 tankers, two C-130Js for logistical and SAR support, and one two-seater Eurofighter Typhoon acting as chase plane. One of F-2000B remained at Lajes as spare, and will wait until all return from the States within a couple of days (except for the JSF).

C-130J

Typhoon B

Typhoon B 2

The pictures in this post show the formation arriving a Lajes: noteworthy, the stopover marked the first landing of an F-35 in Portugal.

Image credit: APS – Associação Portugal Spotters

 

The Italian Air Force welcomes the first F-35A delivered outside the U.S.

The first F-35 delivered outside the U.S. was taken on charge by the Italian Air Force.

On Dec. 3, Lt. Gen. Pasquale Preziosa, Chief of the Italian Air Force, welcomed the first Italian F-35A at the F-35 Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility at Cameri, in northwestern Italy.

Not only is the AL-1 (as the aircraft is designated) the first F-35 for the Italian armed forces but it is also the first assembled and delivered outside the U.S.

With the delivery of its first aircraft, Italy becomes the sixth nation to receive an F-35 joining Australia, Netherlands, Norway, United Kingdom and the U.S. that already operate the aircraft at various airbase across the United States.

The aircraft for the Italian Air Force, that made its very first flight from Cameri airbase on Sept. 7, it’s the first of eight aircraft currently being assembled at the Italian FACO that will assemble all the remaining F-35A and F-35B for the Italian Air Force and Navy, and build F-35A for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

AL-1 will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, in 2016 (with the support of an Italian Air Force KC-767 tanker, the first international tanker to refuel the JSF) where Italy’s first two pilots have recently begun F-35 flight training..

Italy is a Tier II partner in the F-35 program. So far, the Government has invested 3.5 billion USD in the program with an industrial return, in terms of contracts signed, that amounts to +1 billion USD.
That said, industrial participation in the program includes Alenia Aeronautica supplying wing sets (about 75% of Italy’s participation in the program) and other companies of the Finmeccanica group supplying work on some of those quite critical systems, including the EOTS (Electro-Optical Targeting System).

Despite the cuts, 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. So much so that it has become a very “sensitive” subject.

A large part of the public opinion, as well as many Italian lawmakers are against it, because they believe that the about 13 billion Euro for the F-35 and no significant industrial gains can’t co-exist with the country’s fragile public finances. However, as a consequence of the cuts (from 131 to 90 examples, with the “promise” to consider more cuts if needed), the assignment of the European FACO to Cameri, and a significant investment already done (Rome remains the second largest contributing partner after the UK) 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.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin’s Thinh Nguyen