Tag Archives: Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

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

U.S. Marine Corps have just sent their F-35B stealth jets to Japan in first overseas deployment

Iwakuni becomes the first airbase outside the U.S. to host a permanent deployment of US military F-35 stealth jets.

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, for relocation to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, in what is the first deployment of the U.S. Joint Strike Fighter outside of CONUS (Continental US).

Formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the VMFA-121 “Green Knights” was re-designated as the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron on Nov. 20, 2012. About three years later, on Jul. 31, 2015, IOC (Initial Operational Capability) was declared and in December 2015, the Squadron flew its F-35Bs in support of Exercise Steel Knight, “a combined-arms live-fire exercise which integrates capabilities of air and ground combat elements to complete a wide range of military operations in an austere environment to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force.”

The F-35B performed exceedingly well during the exercise, according to the USMC.

In October 2016, a contingent of 12 F-35Bs took part in Developmental Test III aboard USS Amerca 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, so much so, some of the most experienced F-35B voiced their satisfaction for the way the aircraft is performing: “the platform is performing exceptionally,” they said.

The first two F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers will take place in 2018.

NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN – An F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, refuels in flight while transiting the Pacific from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Jan. 9, 2017, with its final destination of Iwakuni, Japan. VMFA-121 is the first operational F-35B squadron assigned to the Fleet Marine Force, with its relocation to 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Iwakuni. The F-35B was developed to replace the Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA- 6B Prowler. The Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft is a true force multiplier. The unique combination of stealth, cutting-edge radar and sensor technology, and electronic warfare systems bring all of the access and lethality capabilities of a fifth-generation fighter, a modern bomber, and an adverse-weather, all-threat environment air support platform.

How low can you go with an F/A-18 Hornet?

Aircrew from VMFA(AW)-242, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, are currently deployed to Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, for Exercise Southern Frontier which began Aug. 5, 2013.

The U.S. Marine Corps has been focusing on LAT (low altitude tactic) in the large airspace of Australia’s Northern Territory where they are free to conduct low altitude training that is impossible to perform while they are at their Japanese homebase at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni.

“In Japan we are forced to fly and adhere to host country rules, which inhibits us from going below 500 feet,” said Maj. Frank Savarese, the pilot training officer for VMFA(AW)-242. “We have a wonderful opportunity to come down to Australia and take advantage of all of these ranges that Australia has to offer to us, which allows us the opportunity to fly low.”

As already mentioned before, while discussing insane low level videos of F/A-18s and other aircraft types, the fact that most recent scenarios, in which the combat planes could quietly operate at medium or high altitude with stand off weapons, because of the lack of anti-aircraft threats, doesn’t imply there’s no longer need to to train for flying at low level.

To be able to fly at less than 2,000 feet can be useful during stateside training too, when weather conditions are such to require a low level leg to keep visual contact with the ground and VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions).

Aircraft involved in special operations, reconnaissance, Search And Rescue, troops or humanitarian airdrops in trouble spots around the world may have to fly at low altitudes.

Even a stealth plane (or helicopter), spotted visually by an opponent, could be required to escape at tree top height to survive an engagement by enemy fighter planes or an IR guided missile.

This image gives a hint of what flying at very low level looks like from the cockpit of a Hornet.

Image credit: U.S. Marine Corps

 

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First MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft arrive in Japan

The top picture is particularly interesting as it shows a still “packaged” MV-22 Osprey belonging to the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 as it is unloaded from the cargo ship Green Ridge on arrival at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni harbor on Jul. 23, 2012.

This marks the first MV-22 Osprey aircraft deployment to Japan, a move that raised some concerns following the recent incidents involving the tilt-rotor aircraft.

The Osprey will replace the Marine Corps’ CH-46 helicopters.

 

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