Tag Archives: U.S. Marine Corps

Interesting Photos Show U.S. Air Force F-35A Stealth Jets Deployed To Japan About To Launch Without Radar Reflectors

Some recent photos of the Hill AFB F-35s deployed to Kadena Okinawa, seem to suggest the 5th Generation fighters have started operating in “stealth mode”.

Stealth aircraft, such as the F-22 Raptor or the F-35 Lightning II 5th generation jets are equipped with Luneburg (or Luneberg) lenses: radar reflectors used to make the LO (Low Observable) aircraft (consciously) visible to radars. These devices are installed on the aircraft on the ground are used whenever the aircraft don’t need to evade the radars: during ferry flights when the aircraft use also the transponder in a cooperative way with the ATC (Air Traffic Control) agencies; during training or operative missions that do not require stealthiness; or, more importantly, when the aircraft operate close to the enemy whose ground or flying radars, intelligence gathering sensors.

This is what we explained explaining how the Israeli the heavy presence of Russian radars and ELINT platforms in Syria cause some concern to the Israeli F-35 Adir recently declared IOC:

[…] the Russians are currently able to identify takeoffs from Israeli bases in real-time and might use collected data to “characterize” the F-35’s signature at specific wavelengths as reportedly done with the U.S. F-22s.

In fact, tactical fighter-sized stealth aircraft are built to defeat radar operating at specific frequencies; usually high-frequency bands as C, X, Ku and S band where the radar accuracy is higher (in fact, the higher the frequency, the better is the accuracy of the radar system).

However, once the frequency wavelength exceeds a certain threshold and causes a resonant effect, LO aircraft become increasingly detectable. For instance, ATC radars, that operate at lower-frequency bands are theoretically able to detect a tactical fighter-sized stealth plane whose shape features parts that can cause resonance. Radars that operate at bands below 300 MHz (lower UHF, VHF and HF radars), such as the so-called Over The Horizon (OTH) radars, are believed to be particularly dangerous for stealth planes: although they are not much accurate (because lower frequency implies very large antenna and lower angle accuracy and angle resolution) they can spot stealth planes and be used to guide fighters equipped with IRST towards the direction the LO planes might be.

F-35s deployed abroad usually feature their typical four radar reflectors: to exaggerate their real RCS (Radar Cross Section) and negate the enemy the ability to collect any detail about their LO “signature”. As happened during the short mission to Estonia and then Bulgaria, carried out by the USAF F-35As involved in the type’s first overseas training deployment to Europe or when, on Aug. 30, 2017, four U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II joined two USAF B-1B Lancers for the JSF’s first show of force against North Korea: the F-35Bs flew with the radar reflectors, a sign they didn’t want their actual radar signature to be exposed to any intelligence gathering sensor in the area.

The two radar reflectors on the right side of the F-35A (the remaining two are located in the same positions on the left side). Image credit: LM (hightlight by Author)

Since they almost always fly with the radar reflectors, photographs of the aircraft without the four notches (two on the upper side and two on the lower side of the fuselage) are particularly interesting: for instance, some shots taken on Jan. 24, 2018 and just released by the U.S. Air Force show F-35As deployed to Kadena AB, Japan, in October as a part of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Theater Security Package program, preparing to launch without their Luneberg reflectors.

The lack of reflector on the top left position of this F-35 is pretty evident in the following photographs:

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, goes through pre-flight checks prior to taxiing Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)


U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, performs pre-flight checks prior to a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is a 5th-generation stealth fighter developed to safely penetrate areas while avoiding radar detection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Valdez, 34th Aircraft Maintenance unit crew chief, communicates with Maj. Matthew Olson, F-35A Lightning II pilot from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, before a training flight Jan. 25, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-35A is deployed under U.S. Pacific Command’s theater security package program, which has been in operation since 2004. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Quay Drawdy)

For comparison, the following photo shows one of the 388FW F-35A jets on the ground at Kadena in November 2017 with the radar reflector.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Patrick Charles, 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, goes through pre-flight procedures Nov. 16, 2017, at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Rotational forces are integral to increasing our military combat capabilities, which are essential to U.S. power projection and security obligations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Obviously the lack of radar reflectors is not a big deal: during their deployment to RAF Lakenheath last year, F-35As of the 388th FW have flown without reflectors some local sorties with the 48th FW F-15E Strike Eagles (for example on Apr. 26, 2017). However, photographs of deployed F-35s without Luneburg Lenses are pretty rare and, for this reason, interesting and newsworthy.



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 MV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Crashes In Syria. Two Injured.

It’s the third Osprey crash this year.

A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey has crashed in Syria on Sept. 29, according to defense officials.

Two servicemen were injured in the crash; their conditions are not life-threatening.

The cause of the incident has not been unveiled, but it was not caused by enemy activity, an official said on the condition of anonymity to Stars & Stripes. The Osprey was heavily damaged in what has been described as a “hard landing” and could not be salvaged: for this reason it was destroyed “by the troops” (not clear how – maybe hit with a PGM dropped by a combat aircraft as done in the past?)


The unit the MV-22 and two injured servicemembers have not been disclosed: the U.S. DoD Pentagon acknowledges having some 500 troops inside Syria training and assisting Syrian Democratic Forces in their fight against ISIS militants.

Noteworthy, the one in Syria is the third major accident involving an Osprey this year.

On Jan. 29, one American Special Operations commando was killed and three others were injured in a firefight with Al Qaeda fighters in Yemen. A U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft called in to evacuate the wounded American soldiers crash landed, injuring 2 service members. The Osprey was intentionally destroyed in place by a U.S. Air Force F-16 raid once it was determined that it could not leave the crash landing site.

On Aug. 5, an MV-22 Osprey assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit was involved in a mishap off of the east coast of Australia. The tilt-rotor aircraft involved in the mishap had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) and was conducting regularly scheduled operations when the crashed. Three Marines died in the accident.

Top image credit: U.S. Marine Corps


North Korea Threatens To Shoot Down U.S. Bombers Even If They Are Flying In International Airspace

Pyongyang could target planes even when they are not flying in North Korean airspace, North Korea’s Foreign Minister told reporters.

On Sept. 25, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho accused President Donald Trump of declaring war, saying that gives the regime the right to take countermeasures, including shooting down U.S. strategic bombers, even if they are not flying in North Korean airspace.

The new comment comes amid growing tensions and rhetoric between Pyongyang and Washington: on Saturday Sept. 23, hours after Kim Jong Un said that North Korea would soon test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific, U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers from Guam, along with U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa, Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea, in what was the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century.

Then, Trump said the North Korean regime “won’t be around much longer” if North Korea’s Foreign Minister “echoes thoughts” of dictator Kim Jong Un, referred to as “Little Rocket Man” by Trump:

According to Ri Yong Ho, Trump’s comment was a declaration of war, that gives Pyongyang the right to shoot down U.S. bombers.

Whether North Korea would be able to shoot down a B-1 flying in international airspace or not is hard to say. The Lancers and their accompanying packages (that have also included stealthy U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs) are theoretically very well defended and rely on the heavy electronic support provided by a large array of assets that continuously operate at safe distance from North Korea (or, in case of satellites, literally above it) to pinpoint Pyongyang forces, to collect signals required to update the enemy’s EOB (Electronic Order of Battle), and to keep an eye on all the regime’s moves.

However, North Korea’s philosophy of self-reliance, the use of road-mobile launchers, underground bunkers as well as hidden shelters could create some hassle even to the world’s most advanced air armada.

Considered the status of its geriatric Air Force, mainly made of Soviet-era aircraft, North Korea would only rely on Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries to attack a B-1, provided the bomber is well inside the missile engagement zone.

Indeed, North Korea operates a mix of Soviet SAMs, including the S-75 (NATO reporting name SA-2), S-125 (SA-3), S-200 (SA-5) and Kvadrat (SA-6), some of those not only are in good condition, but were probably upgraded locally. In addition to these systems, North Korea is also fielding an indigenous SAM system, dubbed KN-06 or Pongae-5, said to be equivalent to a Russian S-300P (SA-10) with a range of up to 150 km.

KN-06 SAM fired during a test on April 2, 2016. © North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) / Reuters

Although, individually, these systems can’t pose a significant threat to a modern strategic bomber flying off the North Korean coasts, combined and employed in a coordinated way by trained operators, they can be particularly tough to deal with, especially in case they are faced “head-on” by attackers intruding into the enemy airspace protected by many layers of mobile and fixed SAM batteries. However, should the need arise, U.S. forces would probably neutralize most (if not all) of the fixed batteries with long-range stand-off weapons before any attack plane enters the North Korean airspace.

By the way, this is not the first time Pyongyang threatens the B-1. A recent propaganda video showed, among the other things, the fake destruction of a Lancer bomber…


U.S. Marines Demonstrate Air-Ground Task Force Capabilities in Detroit, Michigan.

USMC Air Assets and 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Stage Visit, Board, Search and Seizure Operation.

Marine Corps units from across the United States performed an exciting demonstration of air combat and maritime special operations capabilities on Friday, Sept. 8, and Sunday, Sept. 10, in downtown Detroit, Michigan as part of Marine Week 2017 in Detroit. Marine Week is a USMC showcase of capabilities to acknowledge the role of the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Marine Week demos have taken place since 2009 in U.S. cities without a significant Marine Corps presence. Marine Week has already been celebrated in Cleveland, Ohio; Chicago, Illinois; Nashville, Tennessee and Seattle, Washington. This is the first year for a Marine Week demonstration in Detroit.

USMC Capt. Jeff Smith of Florida, told TheAviationist.com that Marine Week was originated “To build awareness and interactions with the public. We’re your Marines and this gives people around the country a chance to see what we do.”

Marine Week Detroit included commemoration of the U.S. Marines’ history, acknowledgement of local Marine veterans and static displays of a wide range of U.S. Marine equipment, vehicles and aircraft.

One of several highlights of Detroit Marine Week was a combined arms Visit, Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) demonstration by Special Operations Marines from the elite 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California. The demonstration showcased the integrated capability of the U.S. Marines to provide their own indigenous air, ground and maritime special operations capabilities in an anti-piracy/anti-insurgent role.

A boarding team of 1st Recon Marines assaults the simulated target barge during the boarding operation demo. (All images Author/The Aviationist.com)

1st Recon Marines extract from their objective using the Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) rig.

The famous 1st Reconnaissance Battalion won praise from now U.S. Secretary of Defense, former General James Mattis, when the unit was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan in 2010. The unit performed a month-long insertion into the region, during which time they sustained no losses but were highly effective in routing insurgent forces and gained a reputation as fierce, effective combatants. One radio intercept between insurgent forces was quoted as saying, “We will not fight them, they are not normal Marines, they run at us when we shoot at them. If we fight them we die…”

The demonstration began with announcers providing background on a fictitious “ongoing intelligence operation” in the region. They had discovered a group of pirate/terrorists who stole the game ball from the local NFL Team, the Detroit Lions, that was to be used in their first game of the season. Without the precious ball, the game could not proceed as planned.

Marine intelligence assets tracked the mock terrorist/pirates who hijacked the game ball to a barge anchored in the Detroit River just inside the U.S/Canadian border. Once reconnaissance assets fixed the position of the perpetrators on the demonstration barge anchored in front of Detroit’s Renaissance Center they handed the intel over to a combined Marine Task Force for the recovery mission.

The first part of the demonstration in the Detroit River was a simulated artillery strike on the barge where the “pirates” were located. Following the mock artillery strike that featured a live “call for fire” radio transmission over the P.A. for spectators, two U.S. Marine F/A-18 Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All-Weather) 225 (VMFA(AW)-225) from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, home of the famous “Top Gun” school, made a pass over the barge in the river while pyrotechnics were detonated on the barge to simulate an air strike. VMFA (AW)-225, the “Vikings” were the first Marine Air unit deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

Following the simulated artillery and air strikes on the objective a Marine Special Operations boarding team from the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion used a pair of F470 Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC) with a five-man boarding team on each boat to assault the objective. The teams approached the simulated target barge from opposite sides of the vessel and made their boarding in only seconds.

During the small boat assault a pair of helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267 (HMLA-267) based at Camp Pendleton, California flew up the Detroit River to perform a fast-rope insertion of additional Marine Recon special operators onto the target barge. The pair of helicopters included the newest version of the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter based on the legacy Cobra attack helicopter and the UH-1Y Venom utility/attack helicopter based on the venerable “Huey” platform. The U.S. Marines are the only air arm in the U.S. military using these variants. The UH-1Y Venom helicopter wore a special paint livery for HMLA-267.

A team made up of a USMC UH-1Y Venom and a AH-1Z Viper helicopter inserted the assault team onto the target barge in the Detroit River for the demo.

Among the Marine special operations team members who staged the mock assault on the barge were Sgt. Steven Echevaria and Sgt. Cody Cunningham from Twin Falls, Idaho. “This is what we do, thank you for having us here. It’s an honor to be able to come here and demonstrate our mission” Cunningham told us after the team returned to the Detroit Riverfront Walk to meet spectators following their assault demonstration.

Following the seaborne and air assault boarding of the simulated target the Marine Recon operators seized their objective, the football for use in the upcoming Detroit Lions football game, and began their extraction.

Prior to the extraction of the boarding team a pair of beautiful MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft from the famous Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 166 (VMM-166) “Sea Elks” of Miramar Naval Air Station made a flyover while transitioning their proprotors from the vertical, hover orientation to the horizontal flight attitude as they accelerated away from show center.

A pair of USMC MV-22 Ospreys demonstrate their tiltrotor capability.

Another flyover featured the largest helicopter in U.S service, a CH-53E Super Stallion from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 772 (HMH-772) the “Hustlers” from MacGuire AFB in New Jersey. Considering the age of the CH-53E Super Stallion this aircraft was in excellent condition and appeared to be meticulously maintained.

The USMC CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in U.S. service.

The final flyover featured two F/A-18 Hornets of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (All-Weather) 225 (VMFA(AW)-225) and a KC-130J Hercules of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352 (VMGR-352), the “Raiders” from MCAS Miramar in California. The trio of aircraft flew in a simulated midair refueling formation over the show venue.

A KC-130J tanker and a pair of USMC F/A-18s perform simulated midair refueling.

The Marine Week demos in Detroit were a unique new way to provide an up-close insight into U.S. Marine capabilities in a setting where they otherwise would not be exposed to them. It brings awareness of the Marine mission and showcases the Marines’ advances in equipment, tactics and capabilities while honoring the Marine legacy both nationally and locally. Much of the promotion of the event was done through social media along with broadcast media, an interesting insight into how the Marines have been progressive and effective with their media management and public relations mission.