Tag Archives: U.S. Marine Corps

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 KC-130 Crashes in Leflore, Mississippi with 16 Fatalities

Aircraft May Have Been Carrying Explosives, Witnesses Reported Midair Explosion.

The U.S. Marines and news outlets have reported the crash of a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 Hercules four-engine turboprop aerial tanker and tactical transport aircraft on Monday Jul. 10, 2017. The crash occurred in a rural area of Mississippi over farmland. Witnesses reported a “loud explosion” before the aircraft hit the ground. There are 16 fatalities according to reports.

“The debris field spanned a five-mile radius.” according to a report on The Clarion Ledger, and that, “4,000 gallons of foam were used to combat the blaze.”

A Lockheed KC-130J Hercules tactical transport and tanker aircraft. The C-130 family has a good safety record across all branches of the U.S. military.
(Official Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Tanner M. Iskra)

According to a report from local news station WNBD, a Mississippi airport official was quoted as saying, “The plane was being tracked by air traffic controllers in Memphis [Tennessee] and suffered structural failure at 20,000 feet that caused it to plunge into the field.”

Although the photos from the accident scene show the wings, fuselage and elevators of the aircraft still partially attached in the burning wreckage, eyewitness reports and accounts of local first responders suggest the aircraft “may have exploded in mid-air”. Some Investigators on the scene have described to media outlets that “debris was found on both sides of the of the highway” leading them to believe an explosion may have happened prior to the crash.

A Mississippi State Police Officer indicated the “aircraft is loaded with ammunition”. This may have prevented emergency crews from approaching the aircraft since unexploded ordnance could be detonated in a fire.

“There’s a lot of ammo in the plane. That’s why we are keeping so far back. We just don’t know what it’ll do. It burns a bit then goes out, burns a little more then dies down,” A State Police officer told local media outlet WMC Action News 5.

As with all aircraft accidents, the official cause of the accident will be determined following a formal investigation and issuance of an accident report. Until that report is published reports about the cause of the accident are speculative.

The KC-130 accident is somehow unusual since the Hercules family of multi-role aircraft has had a better than average safety record in both U.S. and international service compared to other military aircraft.

Only two fatal accidents have occurred in C-130s across all U.S. services since July 2012 when an Air Force C-130H crashed during forest fire fighting operations in South Dakota. Since then, only one other reported fatal accident has happened with the crash of a C-130J in Afghanistan in 2015 when a total of 14 people including ground personnel were killed.

The aircraft appeared largely intact in photos despite reports of a midair explosion from some witnesses.
(Photo: WLBT News.)

 

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Watch This: F-35B Fires GAU-22 External Gun Pod in Flight

New Caliber Gun Provides Close Air Support Capability for U.S. Marines.

The U.S. Marine Corps Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter has completed the test firing of its externally mounted General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod.

The final aerial test firing took place on May 8, 2017 and was conducted by The Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23’s Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River.

Of particular interest in the video just released (that includes footage from several different sorties) is the variety of additional external stores carried on the test F-35Bs. The aircraft are shown with a version of the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile and, in a separate flight, with what appears to be a 500lb laser guided bomb possibly a version of the GBU-12 Paveway II.

The new General Dynamics GAU-22 25mm gun pod uses a unique four-barrel configuration that was developed from the highly successful five-barrel, 25mm GAU-12/U gun also built by General Dynamics. The new GAU-22 gun, carried internally on the USAF F-35A variant and in the external pod for the U.S. Marines’ F-35B is and U.S. Navy F-35C is more than 40 pounds lighter and requires 20 percent less overall space than the earlier GAU-12, 5-barrel 25mm gun. The new GAU-22 weapon has a reported rate of fire of “up to 3,300 rounds per minute”. The rate of fire of aerial guns is often reported as “up to…” since the gun can take several seconds to achieve its maximum rate of fire because of the weight of the rotating gun barrels.

The GAU-22A Gun Pod. (Image credit: LM)

The successful in-flight test firing of the 25mm gun pod (started at the end of February), specifically on the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, somehow addresses questions over the F-35 program’s ability to perform the close air support mission. Several analysts have expressed concern over whether the F-35 is suited for the close air support mission and is a suitable substitute for the CAS-specific A-10 Warthog.

Generally speaking it’s wrong to compare the F-35 with any other asset that was designed to perform a specific mission: the A-10 was built around a unique 30mm cannon nearly as long as the aircraft’s entire fuselage that was intended for the anti-armor close air support (CAS) mission.

While this initial test-firing does not resolve questions surrounding all of the F-35B’s close air support capabilities it is another successful step forward in the program’s progress. At least it can use the gun if called into action during a CAS mission!

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics: some criticised the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 20mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds.

Moreover, although it was designed with LO (Low Observabity) characteristics, the external pod degrades the F-35’s radar cross section making the 5th generation aircraft more visibile to radars. Still, this should be acceptable for the scenarios where the U.S. Marine Corps F-35B will be called to carry out CAS missions.

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Marine MV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Complete First Pacific Crossing

Four U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys Have Crossed the Pacific for the First Time.

A flight of four U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft has completed a historic first ever long-range flight across the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin. The aircraft stopped on Guam and Wake Island during the multi-day long-range training deployment and were supported by Marine Corps KC-130 tanker aircraft. Total distance for the multi-flight deployment was approximately 6,000 miles.

The four aircraft were part of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, or VMM-268 the “Red Dragons” based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and operate under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 24 (MAG-24) and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW). Their ability to deploy over extended ranges proves additional capability for the unit throughout the Pacific theater.

The Ospreys will be joined by five AH-1W Super Cobra gunships and four UH-1Y Venom tactical transport helicopters also from Hawaii’s Kaneohe Bay. The aircraft are participating in a 6-month long Marine Rotational Force-Darwin training operation to build commonality between U.S. Marine and Australian operations and familiarize Marine assets with the operational area.

The Red Dragons, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, reached full operational capability this past January and are scheduled to receive another twelve MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors in 2018.

The Marine Corps version of the Osprey, the MV-22, has an unrefueled range of 990 miles and cruises at 322 MPH. This fast, long-range reach, complemented by large capacity of 24 combat troops and a flight crew of 3, gives the Osprey capabilities unmatched by previous legacy vertical takeoff utility aircraft like the Marine CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters.

This is not the first long-range deployment of Marine MV-22s. In 2013 a pair of MV-22 Ospreys completed a complex multi-stage deployment over the Pacific with stops at Clark AFB in the Philippines originating from Okinawa, Japan. The flight transited Darwin and continued to Townsville, Australia, for a total distance of more than 4,000 miles.

An even longer MV-22 deployment took place in 2015 when three MV-22’s flew over 6,000 miles from California to Brazil with crew breaks at various locations en route.

MV-22 pilot, Capt. Manuel Torres, USMC, told media, “It’s definitely exciting to be part of the history of this deployment.”

“Long hauls are definitely what the aircraft was designed for. This is going to prove the range and distance and speed of the Osprey and really shape the global reach we’re looking for in the Pacific region,” said Marine Corps MV-22 pilot, Capt. Aaron Brugman.

One of Four MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 268 arrive in Australia. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Damion Hatch).

The primarily carbon-fiber composite MV-22 does have a very advanced fly-by-wire flight control system that incorporates an advanced autopilot to reduce crew workload during long flights. The autopilot is actually capable of transitioning the aircraft from level forward flight into a hover when programmed to do so. No doubt the advanced control features and avionics, along with the high-speed and long-range, contributed to the success of these long-range deployments.

 

We have joined the 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) for an Amphibious Assault

Today’s mission: Gain a beachhead, assault and secure a village with a mixed hostile/civilian population, capture a high value target and secure intelligence. With the 15th MEU at PMINT (PHIBRON [NAVY] & MEU [Marines] Integration.

What does an Amphibious Assault have to do with Aviation? Aside from being supported by Aviation assets, a critical part of the Amphibious Assault is the Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) or “Assault Hovercraft.”

LCACs are operated by pilots, and arguably one of the lowest flying, heavy lifting craft in service today. Stretching it – perhaps just a little. In years to come, expect the America Amphibious Ready Group (and subsequent America class of ships (LHA) that forgo their well deck to focus on deploying aviation assets) to redefine Amphibious Assault.

The Aviation component will move troops deep inland in MV-22Bs, with the support of F-35Bs to assault in contested space, and CH-53Ks functioning as ship to shore connectors hauling significant heavy equipment. Today we look primarily at the seaborne component of amphibious assault. No question seaborne assault will remain a/the significant component of amphibious assault. Regardless, the developing aviation component provides the US Marines with many more options to execute their missions.

A trio of MV-22B Ospreys from VMM-161 – the 15th MEU Aviation Combat Element land adjacent village under assault by the 15th MEU BLT 1/5 during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

AH-1Z Viper from VMM-161 – the 15th MEU Aviation Combat Element provides aerial cover for the 15th MEU BLT 1/5 during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

On board the U.S.S. San Diego all briefings are complete and mission execution is all that remains. Marines of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) gather their steroid induced rucks and pack into the tight confines of the Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV). Three crew, weapons, support equipment and up to 21 Marines in each AAV. It is tight quarters among team.

The smell of diesel fills the air, the clang of metal on metal and slapping of water on the well deck speaks “go time.” On cue, the ramp, and all hatches of the AAV close tightly and the vehicle is readied for launch. Launch? Yes, launch into the deep blue sea off the back of the San Diego with as much grace as 29 tons on tracks can muster.
Any apprehension (and there must be some) is masked by focus on the mission at hand. We are United States Marines, and this is what we do.

This is the defining mission set for Marines. Amphibious Assault.

This forcible entry from the sea recalls revered Marine battles of the past; Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Okinawa – fought in conditions we cannot know. Marines immortalized, their qualities of valor and determination to fight through to the finish now awakened in the hearts of this generation of US Marines.

15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) hitting Red Beach during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). 15th MEU Workups, April 13, 2017 Red Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA.

Today’s mission: Gain a beachhead, assault and secure a village with a mixed hostile/civilian population, capture a high value target and secure intelligence. Location: Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA. The exercise is the culmination of PMINT (PHIBRON – MEU INTegration). The PHIBRON (AmPHIBious SquadRON) consists of the U.S.S. America (LHA-6), U.S.S. San Diego (LPD-22) and U.S.S. Pearl Harbor (LSD- 52), otherwise known as the “America Amphibious Ready Group” (ARG).

The 15th MEU is about 4 months deep in their 6 months of deployment workups. Previous phases of the workups focused on individual skills followed by unit skills and included exercises such as Realistic Urban Training (RUT) (article on the 15th MEUs RUT). PMINT is the stage when the ARG/MEU force integrates as a cohesive team, US Marines and US Navy. Lt. Col Richard Alvarez, Executive Officer of the 15th MEU explained, “the most challenging thing we do is integrating all the assets, making them work as a team. Leaving the ship, coming to shore.”

US Navy LCACs loaded with LAVs, HMMWVs & supplies landing on Red Beach during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). 15th MEU Workups, April 13, 2017 Red Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA.

The amphibious assault represents the culmination of PMINT and the transition to the final two months of workups before the ARG/MEU deployment this summer.

The U.S.S. San Diego draws relatively close to shore and the ramp at the rear of the well deck draws down. Go time. One after another the AAVs “launch,” almost disappearing in the water before bobbing up to “float height.” These AAVs may motor but they certainly don’t fly, in fact they barely seem to float, sitting deep in the water ensuring a low profile if targeted. Two waves, one of 5 the other of 6 AAVs are formed. Quick math, and it is clear, hundreds of Marines are incoming.

U.S.S. San Diego (LPD-22) lowering well deck ramp in preparation for Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) launches. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 will execute the amphibious assault during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

Overhead we do see some fliers, the 15th MEUs Aviation Combat Element (ACE) is represented by VMM-161 UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters. The Venom drops its nose making simulated rocket runs on… us. The Vipers gun turret swivels from side to side – pointing at… us. If the battlefield were real, the outcome of those looks – the last record in your memory bank.

It is tempting to jump to the conclusion that a battlefield scenario would include a massive Naval bombardment and airpower strikes – but it is not that simple. The operational situation would define support levels. On the table, everything from that Naval bombardment and fierce air attack to soften up the shore – to a stealthy approach in the dead of night. The full extent of the ACE (not utilized in this specific exercise) provides even more options such as; distributed assault utilizing MV-22Bs where hundreds of Marines can land hundreds of miles inland and CH-53E Super Stallions can sling support equipment to positions of tactical advantage. As the exercise progresses we see those very MV-22Bs and CH-53Es land in an adjacent area down the beach from the village.

CH-53E Super Stallion from VMM-161 – the 15th MEU Aviation Combat Element lands adjacent village under assault by the 15th MEU BLT 1/5 during PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

The amphibious assault is just one of 13 mission sets the MEU is “certified” to execute during their deployment. The forward deployed, rapid responding, broadly capable ARG/MEU provide the combatant commander with incredible flexibility and capability. Even if not mission utilized, their mere presence offshore sends a strong message of deterrence.
The AAVs approach the shore and move quickly from the waves, to the beach and on to predefined positions flanking the village. Within moments Marines burst from the confines of the AAVs and move forward with purpose under their own notional covering fire. This assault quickly becomes Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT), it is dangerous and dynamic.

Marines must carefully assess surroundings, dynamic threats, and make life and death decisions in an instant.

Around any corner, in any number of buildings the Marines confront notional combatants both in uniform and civilian clothing utilizing a variety of weapons. In cases hostiles “play dead” only to open fire as Marines close, or use civilians as human shields. Throughout the exercise trainers identify issues real-time and miss steps or misfortune generate notional Marine injuries that subsequently require team support, medical attention and evacuation.

Following amphibious landing, Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 plan their assault on hostile village during the PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

With the battle raging in the heart of the village “High Speed, Heavy Lifting” Assault Hovercraft -(officially “Landing Craft Air Cushion” vehicles (LCAC)) FLY ashore to unload numerous Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) and High Mobility Multi Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs – generally known as Humvees). Soon, the village is teaming with Marines. AAVs, LAVS, HMMWVs with devastating firepower create a perimeter around the village to defend from counter attack.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 provide notional covering fire during village assault. Action takes place during the PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration) amphibious assault on hostile village at Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit BLT 1/5 advance while clearing hostile village during PMINT exercise (Navy PHIBRON -Marines MEU Integration). Red Beach, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 remove weapon from notional deceased hostile. Action takes place during the PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration) amphibious assault on hostile village. Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

Alvarez emphasized that this specific training event mimicked real world scenario, “it puts Marines in a place where they must differentiate and make decisions.” The workup period is high tempo and relentless. Repeated exposure to intense “real world scenarios” discipline Marines physical and mental skills to respond like muscle memory when on mission.

US Navy LCAC unloads LAVs & HMMWVs in support of amphibious assault by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 on hostile village during the PMINT exercise (US Navy PHIBRON & USMC MEU Integration). Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, CA.

With PMINT behind them, the final two months of workups remain. 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, Public Affairs Officer of the 15th MEU indicated the next stages as the Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX) where the ARG/MEU will exercise assigned mission essential tasks ensuring they are fully prepared for the Certification Exercise (CERTEX). Upon successful completion of CERTEX, the 15th MEU will be officially certified for their Western Pacific (WESTPAC) / Central Command (CENTCOM) deployment with the America ARG.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to: Lt. Col Richard Alvarez, Executive Officer of the 15th MEU; 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, Public Affairs Officer, 15th MEU; BLT 1/5 and the entire 15th MEU; the support team from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and the U.S.S. America ARG.