Tag Archives: U.S. Marine Corps

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.

 

We Went Inside Realistic Urban Training with the U.S. Marine Corps 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit)

Recently Todd Miller of The Aviationist joined the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) for “Realistic Urban Training” (RUT), a live fire assault on an “urban complex” on the ranges at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, CA.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is working up in preparation for their deployment this summer to the Pacific. The 15th MEU will deploy on the U.S.S. America (LHA-6) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) which includes the U.S.S. San Diego (LSD-25) and U.S.S. Pearl Harbor (LSD-52). The MEU is the smallest Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) numbering about 2,200 Marines. MEUs are broadly capable, forward deployed forces prepared to quickly respond to a global crisis of a humanitarian or military nature.

For observers gathered on the live range at the Marine Corps Air and Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) the first indication the exercise had started was the sound of the unseen jet aircraft at altitude sweeping the valley. Within minutes the “whump, whump” of artillery fired from miles away was heard, followed by artillery impact in the valley. VMM-161s (MCAS Miramar) UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper rolled into the valley and cycled the area, periodically making rocket runs and raining lead.

MV-22B Ospreys fully loaded with Marines from the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) came into the valley flying under active artillery fire (pounding simulated targets on the outskirts of the village).

MV-22 Osprey from the VMM-161 Greyhawks on landing approach with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). During Realistic Urban Training (RUT), live fire training as part of workups to deployment. MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, CA.

MV-22 Osprey from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA full of Marines circle prior to landing – with artillery pounding positions in the distance. At the MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA during the 15th MEUs Realistic Urban Training (RUT) March 10, 2017.

MV-22 Osprey from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA disembarks Marines during the 15th MEU Realistic Urban Training (RUT). March 10, 2017.

MV-22 Osprey from the VMM-161 Greyhawks on landing approach with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). During Realistic Urban Training (RUT), live fire training as part of workups to deployment. MCAGCC, Twentynine Palms, CA.

The MV-22Bs landed and disappeared into clouds of dust, effectively obscuring the Marines as they disembarked. CH-53E Super Stallions appeared firing flares, and dropped into their landing zone. The conditions demonstrated the reality of what both man and machine must contend with in their design environment. This was no airshow. High temps, full loads, and “brown out” conditions when landing in the field. This is the norm; in the heat, the dirt, fully loaded, and in other circumstances landing on ships, night flying with NVGs, high altitudes, full loads, all with the very real potential of taking live fire. The aircraft crews of VMM-161 made it look second nature. This is their office.

CH-53E Super Stallion from VMM-161 the Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar, CA climbing out of the landing zone with Marines – headed home after a long day. Marines from the 15th MEU during Realistic Urban Training (RUT). MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

CH-53E from the VMM-161 Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar drops onto range with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) The 15th MEUS live fire, Realistic Urban Training (RUT) is underway at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

CH-53E from the VMM-161 Greyhawks of MCAS Miramar drops into its dust shroud with Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). The 15th MEUS live fire, Realistic Urban Training (RUT) is underway at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

CH-53Es of the VMM-161 Greyhawks (MCAS Miramar) moving up and away full of Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). Realistic Urban Training (RUT), MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

MV-22 of the VMM-161 Greyhawks (MCAS Miramar) breaks free it’s “dust screen” and accelerates up and away with a hold full of Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. Realistic Urban Training (RUT), MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, CA.

Once the Marine BLT off loaded, they found gravity in their own element. Fire teams quickly located and engaged simulated adversaries with suppressing fire. Mortar teams were established and drew the attack perimeter closer to the urban area. A fire team used anti-tank missiles to take out simulated armor, and on command BLT 5/1 unleashed a wave of steel rain on the urban environment. Marine squads and fire teams moved forward under cover to begin the meticulous effort to clear the urban area of threats. Breach charges obliterated doors, flashbangs stunned potential adversaries and heavy fire resonated as every interior corner was cleared. Throughout the assault the Marines navigated improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and a variety of booby traps.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 make their way from one complex to another during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

Marine from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 makes his way through the smoke towards a complex doorway during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) BLT 1/5 provide suppressing fire on Urban environment during live fire exercise, Realistic Urban Training (RUT). RUT is one of the 13 missions the 15th MEU must master prior to deployment. MCAGCC at Twentynine Palms, CA March 10, 2017.

This is just one day in the aggressive six months of “crawl-walk-run” work-ups towards deployment of the 15th MEU.

Commanded by Col. Joseph Clearfield the 15th MEU is based out of Marine Base Camp Pendleton, CA. MEUs are scalable, composite units made of lethal ground combat (GCE), aviation combat (ACE), logistics combat (LCE) and command elements (CE). The 15th Meu includes the following units;
GCE, Marine Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 5/1;
ACE, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron VMM-161 (reinforced);
LCE, Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 15.
Realistic Urban Training (RUT) provided an insight into the depth and complementary nature of resources utilized by the MEU – and demonstrated the Marine philosophy that “no force fights alone.” A variety of combat capabilities ensures MEUs have everything necessary to penetrate contested space, complete objectives and exfiltrate – or secure and hold ground.

Urban operations are only one of thirteen mission capabilities that must be mastered prior to deployment. The combined MEU/ARG is fully capable of a wide variety of missions including (but not limited to);

  • Amphibious assaul
  • Amphibious raid
  • Maritime interception Operations (MIO)/Visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS)
  • Advance force operations
  • Non-combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
  • Humanitarian assistance (HA)
  • Stability operations
  • Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP)
  • Joint and combined operations
  • Aviation operations from expeditionary shore-based sites
  • Theater security cooperation activities
  • Airfield/port seizure

Utilizing a Rapid Response Planning Process (R2P2) the MEU/ARG is fully prepared to respond to a crisis and initiate a mission in as little as 6 hours. The groups capability and proximity to areas of crisis position it as a force of choice to initiate, support and or achieve directed objectives

The Marines of the 15th MEU (and the other 6 MEUs) represent the United States of America as the providers of sustenance after humanitarian disaster, as law and order on the high seas, or as the last act of diplomacy – military force. America has entrusted them with the Nation’s weightiest responsibilities and they do America proud.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to; 1st Lt Francheska Soto, Outreach Officer & Sgt Paris Capers, Mass Communication Specialist, I Marine Expeditionary Force (1st MEF); 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, Public Affairs Officer, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit; the entire 15th MEU; and the trainers and support team at the MCAGCC.

Image credit: The Aviationist’s Todd Miller

 

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U.S. Marine Corps F-35B to take part in South Korean drills amid growing nuclear tension with North

The USMC Joint Strike Fighters based in Japan will take part in Foal Eagle joint exercise with South Korea. A rather symbolic move.

Some F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) are taking part in Exercise Foal Eagle in South Korea, according to U.S. military sources who talked to Yonhap News Agency.

The aircraft Lightning II will carry out “ground attack” tasks during the two-month drills.

“The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula,” an official said to the South Korean media outlets.

Earlier this week North Korea fired off four ballistic missiles into the seas near Japan in the latest of a long series of nuclear threats to the US, Japan and South Korea.

Although the attendance of the 5th generation stealth aircraft in the exercise can be seen as a message in response to Kim Jong Un’s growing missile threats it was first speculated as the first U.S. Marine Corps F-35B squadron was deployed to its new homebase in Japan.

Indeed, 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, relocated to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.

Formerly a 3rd MAW F/A-18 Hornet squadron, the VMFA-121 “Green Knights” has achieved IOC (Initial Operational Capability) with the JSF on Jul. 31, 2015.

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.

Although the F-35B is the most modern combat plane in the region and can theoretically be used as part of a larger package to hit very well defended North Korean targets in case of war, the presence of a handful stealth multirole aircraft (just 10 aircraft deployed to Japan, 6 more are reportedly joining the USMC squadron at Iwakuni by August this year), is mostly symbolic and must be considered as part of a wider military force, an armada that, if needed, would also include B-1B Lancers deployed to Guam to support the U.S. Pacific Command’s (USPACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission, U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit stealth bombers (that have already conducted extended deterrence missions over the Korean Peninsula in the past years); along with other USAF from land bases and U.S. Navy aircraft from aircraft carriers, including the F-16 in Wild Weasel role and the EA-18G Growlers Electronic Attack assets, to name but few.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin