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.”
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.
During Flying The Barn exercise U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 launched a unique assault formation made of AH-1Z Viper attack and UH-1Y Venom tactical transport helicopters.
On Nov. 4, 2016, U.S. Marines from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 369 took part in an exercise known as “Flying the Barn” on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
The video below is titled “Flying the Barn” in reference to the slang used for putting every aircraft “in the barn” up in the air at once, a rare sight at any military installation.
During the Exercise, U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 launched a unique assault formation of their advanced version AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter and their UH-1Y Venom tactical transport.
Despite the long history of their predecessors, the original Huey and Cobra, the highly evolved AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom are very advanced combat aircraft that are easily contemporaries of the newer MV-22 Osprey and even the F-35B Lightning II.
The AH-1Z Viper flies on a new carbon fiber composite four-blade rotor system with 75% fewer moving parts in the vulnerable rotor mast despite having two additional blades compared to early Cobra gunships. The “Zulu” gunships have larger winglet weapon stations that can mount AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared guided air-to-air missiles in addition to air-to-ground rockets and guided missiles. The AH-1Z also has reshaped engine cowling and exhaust to reduce infrared signature for evading heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles. Viper flight crews wear an advanced flight helmet integrated into aircraft avionics and equipped with recently enhanced night vision and target queuing.
The heavily updated four-bladed UH-1Y Venom is an adaptation of the legacy Huey platform but with massive upgrades making it essentially a new helicopter.
Also updated to a large four-blade rotor as with the AH-1Z Viper, the Venom has battle-damage resistant composite rotor blades and a new, simplified mast system. The rotor upgrades provide significantly greater lift, range and speed on the Venom. Although usually operated in formation with its Marine companion, the AH-1Z Viper, the UH-1Y Venom can transport Marines and also carry its own ground attack weapons. The Venom can mount 2.75-inch rockets on each winglet including the newest “smart” Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guided rocket from BAE Systems.
U.S. Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369 has an impressive legacy that includes being the first Marine Corps unit to fly the Cobra attack helicopter in a combat operation back in 1972 during the Vietnam conflict.
Both of these aircraft are common sights around the massive Camp Pendleton Marine Base in southern California. If you are driving between San Diego and Los Angeles on the Interstate 5 coastal highway it is common to see the aircraft flying, but not in the numbers seen in this video. Seeing these unique variants of both aircraft is a treat since the U.S. Marines are the only service to fly them and employ unique tactics with the aircraft making them interesting.
On Nov. 16, at approximately 1 p.m., Third Marine Aircraft Wing’s first F-35B, piloted by F-35 pilot instructor Maj. A. C. Liberman, landed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
The arrival of the first next gen aircraft is the highlight of the official re-designation of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, an F/A-18 Hornet Squadron, as the world’s first operational F-35 squadron. The formal ceremony is scheduled for Nov. 20.
Capable of short take off and vertical landing (STOVL), the F-35B is the Joint Strike Variant the USMC will use to replace the Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
A new F-35 is expected to be delivered each month until a squadron is fully operational on the type at Yuma, something the service expects to complete by early summer next year. By 2020, five squadrons with 16 airframes each and one test squadron with 8 planes: 88 F-35s will replace the base’s existing squadrons of 56 Harriers.
Once used only to perform ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance), drones are getting new weapons day after day confirming a growing trend to arm current UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) in order to make them capable to perform UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) missions.
Lockheed Martin has developed a new weapon: a drop-glide bomb called Shadow Hawk.
Shadow Hawk is the first weapon designed to be dropped purely by gravity from a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).
Weighing in at 4.9kg (11lb) the bomb has a diameter of 6.9 centimeters (2.75 inches) and is guided by laser designator attached to the drone.
The weapons first launch was from a RQ-7 Shadow at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah on Mar. 28, and the munition, released from an altitude of 5,100 feet, impacted its intended target only 8 inches from the laser spot center at a speed of 460 feet per second.
After the first successful launch, more tests ahead for the new lightweight, low cost PGM that can be delivered by the Shadow UAV.
The following picture shows an F/A-18C Hornet Tactical Operational Flight Trainer (TOFT) that the U.S. Marine Corps have recently relocated to MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) Iwakuni, Japan.
The TOFT is used to support the entire strike-fighter pilot’s training including radar intercept, imagery and warning system operation; weapons delivery; HARM (high-speed, anti-radiation missile) system operation; and electronic attack.
Previously located at Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan, the TOFT hhas received various upgrades at Iwakuni: among them a sensor video-recording system that provides communication access and networking capability to interconnect it with other simulators, making air-to-air and air-to-ground tactical mission training involving other similar systems possible.