Donald Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from seven, largely muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa, casts uncertainty of Iraqi Air Force F-16 training in Tucson in the US. According to various sources, US and Iraqi diplomats are working on ways to exempt Iraqi student pilots from the ban.
The Iraqi Air Force is in the process of receiving 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 jets purchased in 2011. Pilot training on these advanced jets is done in Tucson, Arizona, where the first Iraqi aircraft arrived over two years ago. Since then, pilots from Iraq stayed in Tucson to learn to fly the F-16.
According to critics, the ban that was announced on Friday has all the marks of an executive order that was not thought out properly. It took the US State Departement and the Pentagon by surprise.
According to officials, an agreement on continued Iraqi F-16 training seems likely. US servicemen and Iraqi personnel have been working together closely for the last few year, not in the least to defeat so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq.
US Secretary of Defense Mattis has ordered a complete review of both the F-35 program and the program to replace the current Boeing VC-25 aircraft in their role as Air Force One. The review of the F-35 is to include a comparison with the F-18 Super Hornet.
The announcement should come as no surprise, given president Trumps recent criticism of both programs. Even before his inauguration on 20 January, Trump said F-35 costs are out of control while at the same time he asked Boeing to come up with the F-18 Super Hornet as a reasonably priced alternative.
For the F-35, a recent DOT&E report by the Pentagon’s own watchdog is an excellent starting point. That report mentions plenty of delays in F-35 development and testing.
It remains uncertain what the outcome of both reviews could be. Chances of the program being cancelled are close to zero given the program’s strategic and economic importance. However, the naval F-35C version may be under threat. The DOT&E mentions persistent problems in this version specifically.
In a response, Lockheed Martin said it ‘stands ready’ to support the review. Earlier, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing promised to keep costs down. This fresh review will put even more pressure on both manufacturers to actually make up on that promise.
US Navy Air Station Lemoore in California on Wednesday 25 January saw the arrival of the first Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIs. Lemoore is the first West Coast naval installation to have F-35Cs permanently assigned. By the end of this year, the base will have ten F-35Cs assigned, building to more than 100 jets in the early 2020s.
The four jets now belong to VFA-125 Rough Raiders, which earlier flew F-18 Hornets and has now been reestablished as a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). The squadron is to gain no less than 30 Lightning IIs. The squadron is expected to reach Initial Operational Capbility (IOC) on the new jet in 2018.
Back in 2014, Lemoore was chosen over Naval Air Facility El Centro as the US Navy’s West Coast F-35 base. According to the US Navy, Lemoore meets operational needs and minimizes potential environmental impact. Apart from the FRS, Lemoore is to house seven Navy Pacific Fleet squadrons with 10 aircraft per squadron.
US Navy F-35C’s are also based at Edwards Air Base in California for test purposes.
India has started the process of selecting and acquiring 57 multirole, carrier-borne fighter jets for operations on board its current and future aircraft carriers. A Request for Information (RfI) was issued this week by the Directorate of Naval Air Staff. The request follows the Indian Navy rejection of the indigenously developed Tejas fighter jet.
The RfI states that the new jets are intended as day and night capable, all weather multirole deck-based combat aircraft which can be used for air defense, air to surface operations and buddy refuelling, plus recce and electronic warfare missions.
India currently operates a single aircraft carrier named INS Vikramaditya. In 2018, INS Vikrant is to be added to the fleet, with nuclear powered INS Vishal to join by 2025.
India already ordered 45 MiG-29K Fulcrums to operate from these carriers, but now is looking for additional jets. At first, those were to be naval variants of India’s locally developed Tejas fighter jet, but the Indian Navy top brass have shown no confidence in the design whatsoever and finally rejected it in late 2016.
The naval version of the Dassault Rafale may be the perfect choice for the Indian Navy, given the fact the Indian Air Force has already ordered the Rafale. However, negotiations for this deal lasted many years.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II on Monday 23 January kicks off its very first participation in the US Air Force’s famous Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas. The F-35s involved belong to the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base.
Red Flag is widely regarded as the most prestigious air warfare exercise anywhere. While involved in the exercise, the Hill F-35s will fly alongside dozens of other fighter aircraft and provide offensive and defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and limited close air support. Among the other aircraft are also Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors
The US Air Force declared the F-35A combat ready in August last year. Red Flag marks the first major exercise since then. “Our airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise,” said Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander. “This battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”
“Red Flag is hands-down the best training in the world to ensure our Airmen are fully mission ready,” said Col. David Smith, 419th FW commander. “It’s as close to combat operations as you can get. Our Reserve pilots and maintainers are looking forward to putting the F-35A weapon system to the test alongside our active duty partners to bring an unprecedented combat capability.”
The current edition of Red Flag runs until 10 February.