Tag Archives: F-35

USAF F-35s venture near Russia

The US Air Force deployed two of its latest and newest fighter jets to the vicinity of Russia on Tuesday, as two latest generation F-35 Lightning IIs flew from the UK to Ämari airbase in Estonia. The visit resembles that of two F-22 Raptors to the same location in September 2015.


The F-35s in question left Lakenheath airbase in the UK on Tuesday morning and in the company of a KC-135 tanker over flew the Netherlands, Germany and Poland on their way to Estonia . The F-35s are part of a larger deployement of eight jets in total, which all arrived in Europe earlier in April for training exercises, according to the Pentagon.

Washington last week stated the visit to Europe was ‘long-planned’ and not aimed at anything other than training. Nevertheless, sending the latest piece of US flying military hardware to within 100 miles of the Russian border can be regarded as more than just training.

NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission provides air defense for the Baltics states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. In the past week alone, NATO aircraft intercepted four Russian Su-24 Fencers and a single AN-26 over Baltic waters.

F-35 dragchute tests start at Edwards

At Edwards Air Force Base in California, tests of the F-35A dragchute system have started, according to the Norwegian Ministry of Defense. Both Norway and the Netherlands have ordered the system, which helps slowing down on runways in bad weather, icy conditions or emergencies,  to be installed on their F-35s.

Norwegian F-35 pilot: ‘We are on track.’ (Image © Forsvaret)

The tests are performed with F-35 test aircraft AF-02, which is specially instrumented for this purpose. The tests at Edwards are designed to see how the jet behaves in the air with a fitted parachute fairing. The fairing is made of composite and metal materials and is mounted on the F-35’s aft fuselage. It houses the dragchute, which is deployed after landing if needed.

At Edwards, the actual chute will be tested on a  dry and wet runway. A second test phase is planned in 2018 at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where tests will be conducted in winter conditions similar to Norway. Tests have already been performed in simulators.

Brake monitor

Norwegian jets will also feature a brake monitor in the cockpit, which will provide pilots with information on braking action on the runway. In November 2017, the first Norwegian F-35s will arrive in-country, and they are to be fitted with this integrated brake monitor. The testing of the brake monitor will however continue until spring 2018.

Norway eyes 52 F-35s, while the Netherlands is looking for 37 jets. According to Norwegian MoD, the dragchute system and brake monitor are also avaliable to other countries.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: An impression of the drag chute pod on top of the F-35 fuselage. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

US Air Force F-35s head to Europe

UPDATED 15 April | The US Department of Defense on Friday announced it is sending a small number of US Air Force F-35s to Europe ‘as part of a long-planned training deployment’. The jets are to arrive this weekend and will most likely head to Lakenheath airbase in the UK, with Spangdahlem airbase in Germany as a secondary option.

Update 15 april | Six F-35s arrived at Lakenheath in the UK
at 1:45 pm local time, supported by two KC-135 tankers. Video of their arrival is below.

The F-35s – indications are eight jets are involved – will be part of the US Air Force’s 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. In August 2016, the wing was the first to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) on the new jet. A deployment to Europe was mentioned on several occasions before, but the Pentagon never said when this would actually happen.

Lakenheath in the UK seems a likely destination, since the F-35 is to be based here also in the future.

US Air Forces in Europe and US European Command have said they will release additional information once the 5th generation fighter jets arrive in Europe,

The deployment marks the second time this year the US is sending its latest generation fighter jet abroad. United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35Bs deployed to Iwakuni in Japan earlier this year.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: One of the F-35s is caught here while arriving at Lakenheath airbase on 15 April. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Eric Burks)

Norwegian F-35 pilot: ‘We are on track’

He was the first Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in November 2015. Since then, he flew the jet for 170 hours, all of those at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he now serves as an instructor pilot. Right now, he and his Royal Norwegian Air Force colleagues begin preparations to ferry three F-35s to Norway later this year. It will be the first outing for the jet in the cold Nordic region. So, plenty of reasons for a chat with Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche, who says fighting an F-16 in an F-35 is an ‘uneven fight’ – in favor of the new jet.

Related reading: Dutch Lignting testers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

AHF: Hi! Can you describe your previous flight experience for us?
Hanche: “Most of my previous flight experience was in the F-16,  which I flew for more than 2200 hours. I am a graduate from the a US Navy Test Pilot School In Patuxent River. After having flown the F-35 for 170 hours, I can now say I am starting to feel “at home” in the airplane. Combined, the number of flight hours by Norwegian F-35 pilots now stands at 800 hours.”

AHF: So you guys will bring the F-35 to Norway later this year. How are you preparing for the ferry flight and subsequent operations in Norway?
Hanche: “We are on track, in terms of both educating technicians and pilots and preparing for the first aircraft arrival. The Norwegian Air Force prepares to bring its first three F-35s to Norwegian soil on November 2017. As usual, we will buy tanker support for the transit leg across the Atlantic.”

Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche. (Image © Forsvaret)
(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: Once in Norway, what does the plan look like?
Hanche: “Once in Norway, we will follow a crawl-walk-run approach as we start to familiarize ourselves with the F-35A in the “high North”, in adverse weather conditions. No one will have operated F-35s under quite the same circumstances at that point in time. Our only option therefore is to take it slow, and gradually increase the complexity of our training and testing.

The Norwegian Operational Testing (OT) will not focus on testing which has already been done in the US by the Joint Operational Test Team. Instead, we will focus on what’s unique for the Norwegian Armed Forces. That includes operating from icy runways and using the drag chute. That system is a unique factor: our F-35s will be fitted with a drag chute, which is designed to help slow the airplane during an aborted takeoff, or during landings on slippery runways.

Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is planned for 2019, which means that the time beforehand will be used both to train air- and ground-crew, and to support operational testing.”

AHF: In what way will the Norwegian public be introduced to the F-35?
Hanche: “There will be a reception ceremony at Ørland Main Air Station in south-central Norway, near Trondheim, in November. The planning is however still in the initial phase so we will release more details later.”

AHF: In what way is the F-35’s Autonomous Logisitics Information System (ALIS) be able to support operations in Norway? ALIS is plagued by development delays.
Hanche: “Some call ALIS the heart of the F 35, while others call it the brain of the F 35. ALIS is an information technology infrastructure that captures and analyzes aircraft condition data from the F-35, supporting fleet operations, maintenance, fault-prediction and supply chain management. ALIS will be delivered in time for the first aircraft arrival.”

AHF: What kind of weapon’s capability will the Norwegian F35s have?
Hanche: “At the time of IOC, the Norwegian F-35As will be equipped with the 25 mm cannon and the 25 mm APEX round, the AIM-9X block II, the AIM-120C7, GBU-12, GBU-31 and GBU-39. A little down the road, our F-35s will also carry several other air-to-air and air-to-ground stores, including the Joint Strike Missile (JSM). The JSM is in its final development phase, and our aim is to have the missile integrated on the F-35 and ready for service with the Norwegian Armed Forces by 2025.”

(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: In the future, what will training look like for a Norwegian F-35 pilot, starting with initial training?
Hanche: “In the future, Norwegian F-35 training will be very similar to what we are currently doing with the F-16. We will send our young cadets through an initial screening program back home, in order to find out if they are able to absorb the training they will receive once in the USA. Following that, and an initial session at the Norwegian Air Force Academy for basic officer’s training, our students will complete basic training on the T-6 Texan II and the T-38 Talon at Sheppard Air Force Base. Following that, our students will be sent to Luke for a longer and more involved basic course.”

AHF: What can you tell us about the syllabus for Norwegian F-35 pilots?
Hanche: “The syllabus at Luke is tailored to the individual student but is now generally a  transition syllabus for pilots coming from different  airframes. This syllabus is shortened compared to the basic course syllabus which is designed to accommodate a young and inexperienced pilot, straight from undergraduate pilot training.

In general, the syllabus involves classroom academics, self-study, simulator practice and lastly flying the airplane. The students go through many weeks of ground training and simulator practice before it is time to strap into the jet. The initial training focuses on the basics: How to start up, take off and land. There is also significant emphasis on emergency procedures, in order to prepare the student for a myriad of “what if”-scenarios.

After learning the basics of how to operate the airplane in a pure administrative setting, the syllabus rapidly moves on with tactical employment. We start simple, and gradually build up in intensity and complexity.”

AHF: In what way does training in Luke prepare pilots for the Norwegian theater? What adaptations are needed?
Hanche: “The basic course at Luke will prepare our Norwegian students for the role as a wingman – a pilot who is qualified to fly the entire width of the tactical spectrum in the F-35. However, we will have to add on some aspects when we get our young pilots back home to Norway. One perspective is that the perpetual summer conditions found here in Arizona do not lay the foundation for solid instrument flying procedures. Therefore, we will put significant emphasis on brushing up this basic skill, combined with flying in adverse weather conditions. We do not foresee a checkout requirement for the drag chute, but it still has to be done. Lastly, we will focus on training our young pilots on more specific procedures, like executing NATO Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions.”

The first Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 lands at Luke AFB. (Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)
(Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)

AHF: Luke is an international F-35 training school. What is the interaction between various nations like? Do Norwegian pilots fly with Australians colleagues for example?
Hanche:The partnership at Luke is very valuable for a small nation like Norway. We train and fly together here, using the same standards and tactics. We mix and match with aircrew and airplanes, so that one day you might find a four-ship of F-35As composed of a Norwegian flight-lead in an Italian F-35, a US wingman in a Norwegian F-35, an Italian element lead in a US F-35 and an Australian pilot in another Norwegian jet. The interaction across nationality is important for several reasons. First of all we build trust in each other, so that when we one day meet in a coalition setting, we know that we can work well together. Another perspective is that the standardization in how we do business makes it not only realistic, but easy to integrate a future coalition fleet of F-35s. Another perspective comes from the fact that the instructor cadre at Luke right now is composed of pilots with very different backgrounds. We have pilots here who flew everything from F-15Cs, F-15Es, A-10s, AMXs, F-22, Tornado, Eurofighter, F-18 and theF-16. Therefore, there’s a lot of varied and good knowledge gathered here to tap into, and it makes for an interesting and good learning environment.”

AHF: Is any testing being done by Norwegian pilots right now?
Hanche: “There is no dedicated operational testing going on at Luke. However, lessons are learned here at Luke from time to time, which might benefit the entire F-35 community. All the partner nations work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin, in order correct any deficiencies – deficiencies that are inevitable given such an advanced airplane.”

AHF: What has been your most memorable F-35 experience so far?
Hanche: “It is difficult to pick out one specific situation. However, the first flight in the F-35A was an obvious highlight. Several things immediately struck me on that first flight. For one how well the F-35A handles, both on the ground and in the air. It is a well-behaved airplane. Another early impression was how powerful the F-35A is. The Lightning has an impressive acceleration and rate of climb, and the airspeed can easily “run away” from you if you do not pay attention. Another more specific highlight would be the first time I fought F-16s. It was impressive to see just how uneven that fight is, in favor of the F-35.”

AHF: The Norwegians have trusted the F-16 with defending their country for close to four decades. What will happen to these F-16s?
Hanche: “As we receive the first Norwegian F-35, we will gradually phase out the aging F-16 by 2021. It has not been decided yet what then will happen to them.”

Many thanks to Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche and Norwegian MoD for making this possible.

(Image © Forsvaret)

Will this F-35 survive its enemy? We doubt it.

The survivability of the future main combat jet of the US armed forces and many of their allies is again in doubt. Despite praising Red Flag Exercise after-action reports on deployed US Air Force and US Marine Corps F-35s, Airheadsfly.com feels the effectiveness in tomorrow’s air war against – let’s say – Russian or even Swedish fighter jets is not as rosy as we are “made” to believe.

A “Twenty-to-One kill ratio” by US Air Force F-35As and “extremely capable across several mission sets” for US Marine Corps F-35Bs. Wonderful statements in beautiful analyses on the most modern 5th generation fighter jet of US-allied armed forces going to “war” over the combat ranges of Nevada from Nellis Air Force Base. If we believe these reports flying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II into combat is like winning the jackpot on The Strip in adjacent Las Vegas city.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)
The Royal Netherlands Air Force is one of the many countries that will field the F-35 as a successor to the F-16 (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Vegas

But what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas? What is not clear in neither the US Air Force statements as in the recent released report written by Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121’s Lt. Col. J.T. Bardo is how realistic the scenarios played at Red Flag are. We have no doubt they do mirror future war situations, but we do question if the more capable enemy aircraft are really put into play.

“Overall, the F-35 was far more survivable than the participating legacy aircraft,” commander Bardo writes on the six Marines F-35Bs participating in Red Flag 2016-3. Of course, the newer jet should be able to do a better job than the 4th generation F-16 Block 30 and 40s that were deployed. But can it match the Russian Sukhoi Su-37s or Swedish SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen MS20s?

The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E) (Image © Sukhoi Company)
The Sukhoi Su-35S (Flanker-E): F-35 killer? (Image © Sukhoi Company)

Adversaries

The “professional adversaries” (Aggressor aircraft) during the Red Flag 2016-3 were above all 1980/1990s-era F-16s of the US Air Force 64th Aggressor Squadron as well as 1960s-era McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawks flown by the Draken International paramilitary organisation. Hardly comparable to the most modern aircraft of today.

When it comes to manoeuvrability and range the F-35 is by far outmatched by its modern Russian rivals, such as the Sukhoi Su-35BM/S equipped with trust-vectoring (movable) engines. The Lightning II flies only a two-thirds (1,200 mls / 2,200 km) of the distance the Su-35 (1,980 mls / 3,600 km), while having tankers in a bandit-rich environment is not considered a likely scenario.

Once upgraded to MS20 standard Swedish-made Gripen aircraft are said to be able to “see” stealthy adversaries very clearly (Image © Elmer van Hest)

JAS 39 Gripen MS20

True, the F-35 has the stealth advantage but according to sources within Swedish SAAB and the Swedish Air Force the newest MS20 software upgrade of the JAS 39 Gripen jet enables the aircraft’s radar and other systems to detect and counter these stealthy aircraft quite well. Although it is unlikely American jocks will fly against Vikings the new Meteor missile has given the JAS 39 Gripen – as well as the French Rafale – a lethal weapon against enemy aircraft over the 60 miles (100 km) range.

The Swedes have fielded the upgraded Gripen MS20 and Meteor mainly to cope with the Russian Sukhoi PAK A/T-50 stealthy air-supiority fighter and the non-stealthy Flankers of the 4+ generation. But the technology as such can – in the wrong hands – quite likely turn a F-35 into a smoking hole in the ground as well.

A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)
A French Rafale launching the new BVR Meteor AAM (Image © French Ministry of Defence)

S-400

What the largest country of Scandinavia has, is quite likely to be available soon in some sort to the jocks flying for Moscow. Add the newest generation of Russian electronic counter measures and the Red Bear outclasses the American Eagle. Especially if the threat from the ground is added. Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile system can kill targets up to 250 miles (400 km) away at speeds up to Mach 5.9 (4,500 mph or 2,000 m/s).

Moreover, Russia is traditionally keeping a better pace between aircraft and missile technology, while US puts more money into its aircraft technology and let its pilots often fly with somewhat antiquated anti-air weaponry and having its ground forces operating with less-good-than-what-the-Russians-have missile batteries.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Believe vs Make-believe

We do believe the F-35s state-of-the-art sensors give its users a great asset in any war scenario, but with still lacking basic things as stand-off weapons, the ability to bring just four air-to-air missiles to the air war in order to remain stealthy (all weapons internal) and with the newest electronic counter and detect developments made by other defence manufacturers worldwide the survivability as advertised by the Red Flag after-action reports may very well be nothing more than make-believe.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image: Killer or prey? A hoovering F-35B at the Royal Internationl Air Tattoo in 2016 (Image © Elmer van Hest)