Tag Archives: US Marine Corps

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)

New giant: first flight for CH-53K

The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion helicopter prototype, known as Engineering Development Model-1 (EDM-1), celebrated its first flight on Tuesday 27 October. The  flight of the new United States Marine Corps (USMC) heavylift chopper signals the beginning of a 2,000-hour flight test program using four test aircraft.  The flight comes after earlier delays over transmission system and gear box issues.

During its 30 minute maiden flight the EDM-1 aircraft performed hover, sideward, rearward and forward flight  control inputs while in ground effect hover up to 30  feet above the ground.  As the flight test program proceeds, the EDM-1 will be joined by an additional 3 EDM aircraft to fully expand the King Stallion’s flight envelope over the course of the three-year flight test program

“EDM-1’s first flight signifies another major milestone for the CH-53K helicopter program,” said Mike Torok, Sikorsky’s CH-53K Program Vice President. “Having independently tested the aircraft’s many components and subsystems, including integrated system level testing on the Ground Test Vehicle, we are now moving on to begin full aircraft system qualification via the flight test program.”

Features
Features of the CH-53K helicopter include a modern glass cockpit; fly-by-wire flight controls; fourth-generation rotor blades with anhedral tips; a low-maintenance elastomeric rotor head; upgraded engines; a locking, United States Air Force pallet compatible cargo rail system; external cargo handling improvements; survivability enhancements; and improved reliability, maintainability and supportability.

The U.S. Department of Defense’s Program of Record remains at 200 CH-53K aircraft with a Initial Operational Capability in 2019. The Marine Corps intends to stand up eight active duty squadrons, one training squadron, and one reserve squadron to support operational requirements.

Source: Sikorsky, with additional reporting by Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): The CH-53K, seen moments after lift off. (Image © Sikorsky)

USMC F-18 Hornet down in the UK

A United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-18 Hornet crashed in the United Kingdom near Lakenheath air force base on Wednesday 21 October, authorities confirmed. The pilot was  killed in the crash. Along with a number of other Hornets, the aircraft had just departed Lakenheath at the start of a trans atlantic flight back to the US.

The aircraft came down at 10.30 hrs local time  on uninhabited farmland six miles northwest of Lakenheath. The cause is under investigation. According to US officials, it is unknown if the pilot ejected.

The Hornet belonged to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 232 ‘Red devils’ and was heading home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, CA. The aircraft had arrived at Lakenheath from Bahrain the day before. Following the crash, five more Hornets diverted to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.

Lakenheath is used as a transit airfield by US forces every once in a while. The base is home to US Air Force F-15s.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A USMC F-18 Hornet, belonging to VMFA-232. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Major milestone: Marines F-35 is operational

In a major milestone for the F-35 program and as expected earlier this week, the first United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B squadron has reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC). The announcement was made on 31 July in Washington. General Joseph Dunford, commandant of the Marine Corps, took the decision after weeks of intensive training by the Yuma, California, based squadron. An Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI) was concluded on 17 July.

The unit in question is Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’. It flies ten F-35B Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) variants of Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation fighter aircraft. IOC for the US Air Force F-35A and US Navy F-35C variants is expected at a later stage. The UK is the only other nation to have ordered the F-35B, with three aircraft flying in the US for testing and training.

Deploy
VFMA-121 is scheduled to deploy to Japan for the first time in 2017, using its new aircraft. IOC also means that the squadron could be deployed anywhere sooner if needed. In total, the USMC now has trained and qualified more than fifty F-35B pilots and certified about 500 maintenance personnel.  The new fighter aircraft replaces the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B and EA6-B types in USMC-service.  VFMA-121 formerly flew the Hornet.

VMFA-121’s transition will be followed by Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), an AV-8B squadron, which is scheduled to transition next to the F-35B in fiscal year 2016. In 2018, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), an F-18 Hornet squadron, will transition.

Today’s announcement comes 14 years after the Lockheed Martin X-35 was chosen over the Boeing X-32 in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition. The program since earned much criticism over delays and budget overruns. In total, 400 billion USD has been spent already in what is without a doubt the biggest weapons program ever.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: An F-35B seen during the tests. (Image © US Navy)

IOC for USMC F-35s around the corner

Initial Operational Capability (IOC) appears to be around the corner for the United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B fighter jets. A decision awarding IOC to Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’ is expected to be taken by Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford within days. The squadron is scheduled to deploy to Iwakuni in Japan in 2017, but could be deployed sooner anywhere in the world if needed.

A positive decision will make the Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B the first of all three F-35 variants to reach IOC, a major milestone for the F-35 program. VMFA-121 is based in Yuma, Arizona, and has been busy working up to IOC. In June the unit deployed aboard USS Wasp for operational trials. Over the last few months, the aircraft did an ‘impressive job’, said a USMC spokesperson to Reuters press agency. The squadron operates a total of ten F-35Bs.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image: A F-35B Lightning II takes off on the flight deck of USS Wasp (LHD-1) during routine daylight operations, a part of Operational Testing 1 on 22 May 2015 (Image © Cpl. Anne Henry / US Marine Corps)