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  • Marines Declare F-35B IOC

    ​Four F-35B Lighting II strike fighters sit secured to the deck after their arrival aboard the USS Wasp, May 18, 2015. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Remington Hall.

    Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford declared initial operational capability with the F-35B Friday afternoon, just making the July 2015 plan for declaration, set just over two years ago. In a statement, Dunford, who was just confirmed to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was “pleased to announce” that Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., has met the conditions required for IOC. That means 10 aircraft in the 2B software configuration, with “the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or ship.” The F-35B, he said, is capable of “conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counterair, air interdiction, assault escort support, and armed reconnaissance” as part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force or in support of a joint force. Dunford noted a recent seven-week, at-sea series of tests with the aircraft, during which the F-35 “participated in multiple large-force exercises” and delivered live ordnance. In addition, the unit passed an operational readiness inspection last week.  He said USMC has “trained and qualified” 50 pilots and certified “about 500 maintainers” capable of “autonomous, organic-level maintenance support” for the aircraft.

  • F-35B “Exceptional” Performance, But Parts Lag

    ​The F-35B turned in “exceptional” performance during a week-long operational readiness inspection last week, but there’s apparently still a parts issue for the jet. Marine Corps air boss Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, in a statement on Friday’s declaration of initial operating capability with the F-35B, said the ORI was a great success and the jet “performed well in all five IOC operational scenarios: close air support, air interdiction, armed reconnaissance, offensive, [and] defensive counterair. This included live ordnance deliveries.” The F-35B, “if required, could respond to a contingency,” said Davis, who is deputy commandant for aviation. However, he also said, “We must remain vigilant in the forging of a sustainment system which supports readiness rates required to train for and conduct sustained combat operations.” He said, “If I have any concern at this point, it is that the spare parts available to extract maximum value from this exceptional warfighting asset will be shy of what we truly need.” A Lockheed Martin spokesman said the company is working with the USMC “every day to alleviate this concern.” Davis also made a pitch to raise the current readiness standards of USMC aviation, which are “between 70 and 75 percent” of full mission capability. “I think we have that wrong, and I want to see if we can do better with this new platform,” he said.

  • Where Will Lightning Strike Next?

    After Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 at MCAS Yuma, Ariz., is fully equipped, the Marine Corps will replace Marine Attack Squadron 211’s AV-8Bs in 2016, and will replace VMFA-122’s F/A-18s in 2018. The F-35B also will replace the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare jet, but the Marine Corps did not specify when it would start taking over that airplane’s role. In the Air Force, initial operational capability with the F-35A is scheduled for one year from now, in August 2016. USAF must have 12-24 aircraft, plus trained pilots and maintainers, as well as sufficient go-to-war stocks, in order for the head of Air Combat Command to declare IOC. Hill AFB, Utah, activated the first Air Force squadron on July 21, and the F-35A depot, also at Hill, is already performing that mission. The Navy is slotted to declare IOC with the carrier-capable F-35C between August 2018 and February 2019. It will declare with 10 aircraft, plus necessary personnel and parts. The Marine Corps was first to declare IOC with the F-35B for two reasons. One, it faced the most urgent need, as its AV-8B Harriers had been extended well past their planned service lives, and two, because the short takeoff/vertical landing aspect of the jet proved troublesome early on, and it received the most attention of the three variants. (See also Build Lightning, Then Change.)

  • IOC Shows F-35 “On Track”

    The Marine Corps’ declaring the F-35 operational shows the program is “on track,” Pentagon acquisition, technology, and logistics chief Frank Kendall said in a statement Friday. “This achievement is a testament to the efforts of the F-35 Joint Program Office and industry team,” as well as the Marine Corps, he said. It’s an “affirmation” the program is doing well and a “reminder that we still have work ahead” to deliver all the planned aircraft to all three user services and international partners “while we continue our successful efforts to drive cost out of the program” Kendall said. Program Executive Officer Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, in his own statement, noted that the Marine Corps declared IOC “at the beginning of the six-month window” that was targeted in May 2013. Bogdan said industry, the SPO, and USMC have been working “hand in hand … to achieve that goal.” The system is now “in the warfighter’s hands and can be called upon to do its mission,” he added. The F-35B is the world’s first operational supersonic, short takeoff/vertical landing stealth fighter able to operate from ships and austere bases, Bogdan said. “It took an entire team effort to deliver the combat capability of the F-35B, and today we’ve done it.”

  • Contractors Congratulate USMC

    Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-35B, said its newly declared operational status with the Marine Corps “represents a quantum leap in air dominance capability.” Aside from being the first operational supersonic, stealthy STOVL jet, the F-35B has “the most powerful and comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history, to provide unprecedented lethality and survivability,” and has “ushered in a new era in military aviation.” Engine maker Pratt & Whitney said the on-time IOC declaration is due to “the unyielding commitment and leadership of the marines.” The ability of the F-35B to operate from practically any location represents a “revolutionary capability” for the service, and Pratt said it will continue to work with the marines to prove the “indispensability” of the F-35B “to our nation and allies’ security.”

  • Rockets and Due Process

    Air Force space officials are intimately following SpaceX' investigation, overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration, into the explosion of the company's Falcon 9 rocket back in June, said Space and Missile Systems Center boss Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. "I have no concern, at all, with the process that is being used by SpaceX to conduct the investigation," Greaves said, adding that the relationship with company officials is "so good that within 10 minutes" of the mishap they were forwarding the Air Force initial analysis of what went wrong. The Air Force chose not to immediately decertify SpaceX to boost national security payloads because "we don't know what happened," he said. SpaceX identified the failure of a structural component—which it plans to discontinue using—as a likely cause, but the Air Force is waiting to see if the full investigation reveals "a one-off sort of problem … or if it's systemic," Greaves said speaking at a July 31 Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies event on Capitol Hil. "They have the benefit of the doubt—18 successful launches ought to mean something," he said, adding that after such a thorough certification process, "We don't just jump off the deep end and say they're not certified." He dispelled the notion that SpaceX was getting "a pass" on the failure, stressing that they're being treated "exactly like we treat [United Launch Alliance]," or any other launch provider. "There's a process we're following … we are remaining smart on what they are doing so that when we get the chance to make our decision, it's an informed decision and we're not starting from square one," he summed.

  • Second Ghostrider Prototype Delivered for Operational Testing

    Air Force Special Operations Command’s first AC-130J Ghostrider taxis under a water arch at Hurlburt Field, Fla., July 29, 2015. Air Force photo by Airman Kai White.

    ​The second AC-130J Ghostrider gunship prototype was delivered to Hurlburt Field, Fla., in preparation for initial operational testing and evaluation on July 29, 1st Special Operations Group Det. 2 Commander Lt. Col. Brett DeAngelis told Air Force Magazine. The airframe is the first handed over to Air Force Special Operations Command, and incorporates several design changes based on lessons learned during developmental testing. The modifications pushed operational testing to October, with completion expected by next spring, according to a Hurlburt release. "Putting it through these tests will allow us to wring out the AC-130J in a simulated combat environment, instead of the more rigid flight profiles in formal developmental testing" conducted at Eglin AFB, Fla., DeAngelis said in the release. The developmental prototype is still grounded at Eglin, pending the results of an investigation into a Class-A inflight mishap back in April. However, DeAngelis confirmed that the operational test airframe is cleared to fly. "We will be training on the airplane, getting all the qualifications and hands-on experience we need to be able to perform operational testing," maintenance superintendent MSgt. Michael Ezell added in a release. The second aircraft is also tasked to complete a second developmental test phase ahead of operational testing this fall to validate the several design changes. The Hurlburt test detachment stood up the beginning of July.

  • Turkey’s New Role in Anti-ISIS Fight

    Turkey’s recent decision to join in the air strikes against ISIS and to give the coalition access to Incirlik Air Base will strengthen the campaign against the extremists, said Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea during a video briefing with Pentagon reporters on Friday. Killea, chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, deflected a question of whether Turkey’s air strikes against the Kurdish PKK forces in Iraq are handicapping the fight against ISIS in Syria, where other Kurdish groups are some of the most effective fighters. “We respect their rights to self-defense,” Killea said. “We feel if we can fold them more into the coalition operations” it will help “stabilize” the Turkey-Syria border area that is being eyed as a “buffer zone” for refugees from ISIS, and it would avoid any conflict with coalition air operations. He said there is an ongoing “dialogue” on the role Turkey will play in the campaign against ISIS and how coalition members can use Incirlik. Opening of the Turkish base, which would greatly shorten the distance for air strikes into Syria, “will have a very positive effect,” he said.

  • Super Galaxy Twenty-Nine

    8/3/2015

    Lockheed Martin completed modernization and delivery of the 29th C-5M Super Galaxy earlier this week from its facility at Marietta, Ga., the company announced. The former C-5B, serial number 84-0062 was flown to Stewart ANGB, N.Y., where it will undergo interior refurbishment before redelivery to its operational unit at Travis AFB, Calif., according to Lockheed. C-5M upgrades include new engines and structural modifications under the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program and new cockpits though the Avionic Modernization Program. The company is upgrading a total of 52 legacy C-5s to Super Galaxy standards. The aircraft was delivered on July 28 and will become the 11th C-5M assigned to Travis.