F-35 Marks New Era For Stealth
With thanks to Aviation Week & Space Technology
U.S. Air Force F-35s could deploy in 18 months
Ready for War
It took the Air Force almost a decade to send the F-22 Raptor to a combat zone after declaring the stealth fighter ready for war. But after giving the green light to the first operational F-35A squadron in late July, the Air Force is signaling the fledgling fleet will deploy to fight Islamic State group terrorists in the very near future.
The Air Force’s eagerness to send its shiny new fighter into battle is a marked shift from years past, when deploying the radar-avoiding F-22 to the Middle East was viewed as provocative. But as the U.S. and its allies face a resurgent Russia and the proliferation of advanced weapons that can easily track and shoot down many legacy fighters, the service seems to be casting aside the Pentagon’s historically more cautious use of stealth aircraft.
USAF declared its F-35A ready for war right on schedule Aug. 2
Senior leaders signal the JSF will soon deploy to Europe, the Pacific, and the Middle East
Despite the Air Force’s confidence, the F-35 will not reach full warfighting capability until 2018, at earliest
Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, the chief of Air Combat Command, says he hopes in the next 18 months to send the Joint Strike Fighter to Europe and the Pacific, suggesting that such a move would send a message in response to increasing Russian and Chinese military activity. And if U.S. Central Command asks for the F-35 in the Middle East, Carlisle says he would comply in a heartbeat.
“From my perspective, it sends a good signal,” Carlisle says. “I think it reassures friends and allies and is a deterrent to potential adversaries, so I don’t think it’s a provocative move at all.”
In rolling out the F-35, the Air Force may be taking lessons learned from the Raptor to heart. Although the F-22 entered service in 2005, the jet did not see its first combat deployment until the U.S.-led intervention in Syria in 2014. The F-22’s deployments to the Middle East to fight Islamic State insurgents and to Europe to counter Russian aggression did wonders for its public image. The Raptor is now so popular, Congress has inquired about what it would take to resurrect the production line.
Now as the F-35 comes online, our partners and allies are eager to see the jet in action, Carlisle says.
The current configuration of F-35A aircraft can carry the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, the GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition and the laser- guided Paveway missile. Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Madelyn Brown
When F-35s deploy to the European and Pacific theater, this will give our allies and partners confidence in the airframe, Carlisle says. “It will also give them a chance to see it in operation and in interoperability, working with their fourth-generation airplanes,” he adds.
Even though Carlisle lauded the F-35’s performance, the stealthy fighter jet is still immature and has limited capability to actually fight on today’s battlefield. Two U.S. F-35 variants—the Marine Corps’ F-35B and now the Air Force’s F-35A—have been declared ready for combat, but the jet will not be fully operational until it has completed a vigorous testing period that will not begin until August 2018, at the earliest. The initial aircraft will not have its full suite of electronic warfare, data fusion, automated maintenance capability or weapons capacity until the final warfighting software, Block 3F, is fielded in 2018.
For now, the F-35A in its 3i configuration can carry the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition and laser-guided Paveway missile. Block 3F will add the short-range AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, Small-Diameter Bomb and main gun system—the 25-mm, four-barrel GAU-22/A.
The gun is key to one of the F-35’s primary missions: protecting soldiers on the ground, also called close-air support. Though a 2,000-lb. bomb is effective in destroying a target, a huge blast is not ideal when enemy and friendly ground forces are engaged in close combat.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester cautions that while it is the Air Force’s decision when to declare the F-35 ready for war, the Block 3i software is limited, and its deficiencies will impact mission effectiveness.
“While the USAF has determined that the F-35A with Block 3i mission systems software provides ‘basic’ capabilities for IOC [initial operating
capability], the limitations and deficiencies in performance for the F-35A with Block 3i discussed in the 2015 DOT&E [Director, Operational Test and Evaluation] Annual Report largely remain and will affect mission effectiveness and suitability in combat,” says Pentagon spokesman Maj. Roger Cabiness.
Still, Carlisle says, the F-35 is equipped to carry out many missions U.S. forces are flying today in the Middle East, including pre-planned airstrikes, interdiction, and defensive and offensive counter air. airstrikes, interdiction, and defensive and offensive counter air. Even without its full potential, the Air Force would have no qualms about sending it into battle.
Rocket Testsairstrikes, interdiction, and defensive and offensive counter air. Even without its full potential, the Air Force would have no qualms about sending it into battle.
Marine Fighter Attack Sqdn. (VMFA) 121, the “Green Knights” based out of MCAS Yuma, Arizona, will be the first to deploy overseas; in January the squadron flies to MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. Meanwhile, RAF Lakenheath in the U.K. is set to receive its first of 24 jets in 2021.
“The F-35A brings an unprecedented combination of lethality, survivability and adaptability to joint and combined operations and is ready to deploy and strike well-defended targets anywhere on Earth,” says newly minted Air Force Chief of Staff.
Ed’s note: this all presupposes that those F35 aircraft to be deployed to European airfirces: UK, Austria, Italy et al, will be based in their own countries as well as the USA aircraft. So which Force will have precedence? The US DoD obviously thinks they can do the job better than their European counterparts if they are already announcing deployment from 2018. Surely the home countries defence departments will have greater knowledge of the requirement than the good ‘ole US if A. After all their track record in similar circumstances has not always been good. Comments?