The Buzz

Why the F-35 Will Make America's Aircraft Carriers Even More Lethal

For the first time in history, the F-35B took off from a ship with a full-load of weapons. Integrating the F-35B will change tactics on-board amphibious assault ships.

The Marine Corps F-35B Short-Take-Off-and-Vertical-Landing Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter took off from a Navy amphibious assault ship for the first time with a full load of weapons -- in preparation for its planned deployment in 2018. 

The aircraft flew from the Navy's first America-Class Amphibious Assault Ship, the USS America, to Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., where it dropped live precision guided weapons on mock targets in the desert. 

The F-35B dropped laser-guided GBU 12s and  satellite-guided GBU 32s as part of the exercise; the ordance team aboard the USS America assembled 72-GBU 12s and 40-GBU 32s aboar the ship, Marine Corps officials said. 

"Laser-guided bomb (LGB) kits consist of a computer control group and air foil group normally attached to a general-purpose bomb to form an LGB. The dual mode, laser-guided kit enhances existing LGB kits by adding GPS/inertial navigation system capabilities," a Navy statement from Chief Petty Officer John Scorza said a few months ago.

Bomb assembly aboard the ship includes integrating the bomb body and warhead with the stabilzing fins and computer controls. Reports from the ship say the ordnance team quickly improved the speed of their bomb assembly operation.  

With the bombs built by America, the test pilots from Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron1 from Edwards Air Force Base, California, conducted successful live-weapons tests for two consecutive days by dropping six GBU-12s on a live-weapons range in Yuma, Arizona, Scorza writes.  (Full Marine Corps, Navy statement HERE)

The bomb-dropping exercises with the F-35B is seen as a critical part of the aircraft's development, as the F-35 multi-role fighter is designed for land attack missions as well as amphibious assault support, ISR and air-to-air engagements. 

All of this took place as part of Developmental Testing III wherein the F-35B underwent envelope expansion via a series of launches and recoveries in various operating conditions such as high sea states and winds, Capt. Sarah Burns, Marine Corps spokeswoman, told Scout Warrior in November. 

Twelve F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron One (VMX-1), two MV-22B Ospreys, one UH-1Y Venom and one AH-1Z Viper are participating. Prior to this, the most F-35Bs aboard a ship was six.

DT-III was also the first time an operational F-35B took off with the latest Block 3F software at sea, and involved the first qualification of a British Royal Navy F-35B.

F-35B Will Change Tactics and Procedures on Amphibs: 

Part of the challenge to F-35B integration is recognizing how its technologies will change concepts of operations, tactics and procedures; the F-35B is a very different aircraft than the Harrier jets it is replacing, Navy officials said.

Harrier jets, which also have the ability to conduct vertical take-off-and-landings, are multi-role jets primarily designed for light attack missions – such as quickly flying over land locations where Marines are forward deployed and providing close air support. 

While the F-35B can perform these missions as well, the new Joint Strike Fighter brings a wide range of new sensors, weaponry and aviation technology to the Corps.

These F-35B sensors, which include a Distributed Aperture System placing cameras around the aircraft to provide a 360-degree purview as well as Electro-Optical Targeting Systems; these sensors, among others, will allow the F-35B to perform ISR missions as well as strike and ground support. 

The C5I (command, control, communications, computers, collaboration) requirements for the F-35B will be very different than how the Navy operated the Harrier.

Navy officials also said the service is upgrading the seeker on various ship defensive systems such as the Rolling Air Frame missile and NATO Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile to an active seeker.

USS Tripoli - F-35B Modifications: 

The Navy is getting ready to launch its now more than 56-percent complete second next-generation America-Class Amphibious Assault ship with specific built-in modifications designed to accommodate the emerging Marine Corps variant of the Joint Strike Fighter - the F-35B. 

The future USS Tripoli will formally launch sometime next year, Navy officials told Scout Warrior last year.

The Tripoli, now called LHA 7, is a follow on ship to the USS America - the first in a fleet of planned new America-Class amphib; the Tripoli is slated to deliver in 2019. 

The super modules have been integrated, service developers said. 

 After delivery of LHA 6 (USS America), a group of changes to the ship’s flight deck structure and equipment were necessary to accommodate the Joint Strike Fighter F-35B aircraft.

"These improvements are being incorporated into the basic build of LHA 7, which is expected to yield a better overall technical solution at reduced cost.  Additionally, the LHA 7 design will incorporate the Consolidated Afloat Network and Enterprise Services and will address fact-of-life and obsolescence instances identified throughout construction of LHA 6 and LHA 7," a Navy official said.