Will The Marines Deploy Aboard The British Carriers?

Well, Britain says they will.

LONDON — The U.S. Marine Corps will deploy its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II strike fighters on combat sorties from Britain’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, a senior U.K. Royal Navy officer has confirmed.

Rear Adm. Keith Blount, who is responsible for delivering the two 65,000 ton ships, said that using Marine aircraft and pilots to bolster the U.K.’s nascent carrier strike capability would be a natural extension of coalition doctrine.

“We are forever operating with allies and within coalitions. It’s the way wars are fought”, the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Aviation, Amphibious Capability and Carriers) and Rear Adm. Fleet Air Arm told an audience at the DSEI defence exhibition in London on Wednesday.

That’s not to say there are planned rotations of USMC F-35 squadrons deploying.

An artist's rendering of the future HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. Royal Navy Image

At first blush, it makes some sense. The two Brit carriers are being designed with the F-35B in mind, and the British version is essentially identical to the US version. So interoperability shouldn’t be a major technical issue.

While Blount painted the co-operative arrangement in positive terms, it will disappoint critics who believe the U.K. government should provide the R.N. and Royal Air Force (RAF) with sufficient resources, in both aircraft and manpower, to regenerate the country’s carrier air wings independently.

Here’s the problem with assuming the Marines will deploy on British carriers. Just as the RN and RAF are likely to not have sufficient airframes available to operate from the carriers, so to will the Marines always be hard pressed to have sufficient numbers of jets available.

Operating a squadron from a particular ship involves far more than simply flying the jets aboard. The entire squadron, its maintainers, it admin types, and support staff have to move aboard, not to mention the spare parts and jigs and maintenance equipment. The linguistic and cultural differences between the US and the RN are sufficient to make that integration something of a challenge.

The US has routinely practiced “cross decking” with just about everyone who has a carrier, allowing them to trap aboard our ships, and either trapping or doing touch-and-goes on theirs. But that’s a far cry from actually deploying aboard.

To the best of my recollection, the US hasn’t actually deployed a squadron from a foreign ship.

On the other hand, the British ships have a bar and serve beer, so I’m sure there will be extensive and enthusiastic support from at least some elements of Marine Air to give it a shot.

About that F-35 vs. F-16 dogfight…

The interwebs and Facebook exploded this week with the latest revelation that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a dog that can’t dogfight.

David Axe’s post has set off a firestorm of criticism over the inability of the F-35 to outperform the 40 year old F-16. Everyone who has access to the internet is up in arms over this horrible failure.

But here’s the thing. The JSF is not really a fighter. Or rather, the emphasis is on strike, more than on fighter. It’s a bomb truck. It does also have a robust air to air capability, but that role is somewhat secondary to its ability to attack ground targets.

The F-16 was conceived during the last years of the Vietnam war, and designed immediately following it. COL John Boyd’s Energy/Maneuverability Theory had a very large impact on its configuration. The ability of outmaneuver potential Soviet threat aircraft was the paramount concern of the design. And the aircraft had to be able to outmaneuver because of the limitations of the armament of the day. To wit, the plane John Boyd and the Fighter Mafia wanted was to be dirt simple, with only the most crude radar for cueing weapons, and armed only with a pair of AIM-9P Sidewinder short range missiles, and the M61 Vulcan 20mm cannon.

The other jet fighter the Air Force was buying at that time, the F-15 Eagle, took a completely different approach, with the biggest radar they could stuff into a fighter sized jet, and a whopping 8 air to air missiles, four of the big AIM-7 Sparrows (the primary armament) and four Sidewinders, as well as a gun.  The Eagle also was built with the E/M theory very much in mind, but primarily saw itself as a beyond visual range fighter, picking off Soviet MiG-21s and MiG-23s before they could even return fire.

The anti-F-35 camp (the loudest members of which are probably David Axe, Eric L. Palmer, and Pierre Sprey*) insist that any fighter simply must follow the E/M theory, or it is utterly worthless.

The problem is, E/M theory isn’t applicable to just airplanes. Turns out, it applies pretty well to air to air missiles also. And whereas a manned airplane can’t really go much above 9G without harming the meatware, missiles have no problem pulling 60G or more.  Building agility (high G capability) into an airplane involves tradeoffs. The structure has to weigh more or it will crack sooner, and conversely, intense efforts at weight reduction have to be implemented, as weight factors strongly into the equation. Having reached an effective plateau of about 9Gs, it simply makes more sense to concentrate on enhancing the maneuverability of the weapon, not the airplane.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YMSfg26YSQ]

Furthermore, it should be noted, there’s quite a few people pushing back against Axe’s sensationalistic piece. Far from being the true test that shows once and for all the F-35 is a POS, it was in fact, a first look, aimed at finding out not so much how well the F-35 performed against the F-16, but rather at what parts of the flight control software could be improved to give the F-35 more maneuverability, particularly at high Angles of Attack (AoA).  It appears the F-35 used in the test, AF-2 the second build “A” model for the Air Force, was also using flight control software that restricted certain portions of the envelope. And my sources also tell me the test took place during a time when there were restrictions on the engine performance. While the pilot might have no restrictions on throttle movement, the Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) was programmed in a manner that would restrict some of the output.

From Aviation Week:

“…The operational maneuver tests were conducted to see “how it would look like against an F-16 in the airspace,” says Col. Rod “Trash” Cregier, F-35 program director. “It was an early look at any control laws that may need to be tweaked to enable it to fly better in future. You can definitely tweak it—that’s the option.”

Emphasis mine.  The F-35 has already demonstrated a 9 G capability. It’s cleared through a flight envelope up to 50,000 feet, and a speed of Mach 1. 6. It was a deliberate decision to accept a considerably lower top speed than the Mach 2.0 of the F-16, particularly since most air to air engagements take place in the transonic regime, from about Mach 0.8 to maybe Mach 1.1.

Incidentally, the F/A-18 Hornet is really a 7.5G fighter, and yet fought the way it was intended to be fought, it has an excellent reputation against the US Navy’s Aggressor F-16s.

The gang at f-16.net aren’t exactly impressed with Axe’s article.

Nor is SMSgt. Mac at Elements of Power

UK Defense Journal points out that in other exercises more representative of real operations than a canned BFM scenario, the F-35 has performed quite well against the F-16.

Over the last few years there have been occasions where a flight of F-35s have engaged a flight of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios, the F-35s reportedly won each of those encounters because of its sensors and low visibility.

C.W. Lemoine, who has flown both the F/A-18 and the F-16, points out a few reasons why the Axe article is, in his words, garbage.

There are a great number of valid reasons to criticize the F-35 program, from its very inception envisioning one jet operating as a vertical jump jet, a carrier jet, and a conventional runway jet. The costs associated with the avionics and computer programming have been astonishing.  The deliberate spread of subcontracts across every possible Congressional district as a defense against cancellation is another issue worthy of debate.

But taking one small canned scenario, one intended not to see if the F-35 could out fight the F-16, but rather explore the flight envelope, and proclaiming that it invalidates the entire development program, is the type of sensationalistic clickbait reporting that does little to inform the public on the actual state of the program.

 

 

*Pierre Sprey is a statistician and a music producer. He also still contends to this day that the F-15 is a failure, in spite of a combat record of something like 105-0 in air to air combat. Take his words with that thought in mind.

The Marines take the F-35B to sea for operational testing.

This isn’t the F-35B’s first trip to the boat. The first suitability testing is to work out the mechanics of simply flying on and off the ship. This round is how to operate, in terms of sortie generation, deck spotting and timing the cycles, integrating with the rest of the ship, and seeing just how the concept of operations to fight from the ship works in the real world. This is one of the final steps before actually sending a squadron or detachment on a real deployment. The lessons learned here will be used to draw the template for that upcoming deployment.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpdaTsf2pq0]

Via NOSINT

More F-35C at sea testing

This is just the first workout of the F-35 on the boat. For now, the testing is on best case launch and recovery. Later, they’ll explore the worst case, making it tougher and tougher.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZtZD2SDR8E]

Say what you will about the F-35 development program, but here’s something interesting. The C model will carry an astonishing 20,000 pounds of internal fuel. By way of contrast, the A-6 had an internal capacity of about 15,000 pounds.

Flying the F-35B

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Lockheed Martin’s online magazine, Code One, has a very interesting article on flying the F-35B. For those in Rio Linda, the B-model is the STOVL variant of the F-35, designed for use by the United States Marine Corps.

Flying the F-35B isn’t at all like flying the Harrier from the previous generation. As a matter of fact the flight control system in STOVL mode is completely different from the Harrier:

Capt. Brian Miller, who came from the F/A-18D, explained the transition in simple terms: “In a Hornet, we had a center stick. In the F-35, we have a sidestick. I don’t even think about the difference now. Once I landed and took off in the simulator a couple of times, I was comfortable the stick location.”

Learning the F-35B’s short takeoff/vertical landing procedures:

“You would think former Harrier pilots would have an advantage with the F-35B STOVL modes since they have experienced those modes before,” continued Miller. “They may be more versed in the engineering dynamics and physics of STOVL operations. But in terms of cockpit controls, STOVL mode in the F-35 is almost completely backwards from the Harrier. So F-18 pilots may have an advantage since they don’t have to unlearn STOVL habits.”

…and from another pilot Capt. Jonathan Thompson, a former Harrier pilot now with the VFMA-121: “The F-35B is designed to be very intuitive in hover mode,” he explained. “To a pilot coming from a conventional fighter, hover mode is intuitive. Push down on the stick and the aircraft goes down. Pull back on the stick and the aircraft goes up.” Hover mode control in a Harrier, however, is a little different. Up and down movement is controlled with the throttle. Left and right movement is controlled with the stick.

“Whereas I used to pull back on the stick to point the thrust down to land the Harrier in hover mode, I push forward on the stick to land the F-35 in hover mode,” Thompson continued. “That said, the F-35B hover technique is just as easy to learn and just as easy to become second nature. Former AV-8 pilots just have to be more deliberate until STOVL mode operations become more routine. Short takeoffs and vertical landings are some of skills and habit patterns we develop in the simulator.”

The fact that transitioning from the F/A-18 to the F-35B may be easier than going from the AV-8B to the F-35 struck me as counterintuitive. As with most of aviation, transitioning between different types involves unlearning potentially bad or unsafe habits.

Go read the rest.

Aviation is killing the Marine Corps

Don’t just take my word for it.

At its heart, the MAGTF’s importance within our defense framework rests on its ability to contribute to a range of potential military operations such as engagement and shaping, crisis response, access creation, extended combat, and high-end warfighting and its credible deterrent effects. This versatility is a product of a number of factors, but is particularly due to the dynamic balance within the MAGTF’s organization along with the ability to operate from the sea and exploit naval capabilities. However, the extremely high cost of the ACE threatens to undermine this organizational balance.

It’s a long read, but very good. Take the five or ten minutes needed.

The costs of acquiring the F-35 is roughly $66 billion dollars over the planned span of acquisition. Toss in the roughly $40 billion dollars for the MV-22 Osprey, and that’s more than the acquisition cost of ALL programmed amphibious shipping for the Navy. And the personnel costs of manning the Marine aviation side is higher than manning the ‘gator navy.

There’s a very good reason the Marines have always placed emphasis on aviation. Control of the air is critical to success in force on force warfare. Further, constraints on amphibious shipping will always mean any Marine landing force will be primarily an infantry force, albeit fairly motorized, with some, but not much, armor capability. The lack of amphibious shipping will also always constrain the amount of artillery any Marine force will have. Unlike an Army division that can count on entire brigades of artillery from higher echelons to supplement its own organic tubes, the Marines will have to turn to other sources for firepower, to wit, Close Air Support.   And because of the vulnerabilities of amphibious operations, the mobility of vertical lift is essential for the Marines.

But the costs associated with the F-35 and the MV-22 are simply far greater than previous programs, and threaten to suck dry the acquisition, manpower, and O&M budgets of the Corps. Given the choice between continuing with the troubled F-35 program, and the equally troubled (if less costly) Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) program, the EFV was killed.

To be sure, there are reasons why the Marine Corps feels the need for the capabilities of both the F-35 and the MV-22, above and beyond simply wanting the latest and greatest. The increase in lethal threats in the littoral means the big amphibious ships are more vulnerable close inshore while unloading. Ideally, they could offload their cargoes from over the horizon (roughly 25nm is the rule of thumb). But the slow speed of current amphibious assault vehicles, and the poor range and speed of the CH-46 make that impractical. So the range, speed, and capacity of the MV-22 are seen as critical. Similarly, the proliferation of advanced small surface to air missile systems mean the older AV-8B Harrier is seen as increasingly vulnerable, and a more stealthy Close Air Support platform was imperative.

But the stupendous costs associated with both programs have come to be the cart before the horse. Programs designed to solve problems faced by the landing team are increasingly crowding out the very heart of the Marines, the landing team itself, and the very soul of the entire endeavor, the Marine infantry battalions and regiments. And there’s the rub. You can have virtually unlimited variations of combined arms, but the first building block of any combined arms organization is, was, and always shall be the infantry.

The Marines remain vehemently committed to both the F-35B program, and the MV-22. And both will continue to consume an outsized portion of the dollars available. What solutions to this we may find, I simply do not know.

Quick Links

Some stuff going on.

HMS Ark Royal towed to the breakers.

Hundreds gathered to say farewell to HMS Ark Royal as she began her final voyage to the scrap yard from Portsmouth this afternoon.

Which reminds me of my favorite painting of all time.

http://uploads3.wikipaintings.org/images/william-turner/the-fighting-temeraire-tugged-to-her-last-berth-to-be-broken-up.jpg

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The helmet sighting system for the F-35 is still facing issues. You can’t really fight the plane without it.

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Iraq needed some armed reconnaissance helicopters. But they don’t have a ton of infrastructure to operate something like the OH-58D. So the US modified some off the shelf Bell 407 light helicopters, and shipped those. What’s interesting is that they didn’t hire a defense contractor to do it, but rather the Army’s Redstone Arsenal.

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Sox is not amused.

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Rockin’ in the LMT

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I’m not a big fan of defense powerhouse Lockheed Martin, but I’ll say this, they’re the only major defense contractor I know of that has a house band:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PVQ7tuIYOlA&feature=player_embedded]

It’s got a catchy beat and you can dance bomb to it.

H/T: The DEW Line

BTW, I wonder if CDR Salamander will notice just how diverse the band is…