When it comes to shooting down enemy aircraft and bombing their stuff, the US Marines reckon their new F-35B Lightning II aircraft are real killing machines.
“I tell you we have a real winner on our hands,” says USMC Lieutenant General John ‘Dog’ Davis, the Marines’ top aviator, speaking at the Avalon Airshow on Tuesday.
“It’s a very high quality, maybe the best high quality fighter we have available to us in respect of being a killing machine. It’s a fighter, it’s an attack airplane, an exceptional attack airplane, it’s also an electronic warfare airplane.”
“It sees everything. It’s very very bright. It knows a lot and everybody that fights with F-35 in all the scenarios we’ve done, everybody ends up being a little bit better than they were without it.”
The USMC declared initial operational capability for its first F-35B squadron last July. So far USMC aircraft have conducted a variety of exercises in Alaska and aboard the USS America.
In high end exercises, featuring fighter and SAM dense environments, F-35s have hit the target and emerged unscathed, along with legacy aircraft. In earlier pre-F-35 exercises with older aircraft, the Marine flyers got their butts kicked, losing half their aircraft (simulated) and not hitting the target, the General admitted.
In the recent Red Flag exercises US Air Force F-35As achieved a 15-1 kill ratio. The Marines see 24-0 in their exercises.
“We are not losing F-35s at all and we set the conditions for everybody else to be successful. It’s a vastly different airplane,” he said.
The USMC has just deployed its first 10 F-35B aircraft to Iwakuni, Japan, with another six aircraft to come to make up a full squadron. So far USMC F-35B aircraft have flown 25,000 hours.
USMC aircraft are the more complex short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, different to the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing version to be acquired by Australia.
USMC exercise successes have been achieved with the Block 3I software which gives only a limited warfighting capability. The full block 3F is expected to be rolled out around the end of this year, adding a range of capabilities including the gun and the ability to carry weapons on external pylons.
General Davis says with the external pylons fully loaded, the F-35 can carry 3000lb more stores than a legacy F/A-18 Hornet, although with reduced stealth capability. In an operational environment, that would only done once enemy defences had been fully suppressed.
General Davis said the top scoring F-35 pilot in the recent Marine Division Tactics Course – the USMC version of the USN’s Top Gun school – turned out to be a young student in a training squadron with only some 50-60 hours on the F-35B.
The final graduation scenario featured 20 bad guys versus eight good guys including four F-35Bs.
“It was a very good day for the eight. A very bad day for the 20,” he said.
“The confidence they have in the airplane is unprecedented. “
General Davis said this showed what could happen when the new technology was put in the hands of pilots who hadn’t brought in baggage from flying the F-18 or AV-8B Harrier.
“The new guys, the new gals will be the ones to take this airplane to the next level.”
General Davis said the USMC had a achieved a 12-minute turnaround of a F-35, refuelling and replacing weapons and other stores.
He said they were doing okay with the troublesome Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS).
“What we found with ALIS is we find very sharp marines and we keep them in place working that until we get the final system we want. We are achieving our turnarounds for the airplane with the system we have right now.”