PARIS: USMC explores F-35B operating concepts

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The US Marine Corps is working on several different operating concepts for the Lockheed Martin F-35S short take-off/vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, according to a senior officer at the Paris air show.

Pilots at the USMC's weapons schools are working on detailed tactics execution, says Lt Gen Robert Schmidle, the service's deputy commandant for aviation.

After the USMC declares the F-35B operational in 2015 with the interim Block 2B software, the first squadron, VMFA-121, will relocate to Iwakuni, Japan. In addition, during that same year, six of the squadron's jets will deploy onboard the USS Makin Island, a large-deck amphibious assault ship. The ship is the first such vessel that will be modified to handle the particular needs of the F-35B, Schmidle says.

That first operational deployment of the F-35B with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit represents one operating concept, where the aircraft will operate with mix of Bell-Boeing MV-22s and Bell UH-1Y and AH-1Z helicopters.

A second concept currently being examined is to deploy a whole squadron of 16 F-35Bs on board an amphibious assault ship, along with six MV-22s. Those MV-22s would be equipped with a roll-on/roll-off aerial refuelling kit which would greatly extend the range of the F-35B, Schmidle says. A MV-22 is going to be tested this "summer" with the aerial refueling kit.

That package of F-35Bs and MV-22 could also move ashore to implement the USMC's distributed operations concept, where small number of fighters would be based at multiple austere airfields, Schmidle says. The MV-22s would support the jets with cargo hauls and aerial refueling, he says. The jets would also move every few days to complicate the enemies' targeting problem.

A third concept, which would be designed to generate the maximum possible number of sorties, is also being looked at, Schmidle says. The assault ship would deploy with 20 F-35B fighters for that role, Schmidle says. The ship can transport 23 aircraft, but because space would be tight, it probably would not be feasible to operate that many from an amphibious assault ship.


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