The UK and the US Marine Corps could share access to each others' weapons stocks for the Lockheed Martin F-35B, although sensitivities exist over some of the types within their inventories.
“There is no reason why we shouldn’t for example utilise the [UK's Raytheon Systems] Paveway IV weapons on our USMC jets," Col Bill Lieblin told FlightGlobal at the Farnborough air show. "We will be working as one combined force – not two separate ones, so it makes a lot of sense. In these days of reduced budgets, it will help to utilise the same weapons, although there are of course issues when it comes to [pooling] the dual mode-JDAM and [MBDA] Meteor.”
The USMC’s VMFAT-501, based at MCAS Beaufort in South Carolina, has around 50 UK personnel embedded into the training unit. This includes six Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots, with the latest – Sqn Ldr Darren Kupps – the latest to make his first flight in an F-35B, on 8 July.
Under current plans, the USMC will buy 420 F-35s, including 353 short take-off and vertical landing F-35Bs and 67 carrier variant F-35Cs to replace its Boeing AV-8Bs, F/A-18s and Northrop Grumman EA-6Bs.
It will eventually have 14 active duty F-35B squadrons, four F-35Cs squadrons – which will be deployed on board the US Navy aircraft carriers – and two reserve F-35B squadrons. So far, the service has taken delivery of 45 F-35Bs and five F-35Cs. In addition to VMFAT-501, the first operational squadron is VMFA-121, based at MCAS Yuma in Arizona, and VMFA-211 stood up in late June with six aircraft at the same location.
In 2018, VMFA-122 will be established at MCAS Beaufort and then transition to MCAS Yuma in Arizona, while VMFA-314 – the first F-35C squadron – will be established the following year. After that, new units will be added a rate of one or two squadrons per year, out until 2030.
“We have just qualified three instructors at Yuma-based MAWTS-1 [Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One], who will train pilots as they enter the squadrons,” Lieblin says.
This autumn, the USMC will deploy F-35Bs on the USS America for a third phase of embarked developmental testing (DT3), and in what will be another major milestone, VMFA-121 will relocates to MCAS Iwakuni in Japan next January, with 10 aircraft. The unit will be June 2017 have 16 F-35Bs, for potential deployment to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Pacific on a landing helicopter deck vessel.
"It means they will be available to go ashore if any of the contingencies are triggered over there” Lieblin says. “The Deputy Plans (Aviation) of Operations is keen to put all 16 aircraft on to the LHD – essentially turning it into a carrier with a fifth-gen capability.”
Source: Flight Daily News