The United States Marine Corps says that its three squadrons of Lockheed Martin F-35B fighters are performing well in exercises.
“We’ve got a real winner on our hands,” says USMC Lt. Gen. John Davis in a media briefing. He states that exercises have shown the short-takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 to be a potent “killing machine.”
The Marines have three squadrons equipped with the aircraft. VMFA-121 and VMFA-211 have achieved initial operating capability. VMFAT-501 is a training squadron.
VMFA-121 has deployed ten jets to Japan. Six more F-35Bs will deploy to Japan in mid-2017, bringing the squadron to full strength. Later, some of these aircraft will be deployed on an amphibious warship. Davis says that exercises show a very strong success ratio for the type.
“In one scenario where I would normally send in twelve to thirteen fighters and maybe lose half, I can instead use four F-35s. The can get in, crush the target, and get out.”
In another exercise, a force of four F-35s and four older fighters were deployed against a force of 20 “bad guys.”
“Let’s just say that the eight fighters had a good day, and the twenty had a very bad day.”
The Marines aircraft are using the type’s 3I software, which offers an interim capability until the upgrade to 3F.
Davis says that four jet fusion is still a challenge owing to a shadowing issue that has affected the programme. The phenomenon causes one contact as sensed by multiple F-35s to appear as multiple aircraft.
“We don’t see this as much as we did a year ago,” says Davis. Pilots have learned to stick with formations of four in which the aircraft are fused as two pairs, not as a four-ship. The phenomenon can also be removed by “switching certain sensors on and off.”
With the 3F software upgrade set to be rolled out in 2018, Davis expects the issue to be resolved.
In addition, the Marines have practiced fast reloading operations. In this scenario, C-130 tactical transports deliver fuel and munitions to a remote airstrip. F-35Bs have landed, refuelled, re-armed, and taken off in just 12 minutes.
Davis adds that F-35s will replace squadrons operating Boeing F/A-18 Hornet aircraft before they replace those operating AV-8B STOVL fighters.
“The F-18s are getting older faster. We have more life in the AV-8Bs.”
The next three squadrons to move to the F-35 will be VMFA-122, VMFA-314, and VMFA-225. VMFA-122 and VMFA-255 will receive F-35Bs, while VMFA-314 will be the first Marine squadron to get the F-35C, allowing them to operate from US navy aircraft carriers.