In historic announcement, Marine Corps declares controversial F-35 ready for … | us news

In historic announcement, Marine Corps declares controversial F-35 ready for …

31 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Better five years late than never: U.S. Marines finally ready to declare F-35B ready for limited combat duty.

WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps declared its version of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter ready for limited combat operations, a milestone for the Pentagon’s costliest weapons program. “The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our nation with its first fifth-generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win,” Gen. Eighteen years and nearly $400 billion since engineers begin outlining the initial concept, a small squadron of F-35B Lightning IIs has finally been declared ready to fight.

Five years later than planned, billions of dollars over budget and despite multiple attempts to kill it, the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter is finally beginning its operational use with the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford has declared an initial squadron of 10 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35B fighter jets ready for combat, sources familiar with the decision said on Friday. Marine Corps’ 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (VMFA-121) based in Yuma, Ariz., after the planes are officially deemed “combat ready” in an announcement today. “The U.S. The Marines — the first service among 12 nations to buy the stealthy fighter — declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing F-35B on July 31. Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lieutenant General Jon Davis told reporters on Monday that the squadron met all the requirements for the declaration during a recent review, and a decision was expected soon.

The U.S. has borne the lion’s share of the development costs, with help from the U.K., Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Turkey. Shortcomings in the current version of the fighter’s software limit how many weapons it can carry and how many planes can share data during a mission.

But building the aircraft in multiple variants — one for the Air Force (F-35A “conventional takeoff and landing”), another for the Marines (F-35B “short takeoff/vertical landing”) and a third for the Navy (F-35C “carrier variant”) has helped drive up development costs. Davis said the jets performed well during an operational readiness review, both in targeting and “killing” enemy aircraft and providing close air support for troops on the ground.

He said the pilots were even able to carry out an armed reconnaissance mission in a “very high threat” environment to which older fourth-generation fighter jets like the Boeing Co F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier had not been subjected. Dunford’s declaration allows for a 10-aircraft squadron at Yuma, Arizona, to take on certain combat missions until software giving the F-35 its full capability is scheduled to be available by late 2017. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer. told Congress last month that the jet’s operating software is ready to go “with some minor workarounds” that will be remedied. Admiral John Richardson, President Barack Obama’s nominee for chief of naval operations, told lawmakers in prepared answers to questions on Thursday that he planned to take a hard look at the Navy’s plans to buy 340 F-35 C-model fighter jets, which have longer wings and can land on aircraft carriers. Currently, “the F-35B’s sensor, self-defense, and stealth capabilities will be nearly identical to the 2017 fully combat configured F-35, making it capable in highly contested threat environments,” Maj.

Still, while two aircraft could swap accurate data, a four- plane formation couldn’t share information gathered by ground and air sensors until the software is improved. In a ground-attack mission, current F-35Bs have limited means to communicate with troops, spot targets and fly at night, according to the Pentagon’s director of combat testing, Michael Gilmore. The aircraft also have limited electronic warfare capability to detect and counter enemy air defenses, according to Gilmore’s office. “The limitations result in increased pilot workload and the likelihood” that if the F-35B is used in combat, it “will need the support of a command-and-control system or other aircraft that will improve situation awareness and assist them in employment of the limited weapons,” Gilmore’s spokesman, Air Force Major Eric Badger, said in an e-mail. That was lifted a year later as the aircraft’s performance improved, but a new assessment by the head of Pentagon combat weapons testing may resurrect the earlier questions.

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