First Production F-35B


10/28/2011 While Washington debates, the first production F-35B rolls off of the manufacturing line.  The line is ready to produce As and is getting ready to produce Bs.  Several Bs will fly to Eglin later this year to begin the training process.  The transition is underway, and empowering the ARG in a declining USN fleet is crucial to a viable presence and projection force in the period ahead.  The B is not a plane; it is an enabler of the entire fleet of the USN-USMC team.

BF-6, the first F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) production jet for the U.S. Marine Corps, made its inaugural flight on Oct. 25, marking yet another significant milestone in the F-35 program. Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill “Gigs” Gigliotti, led the aircraft through a series of functional checks for the sortie that lasted almost one hour. BF-6 is slated to join the growing fleet of F-35 Lightning II training jets stationed at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. later this year. Credit: Lockheed Martin

As Ed Timperlake has argued:

In the not too distant future, the US Navy/Marine and USAF team may have to establish presence from the sea in a potential combat theater. The threat will be great: friendly forces can be intermixed with opponents who will do what ever it takes to win. From placing IEDs, to employing small unit ambushes, to spotting for artillery and Multiple Launch Rockets, the enemy will be unforgiving and aggressive. In addition there is a large land Army with armor and land-based precision weapons nearby to attack.

The opposing forces also have a tactical aviation component of Fighters and Attack Aircraft, along with Unmanned Aerial Systems and some proficiency in offensive “cyber war” ready to engage. To make it even more difficult the enemy has located and identified potential airfields that could be occupied and has targeted them to be destroyed by terminally guided cruise and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Finally, the fleet off shore is vulnerable to ship-killing missiles.

The problem for US war planners is to secure a beachhead and build to victory from that beginning. Traditionally, the “beachhead” was just that on a beach–but now it can be seizing territory inland first and attacking from the back door toward the sea to take a port and also grab an airfield.

The problem for US war planners is to secure a beachhead and build to victory from that beginning.

The USAF flying high cover after being launched from bases far enough away to be safe from attack can establish Air Superiority, and the Navy Fighters can go on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) to protect the Fleet. Both services can launch offensive weapons from their TacAir also from B-2s, surface ships and subs. UAS can go into battle for ISR and offense “cyber” can be engaged. US “smart munitions” can attack enemy offensive rockets and missiles launch sites. There will be significant casualities on both sides.

But the Marines do the unexpected and land where the enemy does not have ease of access –a natural barrier perhaps, mountain range, water barrier, very open desert or even on the back side of urban sprawl. Once established, logistical re-supply is a battle-tipping requirement.

Once ashore the one asset that can tip the battle and keep Tactical Aviation engaged in support of ground combat operations if runways are crated is the F-35B, because every hard surface road is a landing strip and resupply can quickly arrive from Navy Amphibious ships by MV-22s and CH-53K.

The F-35B is a 5th Generation airborne stealth fighter with its own distributed intelligence center. Each aircraft has a total 360-degree knowledge. If the enemy launches an attack from the air or ground, airborne sensors can instantaneously pick up the launch. The battle information displayed in each F-35B can be linked to UAS drivers as well as ground and airborne command centers to coordinate both offensive and defensive operations.

The sortie rate of the aircraft is more than just rearm and “gas and go”: it is continuity of operations with each aircraft linking in and out as they turn and burn—without losing situational awareness. This can all be done in locations that can come as a complete tactical surprise –the F-35B sortie rate action reaction cycle has an add dimension of unique and unexpected basing thus getting inside an opponent’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop

Enemy air is predictable by needing a runway and consequently all the problems of precision weapons crating their runways come into play for their battle plan—the F-35B does not have that vulnerability.