The F-35, Tanking and the Fleet


06/18/2013:  By Robbin Laird

In these photos provided by the 33rd Fighter Wing, F-35As are being tanked by a KC-135.  The photos were shot from the tanker during the tanking operation.

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece in the Canadian journal Front Line Defence on the F-35 and tanking, which focused on the need for Canada to add new tankers to the mix.

It is not difficult to see why 21st century air systems are central to the future of Canadian defense. An F-35 coupled with the A330MRTT would be a nice combination. The US Marines consider the F-35 to be a C5ISR D aircraft, information ­warfare aircraft, with not just situational awareness but situational decision-making built into the fleet.

The A330MRTT tanker builds nicely on the Canadians own experience with the A310MRTT. With Canada an active participant in the MRTT user group, it maintains growing familiarity with the fleet.

The A330MRTT can provide broad support for High North Operations, and is able to sustain combat and surveillance aircraft, and search and rescue assets as well. Duration is important, and if Canada purchased a refuelable version of the aircraft, could build in significant duration.

It should be noted that the surplus electrical power on the plane can support the evolution of on-board C5ISR assets and fleet-wide efforts, such as storing and processing data in support of fleet operations – manned, unmanned, combat, or surveillance – to provide enhanced High North security.

With key Arctic allies (Norway, USA) flying boom-enabled air systems, it makes sense to support projected coalition operations in the area as well.

Airpower is ­central to 21st century security; but not by supporting them with limited tanking assets. Whether new aircraft or a transitional strategy of reconfiguring its existing fleet to full tanker status with boom capability, this is an important consideration that should be debated now if Canadians want to be ready to thwart evolving threats.

Here we see some of the USAF F-35As flying together along side the tanker, and with regard to General Hostage’s “air combat cloud,” we see some F-35s emerging from actual clouds as well.

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Credit Photos: 33rd Fighter Wing