Visiting MCAS Beaufort Air Station: F-35B and Renorming Airpower


2015-05-21 by Robbin Laird

Murielle Delaporte and I had the chance to visit 2nd Marine Air Wing and MCAS Beaufort this week.

I am going next week aboard the USS Wasp to watch some aspects of the sea trials of the Marines preparing for IOC of the aircraft

The visit to MCAS Beaufort highlighted the role of the F-35B training squadron, not just in flying the aircraft, but working through tactics with 4th generation aircraft as well.

As the CO of MAG-31, Col. Lieblein put it: “We have six F-18 squadrons and one F-35 training squadron at Beaufort.

One of our major tasks is developing integration between 4th and 5th generation aircraft.

Our F-35 training squadron participates on almost a daily local basis on such efforts and works on a greater scale as well.”

An example of the greater scale was Exercise Sentry Savannah 15-1 where the USMC F-35Bs participated in the Georgia Air National Guard’s Air Dominance center efforts to work integration.

According to the Georgia Air National Guard:

The Air Dominance Center is also an ideal location for large-scale Fighter Integration training because it can include participants from other aviation units stationed along the East Coast.

“Within about one hundred miles of Savannah there’s about 15 other fighter squadrons that fly indigenously … so when one fighter unit comes in here they can coordinate and do dissimilar air combat training with all of those units that fly around here on a daily basis,” said Maj. Merrick Baroni, ADC director of operations.

Sentry Savannah 15-1 consists of Air National Guard F-16 flying squadrons from Minnesota, South Carolina and the District of Columbia, an F-15 unit from the Florida Air National Guard, T-38 and F-22 aircraft from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and Marine F/A-18 and F-35s from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

Our interviews will highlight the engagement of the squadron both with the F-18s on base as well as with USAF aircraft in working tactics for 4th/5th generation integration.

The interviews with the CO of the Warlords, Lt. Col. OD Bachmann and Major Brian Bann highlighted the significant progress of the squadron and the maturing of the aircraft.

When I last interviewed OD Bachmann, he had just flown the 200th sortie of the aircraft.

Fast forward to 2015, and the F-35B has more than 10,000 flight hours and the aircraft at Beaufort are among the 140 flying today.

When asked what are the differences between our last meeting and now, the CO of the Warlords had much to say and that will be discussed in the full interview.

But for now, the key thing to highlight is simply that the Marines in the past 2 and 1/2 years have gone from basic flying of the aircraft to training a “much more capable pilot.

We operate a variety of tactical missions including CAS, armed reconnaissance support, tactical intercepts and we operate multiple airplanes operating together via data links.”

Although the air trials aboard the USS WASP are clearly part of the IOC process, in reality what is converging on the WASP are multiple dynamics.

Yuma is present with all the convergent work of the MAWTS-1, VMX-22 and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 upon F-35B IOC and integration with the MAGTF.

And this squadron is working the F-22 and F-35 integration with the MAGTF as well as working with the USAF and the USN.

Beaufort is clearly there in many ways, including providing a maintenance detachment for the aircraft.

And the Brits are there too as the Wasp is mission rehearsal for the HMS Queen Elizabeth and its coming F-35B squadrons.

At Beaufort, we had a chance to interview Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols a well about the UK involvement at Beaufort and at Edwards which are crucial elements of their preparing for their carrier operations as well.

The Italians will come to Beaufort to train as well as other F-35B partners, of which there could be several in the next few years.

The interviews will be forthcoming from the visit, but some of the photos taken during the visit can be seen here:

The first photo shows a Beaufort F-35B with USS Wasp markings.

The “Marine” shown in the third photo is actually Sqn LDR Hugh Nichols, standing in front of the UK F-35B at Beaufort.

He flies USMC airplanes as well as the UK one and vice versa.

The next to last photo shows Nichols with Major Brian Bann and Murielle Delaporte

The final photo shows Lt. Col. Bachmann with Major Bann and Murielle Delaporte.