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F-35B Vertical landing  (Source: DefenseNews)
Five landings are the first of 42 needed to move to at-sea trials

Of all the F-35 Lightning II variants currently in testing, the most troubled has been the F-35B STOVL fighter. The aircraft has had recurring issues with sub-components that are failing at higher than expected rates leading to problems and delays in the flight program.

The F-35B fighter was also dealt a blow when the program was recently put on a 2-year probationary period. Lockheed is still hard at work on the F-35B and the aircraft has shown some progress recently. Defense News reports that the aircraft has had a series of five vertical landings over the last eight days that have come off without a hitch.

The vertical landing tests were performed between January 6 and 13. The five successful landings are part of the 42 that must be completed before the aircraft can be tested at sea on an amphibious assault ship. When the remaining tests will happen is unknown; so far the 2011 flight test schedule has not been published.

"I think it does [signal that the program is getting back on track]. This program has never been quite as troubled as many critics thought. I think it's probably progressed more smoothly than other fighter development program with the possible exception of the F-16," said Loren Thompson, an analyst at the Lexington Institute (Arlington, Virginia). The F-16's development proceeded so smoothly because of the simple nature of the original version of that aircraft, he said.

Thompson also notes that the issues the F-35 has faced so far are common teething problems that can be found in new aircraft programs. By comparison, the issues that the F-22 Raptor faced were much worse.

Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia said that the challenges left in the F-35B program can be addressed in the 2-year probationary period.

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Still needed?
By Brandon Hill on 1/18/2011 12:50:32 PM , Rating: 3
Muy question is, how much of of a benefit has having the AV-8B been to the Marines and is an aircraft of that type even needed anymore? They have limited weapons-carrying capabilities compared to their more conventional siblings (if they want to take off and land vertically) and they just seem like complex nightmares waiting to fail on the battlefield.

RE: Still needed?
By Ammohunt on 1/18/2011 2:00:49 PM , Rating: 2
the marines always want to be diifferent! i personally don't see any significant advantage over using VTOL based planes vs helicopter gunships. The Marine Corp should probably re-evaluate their tactics.

RE: Still needed?
By Solandri on 1/18/2011 2:31:56 PM , Rating: 2
That probably has more to do with the politics of not duplicating combat capabilities. The Air Force and Navy get to have regular planes (carrier-based for the Navy). If the Army or Marines ask for funding for regular fixed-wing aircraft, they just get told to request air support from the Air Force or Navy. So they have to concentrate on non-traditional aircraft (helicopters, VTOL) if they want to get any sort of funding for their own aircraft.

RE: Still needed?
By bah12 on 1/18/2011 4:10:07 PM , Rating: 2
If the Army or Marines ask for funding for regular fixed-wing aircraft, they just get told to request air support from the Air Force or Navy
Guess his and my point would be. So what? Request air support from them. Hell the Navy most likely has a carrier group in the region anyway, why not have them provide close air support for ground troops that is their job.

Now the counter point is most likely it takes too much time, LIVES ARE AT STAKE HERE BOY!! To that I would suggest we spend our time and resources eliminating the bottlenecks that cause it to "take to long", than developing/maintaining/training a whole new jet because they don't communicate well.

Marines are a workhorse no doubt, but last I checked there aren't a lot of naval threats. Put those assets to work in support of the Marines instead of cluttering up things with more complexity.

RE: Still needed?
By Alexvrb on 1/18/2011 7:58:54 PM , Rating: 4
Yeah you're right! We need to get rid of all the duplicate functions! Let's just delete the Marines entirely. Heck while we're at it, let's kill off the best stealth fighter we've got (oops too late, already did that!).

After all the Chinese are at least a decade away from- hey Secretary Gates, what's that in the background? Oh look, it's a test mule for China's stealth fighter! Hmm, I don't think it'll take them another decade to finish that, given that they've got more free cash than we do. Heck, they don't even need to raise a debt ceiling just to maintain the status quo...

RE: Still needed?
By bah12 on 1/19/2011 9:30:22 AM , Rating: 2
Let's just delete the Marines entirely.
Actually...why not? Not really get rid of them, but role them into a special forces unit of the army/navy. They are a relatively small fighting force, and I firmly believe in KISS (keep it simple stupid). If the argument is they can't get help from the Navy/USAF in a timely fashion, then why not consolidate the upper command chain and remove those bottlenecks.

The people don't need to change and neither would the superb training methods or overall mission. However I do believe that you could combined the command chain and at least some equipment, and at the end of the day be a more cost effective fighting unit. Step back and look at it objectively. If you had no knowledge of the history or heritage of the USMC, and had to describe it to a 3rd party. It would look a lot like a special Naval unit, IMO.

As to your rant on stealth fighters and China, I'm not in any way suggesting we limit the USMC abilities, rather leverage the vast amount of resources that we already have. Surely you can agree that complexity for the sake of complexity is not a good thing.

RE: Still needed?
By Ammohunt on 1/19/2011 1:50:54 PM , Rating: 2
We need the marines to go in and draw fire to expose enemy positions and take the first bullets so that the real work can be done afterward by US ARMY.

RE: Still needed?
By ZmaxDP on 1/18/2011 10:13:58 PM , Rating: 1

I mean, a VSTOL like this only flies significantly faster and significantly farther than a helo. Frequently as much as a factor of 10. That isn't significant though, right???

Then there is the fact that the marines don't operate aircraft carriers. So, if they are to conduct any missions using their ships it means helos or VSTOL.

You all want them to requisition the Navy for every air support role they have? LOL. The marines are frequently in places without a carrier near enough for close combat support. You try explaining to a grunt why he has to wait an hour taking cover under RPG and light artillery bombardment because their littoral ship can't range to their location using a helo and still have enough fuel to fight, and since we cancelled the VSTOLs they have to requisition a ship several hundred miles away to send air support instead? That's all assuming they don't have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get support at all, or even plan a mission in the first place.

So, how many marines have to die to make it worth while to you???

Don't get me wrong, I don't think they need 1000 of them, but I'll happily pay for a hundred or so. I'd much rather pay for that than healthcare reform that sucks or maintaining social services that are grossly inefficient with their current resources. Please. Education reform I'll pay for. Good tech and funding for our soldiers I'll pay for. All the other bullshit the government "does for us" to build dependence and buy votes, no thanks.

RE: Still needed?
By Ammohunt on 1/19/2011 1:54:41 PM , Rating: 2
The answer would be forward deployed conventional Artillery or Marine MLRS equivalent. 95% percent of close in fire support can be handled that way…Artillery King of battle.

RE: Still needed?
By Chillin1248 on 1/18/2011 2:07:40 PM , Rating: 3
In terms of pure operational history, not much.

In fact, many would call their tactics flawed in regards to the forward basing of Harriers (and F-35B's). If operational experience has shown anything it's that there is no way that the Marines will be cleared to deploy a $150+ Million dollar stealth plane in forward airfields withing range of enemy rockets/mortars.

A recent example of what happens occurred on October 14th, 2005. A British squadron of forward based GR7A Harriers came under rocket fire while on the ground, destroying one and seriously damaging another:

In addition, it would completely tie up a considerable amount of resources just to keep these planes supplied, not what you want when you have a landing force also needing supplies. Also VTOL limits the amount of fuel and weapons you can carry considerably.

And the bottom line is, why do the Marine Corps need a stealth strike aircraft to fly CAS?

Especially when there will only be 6 aircraft deployed on each ship, which equals 24 missiles in Air-to-Air stealth configuration. Then you need to subtract 1/5 of the missiles due to the AIM-120D failure "dud" rate. In addition, the AIM-120D has only shown a kill percentage of around 50% (previous versions in combat have demonstrated 70% to be fair).

So now you have an effective ~9-12 missiles assuming all the aircraft are in the air, exactly which air-force is that going to stop that you needed stealth aircraft in the first place?

Better yet, the enemy can just ignore your planes and head straight for the ships. Now your stealth planes have nowhere to land.

Extremely flawed thinking on the Marine Corps part in my opinion.


RE: Still needed?
By Nightraptor on 1/18/2011 2:48:47 PM , Rating: 2
1. 6 is the standard load out for a LHD/LHA, however they can carry upwards of 20 if need be.

2. As you note 4 is the number of missiles they can carry and maintain complete stealth. Take away the requirement for total stealth and they can carry at least 10 AA missiles and possibly more. With a weapons capacity quoted by Lockheed at 15,000 LBs the F35 B could ultimately carry more then the F18 A/B/C/D and come within 2000 LBs of the E/F models as well as the latest F16 variants.

3. One must remember that in any scenario there is either going to be ground based or ship based AA as well.

RE: Still needed?
By Chillin1248 on 1/18/2011 4:07:03 PM , Rating: 2
Your points are valid.

However, if I may address them in turn:

1)- At which point they will cripple their ability to support a sea invasion with aerial resupplies and gunship support. Not to mention that if you have 20 on-board that would be needed, then won't the same scenario already have an aircraft carrier battlegroup as well (USAF also)?

2)- First, we must address the lift fan and the loss of over 5,000lbs of fuel (tank removed), this results in greatly reduced range and time on station.

Second, reduced loadout. The F-35B is incapable of carrying the GBU-31, instead it is forced to carry the much smaller GBU-32 and Small diameter bombs.

3)- Granted. However it is the job of a forward fighter screen to prevent the launches of missiles on the friends ships in the first place, local air-defense is a second line of defense. The last thing you want is for your ships to come under attack by supersonic wave-skimming missiles.

I honestly fail to find a need for the F-35B in the Marine Corps. Can anyone point out any place that the F-35B will be needed that there won't be USAF or USN planes already there?


RE: Still needed?
By Nightraptor on 1/18/2011 2:21:55 PM , Rating: 4
Fighters capable of STOVL operations are always significantly more complicated and less capable then their more traditional CATOBAR brethern, but they do also have advantages to a group like the Marines. The United States typically views the Marines as an initial entry force. Using the Marines for security operations as they have been used in Iraq/Afghanistan is highly unusual and has only been done because the Army wasn't big enough to handle it.

So assuming the primary mission of the Marines is initial entry the Marines must be able to operate with the absolute minimum of resources while they wait for add on forces to arrive in theatre. In such an environment one must ask how to provide Close Air Support. Ideally one would get such support from a traditional Carrier or land based sources. However, in the early stages of initial entry a Carrier may be unavailable or unable to launch sorties far enough inland, and neighboring nations may be uncooperative. So then what?? One could rely solely on helicopters, however you better hope the opposing nation doesn't have any fighter jets as those will eat the Marines Cobra's for dinner. In such a scenario (which is not completely unlikely) a full fledged fighter jet that can take off in 500 feet from a improvised landing strip (pick a highway any highway) and then land vertically becomes invaluable even with all its limitations.

RE: Still needed?
By Belard on 1/18/2011 2:34:04 PM , Rating: 2
er... okay.

So once the F35B lands in a hostile country... where does it get fuel from? As you said, the carriers are gone for some reason.

Don't think Marine landing force wants to bring a tanker truck with them... or AMMO for the aircraft.

RE: Still needed?
By Nightraptor on 1/18/2011 3:05:00 PM , Rating: 2
1. A Marine Expeditionary Unit is designed to fight for 15 days without any resupply.

2. To the extent that resupply is needed a C130 is probably more capable of operating from a improvised airfield then the F35 itself and have done so in many cases. You are aware that C130's have actually sucessfully landed and taken off from carriers in Navy experiments. Stop distance was less then 605 feet in all tests without using arresting gear and of course catapults were NOT used for takeoff (would overload them big time if they were). It is unfeasible to operate close air support missions to a far away country from a significant distance away. Resupply missions using Cargo Planes not so much.

RE: Still needed?
By Aloonatic on 1/19/2011 4:22:37 AM , Rating: 2
Because the helicopter alternative (as suggested above by the OP) would land and refuel/rearm using happy thoughts and moon beams?

One of the advantages that aircraft have is that they can go further. So they would not have to be based so close to the front line, so easier to supply, and can get to where they need to be hell of a lot faster too.

Of course, there will be helicopter cover too, horses for courses. I don't get why people cant see these things as part of a mix of technologies/airframes/whatever that all have their own pros and cons and for fill a certain role well, but none of them do everything perfectly.

Also, of course the marines will want take with them everything that they have decided that they need in order to carry out their operation as effectively as possible. The resources need to take the ammo/fuel for a F35B in relation to what it can achieve on the battle field might well be smaller than the resources needed to have the same effect in theatre in food, fuel and ammo for just marines and their vehicles (that you seem to think also run on moon-beams fairy dust?) or whatever else that might be required.

RE: Still needed?
By mac2j on 1/18/2011 8:30:05 PM , Rating: 2
With a carrier group waiting offshore - probably not.

But being first on the scene these could be very valuable - you can carry and land F-35Bs on/in much smaller and faster ships than a carrier so that they are available from the time marines establish a beach-head to provide close air support, prevent enemy close air support or overflight reconnaisance, and possibly interdict enemy anti-ship operations as more naval forces enter the area.

Also part of the original plan was to sell them to other countries with "mini-carriers" that require STOVL aircraft and even though Britain backed out that still leaves a few others like France and Thailand (and India?) I believe

RE: Still needed?
By KakarotUSMC on 1/18/2011 9:39:33 PM , Rating: 3
A full Close Air Support (CAS) package, which is crucial to any land-based infantry operation, must include fixed-wing assets to compliment the rotary-wing assets (helicopters). Since an LHA/LHD ship is a smaller version of a full-size naval carrier, and is the main ship in an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG), a STOVL aircraft is necessary so that Marines can insert within 24 hours and have all air support required to be successful.

I spent enough time on an LHD to know that Harriers are required to support the ground troops. I also spent years training my Marines to control those aviation assets while deployed. Helicopters just don't move fast enough to get to the battlefield when it hits the fan.

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