Marine pilots recently dropped dozens of live bombs from the completed the first live The F-35B joint strike fighter for the first time, bringing the aircraft a step closer to its long-anticipated rollout.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 dropped 30 bombs over five days without a hitch in late June near Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. It was a first for the squadron testing the aircraft's capabilities, and Marines said they can hit targets in little- to no-visibility.
That showed that , showing the F-35B is ready and able to conduct direct strikes in a battlefield environment, according to one of the 14 unit's pilots who participated in the testing, said Maj. Christopher Trent, VMFA-121's pilot training officer and one of 14 pilots who flew several of the recent test sorties. near Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
"It was a confidence builder for the entire team that they can load bombs, wire and put them on the jet right, and the jet can put them where they are intended to go with the pilot's targeting," he said.
The aircraft only dropped two legacy munitions currently in used by F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier pilots: including the laser-guided 500-pound Guided Bomb Unit 12 and the GPS-guided 1,000-pound GBU-32. But the new fighter jet far outperformed F-35B's performance stood far above above older aircraft in its ability to deliver GBU-32 munitions in obscured conditions.
"In extreme weather conditions or dirty battlefield conditions, the F-35 still has the ability to target munitions for the guy on the ground with the same warheads legacy aircraft carry today," said Maj. Christopher Trent said. , the VMFA-121's pilot training officer who flew several of the recent test sorties.
The key to that e new capability is the F-35's synthetic aperture radar, which allows it to means can paint a three-dimensional map of the ground. That offers pilots enough granular detail to deliver bombs even in little or no visibility.
In the case of GBU-12 bombs, however, pilots still need clear weather because since the system is dependent on a laser's ability to paint a target.
GBU-12 and GBU-32 will be the only two munitions the F-35 initially carries. The decision was made to prioritize certification of those two given operational needs, time and financial constraints.
"I served as an air officer in Afghanistan and these were by far the most common two piece of ordnance employed," Trent said, adding that it made sense to focus on GBU-12 and 32 first. "In Afghanistan I saw quite a few eomployed."
With its now proven ability to put two common bombs on target, the aircraft is on track to reach a declared for a declaration of "initial operations capability" by Marine leaders. That's expected to happen sometime this month.
As it stands, Trent said he would confidently take the aircraft into battle today. The exercise proved to all Marines involved in running sorties that the new aircraft can carry out a combat mission. y can do their jobs without a problem.
The aircraft will eventually get an expanded and upgraded suite of weapons, but that will come with the next block of upgrades in 2017. For now, once it reaches initial operations capability IOC is declared, Trent said the squadron will shift its focus toward training more pilots and making bomb runs a routine task.
"We will transition to normal operational training priorities for a normal gun squadron, training all the remaining pilots up and getting them ready for combat should the squadron be called to go," he said.