What the Marines’ Stealth Fighter Can’t Do


Categorie: Air, David Axe, Marines, Stealth |
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Lockheed Martin photo.

Lockheed Martin photo.


Last week the U.S. Marine Corps accepted the first combat-designated F-35B stealth fighter at its air station in Yuma, Arizona. The Corps is racing to prep its first frontline F-35B squadron for Initial Operating Capability sometime in the 2015 timeframe. A reputable source provides some context:

The Marines’ early-IOC force is a maximum of 33 jets — the F-35Bs in LRIP-4 through 7, the last of which should be delivered in 2015 if they ever get back on schedule. These are the only Bs that have Block 2B software. Given training and test needs, plus concurrency mods, I don’t see more than one squadron.

These aircraft are limited to 550 knots airspeed, Mach 1.2 and 5.5 G and carry internal weapons only. Of the internal weapons, the only useful weapon for CAS is the GBU-12 LGB. They don’t have AIM-9X, so they are at a disadvantage against almost any air threat unless the ROEs allow BVR engagement with radar only.


10 Responses to “What the Marines’ Stealth Fighter Can’t Do”

  1. Dude says:

    A more precise way to say it is that “The Marines Get a Test Aircraft”

  2. SpudmanWP says:

    Come clarification to the clarification is needed:

    1. VMFA-121 was the first USMC unit to gt the F-18D, so being the first to get the F-35B is appropriate.

    2. VMFA-121 is a Operational combat unit, not a training, test, or development unit. The USMC has other units that will do the IOT&E stuff.

    3. VMFA-121 has three F-35Bs now and will have 16 (their full number) by Sept 2013.

    4. The F-35 has the best ability to ID a BVR target of any US fighter (and likely ANY fighter), including the F-22. BVR VID ROEs will not be an issue.

    5. The AMRAAM, and especially the -120D, is perfectly capable of engaging BVR & WVR targets using any data source outside of the radar (EOTS, ESM, EODAS, Datalink, etc).

    6. IOC F-35Bs will likely be from VMFA-121′s 16 F-35Bs (but only 10 are required) as the other F-35Bs of the 33 are testing, training, & IOT&E birds.



  3. Sol says:

    damn David. is daddy Sweetman proud. you’re sucking trash now. no hope no respect and you’ll follow aviation week into the scrap heap. what bullshit.

  4. Snafu says:

    Hoho are you missing being able to post vitriolic nonsense on the aviationweek blogs Sol?
    Facts are facts whether you like them or not.
    Why don’t you point out where the article is inaccurate?

  5. Atomic Walrus says:

    The problem isn’t that the blog post is inaccurate; it’s that it’s misleading. Yes, the F-35 is fairly limited at IOC. That’s typical for a new aircraft, and more pronounced for the F-35 due to the level of concurrency in the program. Instead of providing any of that context, though, the blog post simply states the shortcomings. Kind of like looking at a future football star at age 5 and pointing out that they can’t throw anything like the current pro ball players.

  6. jim says:

    With the US national debt now at $16 trillion and growing the Marines must give up their dream of operating the STOVL F35B. Why compete with the Navy and Air Force. Helicopters not good enough ?

  7. RSF says:

    It’s the MV-22 all over again. The USMC purchases a largely untested aircraft not ready for prime time at hugely inflated prices with limited warfighting capabilities. How long will it be before it starts killing people?

    In response to SpudmanWP in order:

    1. Who cares.
    2. Ditto, who cares!
    3. VMFA-121 having 3 F-35B’s now and 16 total in 2013 means absolutely nothing since the entire program is at least 5 years late in delivering aircraft to the appropriate services. See attached original SDD below for confirmation:


    4. The F-35 does NOT have the best ability to ID a target in BVR. That would be the F-22 due to the AN/ALR-94 passive receiver system which combines 30 antennas blended into the wings and fuselage which can track targets over 250 miles away.


    5. The AMRAAM is the joke of BVR missiles. It attained a dismal 46% kill ratio (13 missiles/6 kills) against targets with no missile warning systems, not maneuvering, and not attempting to engage the fighter that fired the AMRAAM. Further there is a serious flaw design flaw with the missile that prevents the rocket motor from reliability operating in cold weather conditions. Sounds perfect for an untested stealth fighter with diminished abilities!


    6. Accurately predicting IOC for any variant of the F-35 has been impossible to date due to the continuing inability for Lockmart to solve the many serious technical design flaws with the aircraft. So many JSF SDD’s have now crashed and burned that its comical to see anyone “predicting” IOC with any serious degree of confidence. Attached below is the latest GAO report documenting the continuing issues with ALL variants of the JSF:


    On another subject, I see David you’ve attracted the same merry band of JSF fans seen in action across the internet who whine and cry about anyone openly critical of the F-35.

    My advice to you would be to follow the path of A&W and strictly enforce appropriate behavior policies and delete/block problem children or you’ll spend your days wading through pages of posted hostile rubbish.

  8. SpudmanWP says:

    1&2 “Who cares” are the people who want to know the facts rather than applying their predispositions and twisting (or making up) fact to support them.

    3. To put it simply, it had to happen sometime. There has to be a “first” Operational unit and it makes sense that since the USMC will be first to go IOC that it would also be the first to have an Operational unit.

    4. Your info is a bit out of date. The F-22 “was” the best at ID’ing a target. That title now belongs to the F-35. The makers of the ALR-94 (BAE) also make the ASQ-239 in the F-35. Using the lessons learned from the F-22 and advances in technology, the -239 is able to be located in fewer sensor bays and yet be more sensitive thanks to a higher amount of CPU power and better tech. It is also integrated with the APG-81 on a pulse-for-pulse basis. The F-35 also shares data amongst other F-35s in order to build a picture of the battlefield and ID targets.

    The F-35 also has the EOTS which the F-22 lacks completely. This enables it to VID a target from nearly 50nm away although it can detect a target from farther.

    The F-35 is a leap above the F-22 in terms of the ability to ID a target and this was testified to earlier this year.

    “Air Vice Marshal Osley: And so the strength of the joint strike fighter—and I use this as an example—is that it has the ability to have up to 650 parameters by which it will identify a potential threat out there. Other aircraft, such as the F22 have about a third of that”

    5. Several things need to be remembered when looking at that AMRAAM number:
    ..a. Those were early A/B AMRAAMs
    ..b. Several of those were ripple fired (more than one missile at the same target at the same time)
    ..c. Still a multitude better than the Sparrow
    ..d. Name any other BVR missile that has a better combat record.

    6. The worst of the F-35’s temporary technical problems are well behind it. That GAO report talks primarily about continuing risks, not actual problems that cannot be fixed.

  9. F-14D says:

    SpudmanWP knows of what he speaks.

    We’re talking about the first training unit here, not a combat coded unit, so most of the criticisms aren’t valid.

    There are other problems. As an in-development aircraft that hasn’t even reached IOC, of course it doesn’t have AIM-9X. However, that is a weapon that is to be used on operational aircraft. For comparison, the F-22 is only just now starting integration of AIM-9X (first supersonic launch test didn’t even happen until last August), and it’s been around how long? BTW, F-22 will not be able to use AIM-9X to its full capability because it isn’t going to get an HMS (F-35 has one).

    The big question I keep asking on F-35, and my big worry, is “Why is it taking so blankety-blank long”?

    Regarding the 46% kill ratio for AIM-120, that’s actually pretty good for a missile, and actually noticeably better than a gun (most of the time when you encounter another aircraft, you never get in position where you can fire the gun, but that doesn’t get factored into the statistics).

  10. F-14D says:

    Oh, I forgot. When you’re doing CAS, stealth is not that important. When it doesn’t have to be stealthy, the F-35B will be able to carry 15,00 lbs. of ordnance

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