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F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)

On 31 July 2015, the US Marine Corps announced that the F-35B Lightning II aircraft had reached initial operational capability with a squadron of 10 F-35Bs ready for world-wide deployment. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121), based in Yuma, Arizona, was the first squadron in military history to become operational with an F-35 variant, following a five-day Operational Readiness Inspection, which concluded July 17. At the time, VMFA-121 had ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration. VMFA-121's transition was to be followed by Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), an AV-8B squadron scheduled to transition next to the F-35B in fiscal year 2016. In 2018, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 (VMFA-122), an F-18 Hornet squadron, would conduct its transition.

From 09 to 16 January 2014 the F-35B passed the first round of critical tests of its tail hook , the part of the plane that makes traditional carrier landings possible. “All flight test objectives were met,” Joe DellaVedova, F-35 program spokesman, said. “We’re not declaring victory but last month the F-35 team accomplished 36 successful roll-in arrestment tests at Lakehurst with the redesigned F-35C arresting hook system on CF-3.”

In a statement on "Department Budget and Efficiencies" on January 06, 2011, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said "The Joint Strike Fighter program received special scrutiny given its substantial cost, ongoing development issues, and its central place in the future of U.S. military aviation. In short, two of the JSF variants, the Air Force version and the Navy's carrier based version, are proceeding satisfactorily. By comparison, the Marine Corps' short take-off and vertical landing variant is experiencing significant testing problems. These issues may lead to a redesign of the aircraft's structure and propulsion - changes that could add yet more weight and more cost to an aircraft that has little capacity to absorb more of either. As a result, I am placing the STOVL variant on the equivalent of a two-year probation. If we cannot fix this variant during this time frame and get it back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule, then I believe it should be cancelled. We will also move the development of the Marine variant to the back of the overall JSF production sequence. And to fill the gap created from the slip in the JSF production schedule, we will buy more Navy F/A-18s."

The Department of Defense released a Joint Strike Fighter Fact Sheet on the same day. It stated that the Secretary of Defense Gates' program decisions regarding JSF were made on the basis of a Technical Baseline Review (TBR), the most thorough and in depth review of the JSF program in years, conducted by the new JSF Program Executive Officer, VADM Dave Venlet, at the direction of Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L) Ashton Carter after the 2010 Nunn-McCurdy breach. The TBR involved 120 technical experts reviewing every detail of the program over a period of months, supported by the full strength of the Departments of Navy and Air Force expertise in tactical aircraft. Secretary Gates' direction for the JSF program was also included.

With regards to the development and test program (System Design and Development or SDD) the Secretary of Defense directed that the JSF program decouple testing of the Short Take-Off/Vertical Landing (STOVL) version (F-35B) from the Carrier Version (CV; F-35C) and Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL; F-35A) version, so that all would proceed as rapidly as possible. This would also prevent the STOVL version from delaying the other variants. An additional $4.6 billion would be added to the SDD program through its completion in 2016, on top of the $9.2 billion to go already planned by the end of 2010, for a total to go SDD cost of $13.8 billion. Through FY11 approximately $37 billion had been spent on JSF SDD. Also, the schedule would be extended so that the SDD would end in early 2016 instead of mid-2015 as planned in the 2010 JET II Revised schedule. The extra SDD funding was needed because: (A) TBR found that additional testing would be needed that was not previously planned; and (B) cost estimates for previously planned testing were too low. All 3 services were to reassess their planned IOCs based on revised SDD schedule, but had not done so by January 2011.

The FY12 Defense Budget was to include funding for a US buy of 32 aircraft, approximately the same as in FY11. There were 2 reasons for holding JSF production at existing levels for another year: (A) the final assembly process at Fort Worth was still maturing; (B) slowing production reduced concurrency risk while development and testing were continuing. Beginning in FY13, production would be ramped up by a factor of 1.5 per year, in accordance with the recommendations of the Manufacturing Review Team (MRT). This was the ramp up that optimally balanced efficiency against concurrency risk. It was the fastest that DOD estimated in January 2011, based on the TBR, that future production could prudently be increased. The ramp, plus planned US buys, left adequate room for partner country orders and foreign military sales. Slowing production in the next few years would not have a significant effect on overall JSF unit costs in the future.

Within the US ramp up, the STOVL version would be put on "probation" by being held at a production rate of 6 per year in FY12 and FY13. The reason for probation was that the STOVL version was experiencing technical issues unique to that variant that would add to the aircraft's cost and weight. The probation period was 2 years because that was the time it was expected to take to engineer solutions to the issues and assess their impact. At the end of probation, an informed decision could be made about whether and how to proceed with the STOVL version. In the meantime, 6 per year was the minimum number required to ensure continuity in the engineering workforce involved in assembly of STOVL at Fort Worth without loss of learning, and to sustain the supplier base of STOVL version unique parts. For FY11, the production of the STOVL version would be scaled back to 3 aircraft, since 16 were funded in FY10 and these had still not been produced. To compensate for the production delays in JSF, the Department of the Navy would buy 41 more F/A-18s between FY12 and FY14.

In a speech to Surface Navy Association on 13 January 2011, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos stated that "The F-35B STOVL JSF remains vital to our doctrine of conducting expeditionary operations. The capability inherent in a Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing jet facilitates our doctrinal form of maneuver warfare and our need for close air support in the many austere conditions and locations where we will likely operate in the future. When evaluating runways around the globe, there are 10 times as many 3,000-foot runways capable of handling the STOVL JSF variant as there are 8,000-foot runways required for conventional fighter aircraft. The Marine Corps maintains the organic ability to build an expeditionary 3,000-foot runway in a matter of days in support of STOVL missions conducted in uncertain, non-permissive or remote environments, which are the places where we expect to be employed. In light of the decision announced last week relative to the STOVL JSF, the Marine Corps is committed to working closely with industry during the next two years to get this platform back on track in terms of performance, cost and schedule. I am absolutely confident that this can be done. With a fully-fielded fleet of F35Bs, the Nation will maintain 22 capital ships-11 carrier and 11 amphibious assault-with 5th generation strike assets aboard."

The F-35B for the US Marine Corps and Italy [but no longer for the UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, as of October 2010] employs a short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) capability. This takeoff and landing operation succeeds through a very innovative technology known as the shaft-driven lift fan propulsion system. Besides the propulsion system, the STOVL variant differs only slightly from the US Air Force variant.

The short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B will replace the aging AV-8B Harrier STOVL attack jets (which have also proven increasingly difficult to support) of the US Marine Corps, as well as its F/A-18s. The F-35B will have a stealthy, belly-mounted 25 mm missionized gun pod and a combat radius of more than 450 NM- nearly two times that of legacy STOVL strike fighters. A shaft-driven lift fan, in combination with a vectoring rear exhaust nozzle, gives this fighter the ability to take off in short distances, accelerate to supersonic speeds in level flight, and land vertically. Thanks to the lift-fan system, the F-35B's total vertical lifting thrust is about 39,700 pounds (the aircraft weighs about 30,000 pounds)- more than 14,000 pounds greater than the engine alone would produce without the lift fan. The F-35B will be the world's first operational supersonic STOVL aircraft.

It carries a refueling probe fitted into the right side of the forward fuselage, rather than the U.S. Air Force standard refueling receptacle normally located on the top surface of the aircraft. The STOVL variant carries no internal gun, though a missionized external gun is an option. It shares all the electronic gear of the U.S. Air Force variant, and virtually an identical cockpit layout except for a lever to switch between wingborne and jetborne modes. Performance and stealth characteristics are also very similar. The STOVL variant, designed to replace the AV-8B Harrier, has more than twice the range on internal fuel, operates at supersonic conditions, and houses internal weapons.

The Marine variant distinguishes itself from the other variants with its short takeoff/vertical landing capability. As the first requirement for achieving this capability, the airplane must have more vertical lift than weight. While that requirement is obvious, it is sometimes difficult to meet. The airplane must be light and have a high thrust-to-weight ratio. Good controllability in every axis of the airplane at zero airspeed is a second requirement. The transition between up-and-away flight and hover must be carefully considered. The airplane's hover footprint, the propulsion system's impact on the ground surface or carrier deck, is just as critical.

The manner in which thrust is developed is the key to producing a benign footprint. Noise levels and heat effects on the deck and on the aircraft itself are factors that must be considered. Pointing engine thrust directly down produces a tremendous amount of reflected energy, which results in all kinds of effects that can shorten the life of structures. Acoustic considerations are material considerations. They affect material choices for the underside of the airplane as well as for structures and payloads attached to the airplane.

Internal weapon carriage and increased range requirements on internal fuel make the JSF somewhat bigger and heavier than a Harrier. Russia's Yakovlev Design Bureau worked on a similar-sized STOVL fighter in the 1980s. This aircraft, the Yak-141, followed the Russians' successful, Harrier-sized Yak-38 STOVL aircraft. For vertical lift, the Yak-141 used two RD-41 jet engines mounted in tandem behind the cockpit and a thrust-vectoring main engine. The aircraft first flew in 1989. According to published reports, the Yak-141 encountered problems with hot gas ingestion in the vertical mode. Although Yakovlev built several Yak-141 prototypes, the program was never funded through to the operational aircraft stage and was reportedly shelved in 1992.

The design provides extra thrust in the vertical mode with a shaft-driven lift fan produced by Rolls-Royce. This propulsion approach, which is patented by Dr. Paul Bevilaqua of the Skunk Works, circumvents the hover problems associated with high-temperature and high-velocity air by providing much of the downward thrust with cool air from the lift fan.

The Rolls Royce lift fan is driven by a drive shaft connected to the main engine. Doors open above and below the vertical fan as it spins up. The rest of the vertical thrust is provided by a three-bearing exhaust nozzle on the main engine and two roll posts on the wings. The exhaust nozzle, provided by Rolls-Royce, is used for lift and yaw control and can swivel 110 degrees downward from the horizontal. Thrust for the roll posts, used for roll control, is supplied from the main engine's fan section. This thrust comes from cooler air that normally bypasses the engine's turbine section. The lift-fan approach removes energy from the hot turbine section of the main engine, which, in turn, lowers the main engine's exhaust temperature, producing an even cooler footprint.

The powered model, which is 86 percent scale, was produced by the Skunk Works. The model was used in outdoor hover testing at NASA/Ames in California last year to verify the basic STOVL operational concept and confirm the expected performance of the lift-fan system. The model was then used in extensive testing in the NASA/Ames 80- by 120-foot wind tunnel earlier this year. No other JSF competitor has accomplished a comparable degree of concept demonstration or risk-reduction for their vertical lift systems. Other small-scale wind tunnel models of the Lockheed Martin aircraft have undergone testing in other facilities around the country and in the United Kingdom.

Aside from the shaft-driven lift fan, the Marine variant is much like the Air Force variant. The aircraft has slightly shorter range because the fan system consumes space used for some of the fuel in the Air Force variant. Still, the aircraft has more than twice the range of an AV-8B on internal fuel and can carry a bigger payload. The aircraft shares all of the electronic gear of the Air Force variant. Cockpit layout is also virtually identical, with the exception of a thrust-vector lever for the hover mode.

From October 2000 through August 2001, the JSF X-35 demonstrator aircraft established a number of flight-test standards. X-35B STOVL- first and only aircraft in history to achieve a short-takeoff, level supersonic dash and vertical landing in a single flight; first aircraft to integrate and fly a shaft-driven lift-fan propulsion system; logged 17 vertical takeoffs, 14 short takeoffs, 27 vertical landings, and five supersonic flights.

The LHA(R) will replace the LHA 1 class of amphibious assault ships, and will have the flexibility to operate in the traditional role as the fl agship for an Expeditionary Strike Group as well as potentially playing a key role in the maritime pre-positioning force future (MPF(F)). As the Navy's Seabasing plan matures, the flexibility to operate with the Expeditionary Strike Group and as part of the MPF(F) will make the LHA(R) a vital cog in the Sea Base. LHA(R) will be a variant of the gas turbine-powered LHD 8. The one key difference of LHA(R) from LHD 8 is that it will be an aviation-enhanced assault ship tailored for the US Marine Corps future Aviation Combat Element centered on the STOVL F-35B Joint Strike Fighter and the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey.

LHA 6, the first ship of the LHA(R) program, will be able to operate and support a detachment of 20+ Joint Strike Fighters. LHA 6 features several aviation capabilities enhanced beyond previous amphibious assault ships. These include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage for parts and support equipment, and increased aviation fuel capacity.

DoD working groups and conferences began to question community acceptance strategies for some new weapons systems. In particular, the Joint Strike Fighter may face a variety of challenges in several potential beddown locations. The aircraft generates an extraordinary amount of thrust from its single engine, and according to preliminary analyses, does so at some cost in noise and air quality. Preliminary analysis of the San Diego area revealed air quality limitations that may preclude unrestricted operation of the STOVL (Short Takeoff, Vertical Landing) version of the aircraft that will be procured by the USMC. The highest thrust settings for the aircraft's F-119 engine will occur during transition to and from vertical flight. Noise and emissions, especially of oxides of Nitrogen (NOx), may exceed those encountered in any equivalent engine.

Overall, the JSF Basing & Shipboard Suitability IPT is responsible for ensuring that the requirements are met. The JSF must be able to operate from US and allied shore-based facilities. The JSF STOVL aircraft must be able to operate from austere sites. The naval variant of the JSF must be compatible with and operationally supportable from CVN-68 (NIMITZ) class carriers.

The USMC STOVL aircraft must be compatible with and operationally supportable from CVN-68 (NIMITZ), LHA (TARAWA), and LHD (WASP) Class Ships. The UK STOVL aircraft must be compatible with the flight, ramp, and hangar deck layouts of CVS (INVINCIBLE) Class Ships.

The JSF B&SS IPT is also responsible for assisting international partners in incorporating the JSF into their basing options on land and at sea. For Italian partners, this means the JSF will be operating from their current aircraft carrier, the Garibaldi. In the near future, the JSF will be operating from their new carrier, the Andrea Doria.

As of 2002 the Marine Corps planned to deploy 609 F-35Bs. STOVL first flight was to be in early 2006, with firs delivery in 2008, and IOC 2010. The Marine Corps, with an IOC planned for 2010, would be the first of the military services to operate a fleet of F-35s.

By February 2004, dark clouds were gathering, and it was clear that the team was sailing into stormy technical waters. As detailed design progressed, weight estimates from early in the design phase were found to be overly optimistic. Program leadership was soon faced with the grim reality that the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant would need to lose as much as 3,000 pounds to meet performance requirements. This was a sobering development, and there were more than a few who said that a fix was either impossible or too expensive and time-consuming.

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program entered a re-plan phase as a result of a number of technical issues with aircraft design (principally with aircraft weight of the Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant). The STOVL aircraft is considered to be the linchpin to the program's success. These technical issues resulted in an acknowledged minimum slip to the IOC dates for the three aircraft variants of up to two years.

There is no weight requirement for the F-35 - only performance requirements. The CTOL and CV versions of the F-35 already met their performance requirements, and initiatives were taken to ensure that the STOVL version meets its performance requirements by the time it enters service. The contractors created a "SWAT" team. SWAT stands for STOVL Weight Attack Team. The team, comprising about 500 individuals, was dedicated solely to reducing weight, and identified and removed hundreds of pounds of unwanted weight from the aircraft in the process of maturing the airframe.

SWAT identified a design path to a STOVL F-35 that meets or exceeds its performance requirements. The team not only excised more than 3,000 pounds of unwanted estimated weight, but also improved structural integrity, optimized load paths and brought greater efficiencies to the overall aircraft. The internal bays of the F-35B STOVL variant were redesigned in late 2004 and are now shorter and reduced in width, compared to the F-35A CTOL model. This was done to reduce the weight of the F-35B to meet other more important performance goals. As a result, the F-35B is no longer compatible with JSOW and 2,000-lb JDAM weapons. The largest weapon this F-35 variant can carry internally is the GBU-32 1,000-lb version of JDAM.

Propulsion engineers, meanwhile, made adjustments to the F-35B's auxiliary engine inlet and exhaust nozzle to improve thrust by more than 600 pounds without making changes to the engine itself or the way it operates. All of this was accomplished in about six months - far shorter than anyone had predicted. Because of their shared basic architecture, all three F-35 variants will benefit from the SWAT-generated design enhancements.

In February 2006 BAE Systems started production of the first U.K. components for the Short Take-Off / Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. BAE Systems' Advanced Machining Centre at Samlesbury, U.K. has started work on one of the major frames that form part of the aft fuselage. The aft fuselage and empennage for each F-35 JSF are being designed, engineered and built at the company's Samlesbury site, using the latest in advanced design and manufacturing technology.

As of early 2005 there was uncertainty about the number and mix of variants the services plan to purchase will also affect JSF's acquisition plans. While the Air Force had announced its intention to acquire the short takeoff and vertical landing variant, it had yet to announce when or how many it expects to buy or how this purchase will affect the quantity of the conventional takeoff and landing variant it plans to buy. In December 2004, Air Combat Command officials indicated that the Air Force was considering buying about 250 short takeoff and landing JSFs and about 1,300 conventional takeoff and landing JSFs. However, these numbers were not official.

The number and mix of JSF variants that the Navy and Marine Corps intend to purchase - and their related procurement costs - also remain undetermined. In 2002 the Navy - concerned that it could not afford the number of tactical aircraft it planned to purchase - reduced the number of JSF aircraft for joint Navy and Marine Corps operations from 1,089 to 680 by reducing the number of backup aircraft needed. News reports in 2002 indicated that the proposed reduction would cut 259 jets from the Marine Corps buy, and 50 from the Navy purchase, resulting in a total F-35B buy of 350. However, as of early 2005 the Navy had not indicated to the developer the exact mix of the carrier and short takeoff and vertical landing variants it intended to purchase.

The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence had chosen the F-35B to replace its Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy. The United Kingdom's 2005 plans called for 150 aircraft: the Royal Air Force 90; and the Royal Navy 60. The October 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review stated that "We will fit a catapult to the operational carrier to enable it to fly a version of the Joint Strike Fighter with a longer range and able to carry more weapons. Crucially, that will allow our carrier to operate in tandem with the US and French navies, and for American and French aircraft to operate from our carrier and vice versa."

The Italian Air Force had envisaged buying 40 STOVL JSFs to replace its AMX fighter bombers, alongside 69 conventional JSFs to replace its Tornado aircraft. If the Italian Air Force dropped its B-purchase, Italy would still try to buy 22 of the F-35B to replace Harrier jump jets flown off the aircraft carrier Cavour.

The first F-35B assembled outside of the U.S. landed at NAS Patuxent River on 31 January 2018 after completing a transatlantic flight from Cameri Air Base in northern Italy. The flight follows the Italian Ministry of Defense's acceptance of the aircraft on Jan. 25 at the Cameri F-35 final assembly line. There are two foreign F-35 final assembly lines, the other is located in Nagoya, Japan. Cameri is the only B variant final assembly line outside of the U.S. and has delivered nine F-35As and one F-35B. The aircraft is assigned to the Italian Navy and was undergoing electromagnetic environmental effects certification for three months at the Integrated Battlespace Simulation and Test Facility on NAS Patuxent River.

The Marine Corps F-35B, Lightning II, conducted its first combat strike in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, 27 September 2018. During this mission, the F-35B conducted an air strike in support of ground clearance operations, and the strike was deemed successful by the ground force commander. “The F-35B is a significant enhancement in theater amphibious and air warfighting capability, operational flexibility, and tactical supremacy,” said Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. “As part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group, this platform supports operations on the ground from international waters, all while enabling maritime superiority that enhances stability and security.”

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) was the first combat-deployed MEU to replace the AV-8B Harrier with the F35B Lightning II. The F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 were embarked on the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group.

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Page last modified: 18-04-2019 18:50:02 ZULU