How F-35 Middle East deployments are shaping future ops

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Unread post19 Aug 2020, 05:47

How F-35 Middle East Deployments Are Shaping Future Ops
18 Aug 2020 Brian W. Everstine

"Air Force F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, have patrolled the skies of the Middle East continuously for the past 16 months, dropping bombs on the remnants of the Islamic State group and testing new tactics that will shape how the Joint Strike Fighter is used in the future. The 34th Fighter Squadron’s deployment to the region from October 2019 to June 2020 checked off a lot of firsts for the F-35A, including the type’s first short-notice deployment and the first time the jet practiced agile combat employment—operating from both its home base of Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and a small forward-deployed location.

“We proved that with the F-35 we can carry out a variety of mission sets. The requirements in CENTCOM go from close air support, all the way to opposed offensive and defensive counter-air and maritime support in the swing of a single day,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron, in a statement to Air Force Magazine. “You have to be ready for everything. We were doing everything from strafing in close air support, which wouldn’t normally compute in your brain with the capabilities a fifth-generation fighter brings, to running maritime escort for Carrier Strike Groups in the span of a single day.”

[...]

Much of the [34th FS] squadron, while deployed, operated out of Al Dhafra—the base that has hosted Air Force stealth fighters deployed to the Middle East in recent years. But the squadron also forward deployed a third of its of Airmen and aircraft to an “undisclosed location” without the same level of support and infrastructure to conduct ongoing combat operations for about three months. The step was a real-life example of the agile combat employment effort the Air Force is practicing in other commands.

“Successfully implementing split operations was the biggest takeaway for us,” Cavasos said. “To be able to bed down in a forward location means that we now have unpredictability against potential adversaries. They are so used to us showing up in country, staying in the same place for half a year, doing the same things and leaving. They know it. We know it. Now we proved we can be more agile. That principal can carry over operationally to other regions and any potential adversaries there.”

While the broader F-35A fleet is still plagued by maintenance issues—only registering a 61.6 percent mission capable rate in 2019—the squadron was able to fly its first combat sortie within 24 hours and it didn’t lose one sortie due to a maintenance issue at either location while deployed, said Capt. Susan McLeod, the officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, in a statement to Air Force Magazine. This at a time the F-35 enterprise is dealing with the continued problems of the Autonomic Logistics Information System, as the program moves toward its replacement.

[...]

The squadron returned to Hill in June, its deployment extended because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and they have been replaced in theater by Hill’s 421st Fighter Squadron. The Utah base is the Air Force’s only operational F-35 location in the continental United States, and for the 34th, the deployment included pilots who had never deployed with any airplane as well as many young maintainers who had not worked in that environment before.

“I had guys straight from the basic F-35 course who got to see live combat, see how joint operations work, and the unpredictability of warfare. This experience is only going to help them going forward
. It was a confidence booster and that perspective that will improve how they train back home,” Cavazos said. “Operationally, we’re becoming our own F-35 community. We aren’t a hodge-podge of pilots from other air frames anymore.”"

Source: https://www.airforcemag.com/how-f-35-mi ... uture-ops/
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Unread post19 Aug 2020, 13:50

Thanks for sharing that!
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Unread post20 Aug 2020, 03:40

DITTO :D
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Unread post20 Aug 2020, 11:25

Something that I think never gets said enough...

People often talk a lot about how bad the mission capable rate is of the F-22, F-35 or (take your pick) airfcraft. Yet when called upon to deploy in theater, our people always seem to step it up - and that figure almost always improves considerably. Maybe its just me and the stories I read, but stuff like this happens a lot. Another example: Prior to DS, the F-15E supposedly "wasn't ready" for action.

Boy, did that change real fast.

This is a tremendous testament to the people in USAF/USN etc, usually much moreso than the equipment. It's great to see. I just wish they were funded and taken care of as well as some of the weapons systems..
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Unread post20 Aug 2020, 19:11

mixelflick wrote:Something that I think never gets said enough...

... when called upon to deploy in theater, our people always seem to step it up - and that figure almost always improves considerably. Maybe its just me and the stories I read, but stuff like this happens a lot. Another example: Prior to DS, the F-15E supposedly "wasn't ready" for action.


One of the blessings I had being assigned to a Q(KC 135Qs) squadron was we didn't have the peacetime BS framework. Everything whether SR-71 or U-2's or dragging F-14s across the ocean was a "operational deployment." never worried about peacetime procedures and protocols. You did what you had to do, even landing on 6,000 ft runways with a nearly 300,000 lb airplane. or flying over "neutral" countries' air space. Let the diplomats sort it out..

However, and this is not to be taken lightly. The 6,000 ft runway airframe shelled an engine the next month, and Taiwan got very upset with un flightplanned flights over Taipei. There is a price to pay for that stuff.

FWIW,
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Unread post20 Aug 2020, 20:09

dragging F-14s across the ocean


Couldn't they find the boat? :D
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Unread post21 Aug 2020, 06:40

outlaw162 wrote:
dragging F-14s across the ocean


Couldn't they find the boat? :D


They were "Geranium" :wink: F-14's for the Shah

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Unread post23 Aug 2020, 20:09

mixelflick wrote:People often talk a lot about how bad the mission capable rate is of the F-22, F-35 or (take your pick) airfcraft. Yet when called upon to deploy in theater, our people always seem to step it up - and that figure almost always improves considerably.

[...]

This is a tremendous testament to the people in USAF/USN etc, usually much moreso than the equipment. It's great to see. I just wish they were funded and taken care of as well as some of the weapons systems..


That and a testament to how having spare parts ready on hand to fix things changes the capability rates. Mission Capable rates are often artificially low due to unrelated factors. For instance, if you have several aircraft waiting for new canopies, that will suppress readiness for the entire fleet until you fix the issue. But the ones they deploy have already fixed it or have spares on hand and priority to get more. Until you have a mature, fully funded maintenance and supply systems, you really can't put a lot of credence in fleet mission capability numbers. It is also why forward deployed readiness is not a good gauge of overall health. Unfortunately, spare parts are always the first thing to be cut in the budget cycle. As an example, when SECDEF required 80pct readiness, the F-18E/F MC rates went up dramatically after the Navy dumped an additional $2B into spare parts and funded the depot closer to the required level. Will miracles never cease.
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Unread post23 Aug 2020, 21:11

“That and a testament to how having spare parts ready on hand to fix things changes the capability rates. Mission Capable rates are often artificially low due to unrelated factors...Until you have a mature, fully funded maintenance and supply systems, you really can't put a lot of credence in fleet mission capability numbers. It is also why forward deployed readiness is not a good gauge of overall health. Unfortunately, spare parts are always the first thing to be cut in the budget cycle. As an example, when SECDEF required 80pct readiness, the F-18E/F MC rates went up dramatically after the Navy dumped an additional $2B into spare parts and funded the depot closer to the required level. Will miracles never cease.“

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Unread post24 Aug 2020, 00:25

usnvo wrote:Until you have a mature, fully funded maintenance and supply systems, you really can't put a lot of credence in fleet mission capability numbers.


Plus how can anyone reasonably expect high numbers when there's a building fleet of 2,400, growing at 130 to 155 per year? Obviously availability of a rapidly building fleet (and parts supply need) is going to be constantly playing catch-up for the first 15 years of such a build until the rate slows. That's as much an artifact of the scale and build rate, which would look even worse if 200 to 300 more were built several years sooner.

RAAF seems to be pleasantly relieved how well the initial availability has worked out. A big deal if the availability were not there, it would require a sudden buy of Superhornets, and they would not be selling classics off to Canada, if there was any significant doubt about how F-35A would pan out.
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Unread post02 Dec 2020, 18:27

:applause:
https://www.airforcemag.com/article/combat-tested/
Combat Tested
By Brian W. Everstine Sept. 1, 2020
The F-35A still isn’t in full production, but it’s proving its effectiveness daily.
F-35As and Airmen with the 34th Fighter Squadron were flying in a Phase II exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, in October 2019 when the order came.
“I got recalled by the command post while I was airborne to return to base and land,” recalled Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron. “As a commander, that normally means somebody got hurt or we’re being deployed. It ended up being that we were heading out for AFCENT (Air Forces Central Command) on a short-notice tasking. A couple weeks later, we had people flying combat sorties.”
Hill is the Air Force’s only operational F-35 base in the continental U.S.” Eielson AFB, Alaska, recently received F-35s. Hill’s two fighter wings—the Active-duty 388th and the Reserve 419th—have had F-35s flying combat operations in the Middle East consistently since April 2019, with the 421st Fighter Squadron taking over after the 34th left in June 2020, resuming the fifth-generation role in theater as F-22s headed home for much-needed maintenance in early 2019.
We proved that with the F-35, we can carry out a variety of mission sets.
----Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron

The deployments have evolved from primarily focusing on airstrikes and close air support in the fight against Islamic State group, to protecting U.S. naval assets in the Persian Gulf and flying deterrence missions as tensions increased with Iran—missions more aligned with the aircraft’s unique capabilities.
“We proved that with the F-35, we can carry out a variety of mission sets,” Cavazos said of his unit’s deployment. “The requirements in CENTCOM go from close air support, all the way to opposed offensive and defensive counterair and maritime support in the swing of a single day. You have to be ready for everything. We were doing everything from strafing in close air support, which wouldn’t normally compute in your brain with the capabilities a fifth-generation fighter brings, to running maritime escort for carrier strike groups.”

Rising Tensions
In the early hours of Jan. 8, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, with the bulk striking al Asad Air Base where more than 100 troops suffered traumatic brain injuries. The strike was in retaliation for a U.S. drone attack in Iraq that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force and an architect of proxy attacks throughout the Middle East. After the attack, Iranian forces allegedly tracked six U.S. F-35s near Iran’s borders, spooking air defense crews to the point that one crew shot down a Ukrainian civilian airliner by accident.
Just six months before, Iran shot down an American RQ-4A Global Hawk BAMS-D (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance-Demonstrator) remotely piloted aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz, where it was flying reconnaissance for U.S. vessels in the region. Soon after, the U.S. military prepared to respond with strikes on Iran, but that strike was abruptly called off at the last moment by President Donald J. Trump.
“It is no surprise that the aircraft were deployed during periods of heightened tension within the Middle East,” said Brig. Gen. David W. Abba, the director of the Air Force’s F-35 Integration Office. “All I can tell you is that our aircrew and our jets were ready to respond on a moment’s notice.”
The public deployment of the F-35, and AFCENT’s public discussion of how it is using its air power, shows growing confidence in the aircraft. Although USAF F-35s had been deployed consistently for 15 months, it wasn’t until July that F-35s went on alert status in theater. Until then, F-35 sorties were operating only as part of the air tasking order out of the Combined Air Operations Center—strikes or combat patrols planned in advance with a clear mission. Now, after proof-of-concept exercises, F-35s are ready at a moment’s notice to respond to immediate threats.
“This hasn’t been done before with F-35s and operational control, or at [Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates] with F-35s,” Lt. Col. Stephen Redmond, commander of the squadron, said in an announcement. “It effectively adds another capability or tool in leadership’s toolkit for how to deter, defend, or respond to events in the region.”
CENTCOM boss Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., described the command’s posture in June as “… designed to deter Iran from acting either indirectly or directly against United States, partner, or coalition forces in theater.” The aim, he added, is “to convince them that, should they contemplate some malign activity, the cost of doing so would be greater than any object they might achieve by carrying out that action.”
F-35s have also proved to be effective bombers againsttheIslamic State group.During the 4th Fighter Squadron’s deployment, from April to November 2019, the unit flew 1,300 combat sorties, totaling about 7,300 combat hours, and deployed about 150 weapons with no malfunctions.
“Really remarkable,” Abba said. “We didn’t have any bad bombs that were attributable to either aircrew error or to weapon system malfunction.”
Within two weeks of arriving at Al Dhafra in 2019, the jets attacked an IS group tunnel network with Joint Direct Attack Munitions. By comparison, F-22s were introduced in the Middle East five years before conducting their first strike, Abba said.
In September 2019 the 4th Fighter Squadron’s F-35s joined F-15Es in a massive strike, dropping more than 80,000 pounds of bombs on the IS forces in Qanus Island in the Euphrates River.
On another mission on an undisclosed date, two F-35As flying on an air tasking order sortie in the region sensed a surface-to-air missile system from “really far away,” Abba said. The pilots were able to geolocate it and take a radar map of its location for targetable coordinates. Although they did not strike it that day, the data was passed along to command and control and the Intelligence Community. Abba calls this “drive by ISR.”

“The ability of this aircraft to find targets of value even when that’s not what it was specifically tasked to go after is absolutely remarkable,” Abba said.
Readiness also impressed Abba. The 4th Fighter Squadron’s maintainers managed a 70 percent mission capable rate at first for the squadron’s 12 Lightning IIs, but improved over time.
“They brought a truly representative set of maintainers that finished that deployment over 90 percent,” Abba said.
That’s particularly impressive given the challenges maintainers have had overall with the F-35. In 2019, the fleetwide mission capable rate for F-35s was 61.6 percent, about 10 percent lower than legacy fighters.
When the 34th replaced the 4th in October, the unit split its aircraft between Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and an undisclosed location for about three months. It was the F-35’s first-ever sustained agile combat deployment.
“It gave us the ability to project power across thousands of miles and numerous countries from a single fighter unit,” Cavazos said. “This has numerous implications to every single combatant command.”
Major bases such as Al Dhafra and others in Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, are known entities and other countries expect USAF forces to operate there.
“They know it. We know it,” Cavazos said. Being able to operate from austere locations adds “unpredictability against potential adversaries” to commanders’ options. “Now we proved we can be more agile. That principal can carry over operationally to other regions and any potential adversaries there. We took away some lessons, and we’re only going to get better at it.”
Like the 4th before it, the 34th kept its planes flying, not dropping a single sortie due to maintenance during the deployment, said Capt. Susan McLeod, the officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
That wasn’t easy, said Senior Master Sgt. Westley Calloway, the lead production superintendent with the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. “We had to think creatively to solve logistics and communication challenges, because in a lot of ways, we’re writing the playbook. But once those chains are established, we were able to maintain the health of our fleet and complete every task asked of us.”
The squadron returned home in May and early June and were replaced by Hill’s newest unit, the 421st Fighter Squadron, which stood up just months before, in December 2019.

“This demonstrates the readiness of our Airmen, our weapons system, and the importance of both to the Air Force and our national defense mission,” said Col. Steven Behmer, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, when the squadron deployed.
While the F-35 has been cutting its teeth in combat in the Middle East, that’s not the mission the Air Force envisions for the jet long-term, Abba said.
“We did not buy this aircraft for the Middle East fight … this weapon system is optimized to the near-peer competition that is articulated in the National Defense Strategy,” Abba continued. “Make no bones about it. This aircraft is the preeminent suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses platform, and that’s what we need to optimize it for.”
Hill’s combat deployments are helping prepare for those more demanding missions, especially in terms of maintenance. In the combat environment, maintainers are under pressure to keep planes ready, and they continue to struggle with the jet’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS)—a comprehensive, complex computer system intended to track flight data and maintenance information. Maintainers across the service have long complained the system is slow, buggy, and cumbersome, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported in July that ALIS is even worse when deployed.
“Taking ALIS on a deployment can be challenging because the required hardware is bulky to transport, internet connectivity is frequently limited, and significant advanced planning is required,” the GAO wrote.
ALIS will be replaced beginning late this year with a new system, the Operational Data Integrated Network, developed cooperatively by the Air Force’s Kessel Run software coding group, the 309th Software Engineering Group, and Lockheed Martin.
For operators, it will be a boon. “What we’re focused on is minimizing touch points … to do things like accelerate combat turn times, so that we can get the aircraft back in the fight faster,” Abba said. “We don’t want the IT system supporting the aircraft to be the long pole in the tent for combat sortie generation timelines.”
In a large-scale conflict, “we’re going to need to generate more sorties more rapidly, with quicker turns for the airplanes, and more sorties in a day … than we’re seeing in the Central Command area of responsibility right now,” Abba said.
Missions are also longer than originally anticipated.
“When we bought the airplane … the sortie-duration requirement isn’t that long,” Abba said. “We weren’t talking about flying seven-hour sorties in CENTCOM. And that’s what we’re doing. That creates its own unique challenges with pilot flight equipment, with comfort in the seat, and those kinds of things. And those are things that we’re working through out there.”
Even as they fly combat missions, F-35 testing continues and several deficiencies must still need to be addressed before full-rate production begins. As of December 2019, nine category one deficiencies—those that could cause injury or damage or loss of aircraft—remained. Another 861 category two deficiencies must also be resolved, a process that could take years.
The GAO report warned that even deployed aircraft don’t meet the F-35 Joint Program Office’s overall reliability and maintainability goals. Ultimately, they will need retrofits to fix the issues.
But for those who deployed with the F-35, their recent combat experience proved both the jets’ and their own capabilities.
“We didn’t leave anyone behind, and I had guys straight from the basic F-35 course who got to see live combat, see how joint operations work, and the unpredictability of warfare,” Cavazos said. “This experience is only going to help them going forward. It was a confidence booster and that perspective will improve how they train back home.

“Operationally, we’re becoming our own F-35 community. We aren’t just a hodgepodge of pilots from other airframes anymore. It’s really cool to have that experience with the younger guys in the squadron and see them progress on their first deployment.”
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Unread post01 Feb 2021, 16:22

Great Mission. :salute:
https://www.standard.net/news/air-force ... 612c2.html
Air Force says Hill AFB F-35 maintainers answered the call during grueling 2020
By MITCH SHAW Standard-Examiner Jan 24, 2021
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Though they’re not alone, 2020 was a year unlike any other for the Air Force’s only combat-ready F-35 unit.
An amped up deployment rotation was intensified by the arrival of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Each of the 388th Fighter Wing’s three F-35 squadrons, alongside reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, have now deployed in support of the Air Force Central Command’s mission at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates. The Hill service members employed the F-35 on close air support missions, performed offensive and defensive counter-air attacks, and participated in joint exercises with U.S. allies around the Middle East.
Several large groups of airmen returned to Utah last year — in June, July and October — after Middle East stints. Things were complicated by the pandemic, with all of the returning airmen being required to quarantine for 14 days to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of the airmen who returned during the summer weren’t allowed to leave the state for their customary rest and relaxation leave, due to the Department of Defense’s current coronavirus regulations.

But for the airmen among the group charged with keeping the jets ready to hit the sky at a moment’s notice, the Air Force says the call to a grueling year was answered.
Hill’s 388th and 419th FW Maintenance Groups were recently recognized as Air Combat Command nominees for the 2020 Clements McMullen Memorial Daedalian Weapons System Maintenance award — which means they’re on a short list for the best weapons maintenance outfit in the Air Force. According to a 388th Fighter Wing news release, the award is handed out annually by the Secretary of the Air Force, given to the unit with the greatest weapon system maintenance record. The ACC oversees all air combat operations in the Air Force.
Capt. Kip Sumner, with the 388th FW’s public affairs office, said in 2020 the two maintenance groups generated over 9,000 flights accounting 20,000 flight hours. The hours include both combat and regular training missions. During the combat deployments, the outfit supported Hill F-35s that dropped 16,000 pounds of munitions and eliminated five high-value targets in support of the Central Command operation in the Middle East.

“Our maintainers have persevered and overcome every obstacle, deploying F-35 airpower through three combat deployments, multiple training exercises, and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a statement.
The first two operational F-35s arrived at Hill in September 2015 and the base received approximately one to two jets every month until reaching its full fleet of 78 late last year. The wing’s three squadrons each have 24 F-35s, with another six backup aircraft stored at the base. Since the arrival of the first jets, Hill’s two fighter wings have flown tens of thousands of sorties, built millions of dollars of new facilities and taken the jet into real-world combat situations multiple times. Hill F-35 units also have deployed to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in April 2017, as well as Kadena Air Base, Japan, in fall 2017.
Col. Jeremy Anderson, 388th Maintenance Group commander, said the “best in the Air Force” nomination for Hill’s F-35 maintainers exemplifies the work that has been taking place on Hill’s flight line over the past five-plus years.
“We’re the Air Force’s only on-call F-35 option, and this nomination further validates our ability to deliver ... airpower, anytime, anywhere,” he said.
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Unread post17 Feb 2021, 07:36

5TH MEU SUPPORTS OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE FROM MAKIN ISLAND ARG
16 Feb 2021 Courtesy Story15th Marine Expeditionary Unit

"ARABIAN GULF -- The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit began air operations in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, February 13. Close air support operations and defensive counter air support operations were carried out by Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 164 (Reinforced), the aviation combat element of the 15th MEU, as part of broader U.S. Central Command counterterrorism operations in the region.

U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II aircraft departed from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island ( LHD 8 ), flagship of the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group, to execute the long-range strike.

“Long range F-35B Lightning II strike operations demonstrate the ARG/MEU’s ability to project air power well beyond the shore,” said U.S. Marine Corps Col. Christopher J. Bronzi, the 15th MEU commanding officer. “We look forward to exercising the capabilities in our arsenal while in theater and remain ready to deliver those capabilities at any time if called upon.”...

...“We are proud and excited to be able to support missions in areas of the world where we are most needed,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Christopher Kelly, VMM-164 (Rein.) executive officer. “Conducting a long range strike mission with fifth generation F-35B fighters from amphibious assault ships demonstrates the versatility this platform brings to the joint force.”

The U.S. 5th Fleet AOO encompasses about 2.5 million square miles of water and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean. The expanse is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen."

Source: https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Displ ... sland-arg/
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