Category Archives: marines

Marines declare F-35B Initial Operational Capability

Earlier today, as expected, GEN Dunford declared that VMFA-121 had achieved Initial Operational Capability, essentially the entry of the jet into real service.

In a milestone for the F-35 joint strike fighter, the US Marine Corps today declared the F-35B jump-jet model to have achieved initial operational capability (IOC).

The news means that the Marines consider the F-35B model – one of three designs of the multi-role fighter — to be an active plane that can perform in operations the same way any other active aircraft in its arsenal can.

The plane was declared operational by Gen. Joe Dunford, the outgoing Marine Corps commandant — and incoming Chairman of the Joint Chiefs — in a July 31 announcement.

“I am pleased to announce that VMFA-121 has achieved initial operational capability in the F-35B, as defined by requirements outlined in the June 2014 Joint Report to Congressional Defense Committees,” Dunford said in a statement. “VMFA-121 has ten aircraft in the Block 2B configuration with the requisite performance envelope and weapons clearances, to include the training, sustainment capabilities, and infrastructure to deploy to an austere site or a ship. It is capable of conducting close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, air interdiction, assault support escort and armed reconnaissance as part of a Marine Air Ground Task Force, or in support of the Joint Force.”

Of course, IOC is a starting point, not an end. Every new platform has a steep learning curve associated with it. All the testing prior to this is conducted by the contractor, and the various test establishments of the services. The Fleet Replacement Squadron, commonly called the RAG, has focused on training aircrew and maintainers to operate the jet, while also beginning to serve as the tactical schoolhouse. But until the squadrons in the fleet actually get out there and start using the jet, it is difficult to really determine how best to operate and maintain it.

There will be bad news in the future, and stories of challenges and failures. Guess what? That happens with every single aircraft, vehicle, ship, radio, rifle, you name it.

We still maintain that the Marines insistence on STOVL capability has compromised the end product, and certainly driven the cost of the program much higher than it should have been.

But we also think the F-35 program as a whole will eventually field a capable attack platform with credible survivability in defended airspace.

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Chattanooga- They fought back

Well, that’s interesting. In contravention to regulation and federal law, at least two servicemembers, including the commanding officer, were in possession of weapons, and fought back against the Islamist terrorist who attacked both a recruiting station and NOSC Chattanooga. During his assault which killed four Marines and one Sailor, at least one Marine carried a Glock pistol, and the NOSC commander, LCDR Timothy White possessed a weapon, and exchanged fire with the assailant.

Per the New York Times:

Chat

Pistols versus an AK style rifle and shotgun isn’t a fair fight, but it’s far better than nothing.

The question now is will the chain of command honor LCDR White for his valor, or denounce him for violation of regulations?

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Filed under marines, navy

Harrier Operations at Sea

We’ve posted a lot of videos showing fast mover operations from aircraft carriers at sea, but I think this  is the first time we’ve seen from the cockpit how the Marines do it with Harriers on big deck amphibs.

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F-35B FCLP

Landing aboard a carrier is much different than a conventional landing ashore, so carrier aviators spend a lot of time practicing. But before they go to sea, they practice ashore, mimicking as closely as possible the carrier environment, in a routine known as Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP), or “bouncing.”

Similarly, the AV-8B and F-35B use a unique approach to landing aboard the Navy’s big deck amphibious warfare ships of the LHD and LHA classes.  The normal routine is to make an approach from astern of the ship, but offset to parallel the port side.  When alongside the desired landing spot, the jet then slides sideways to starboard until it is over the landing spot. Only then does it descend vertically, and then simply taxies out of the way for the next jet.

In order to train for this, MCAS Yuma, AZ actually has an auxiliary field that is shaped and marked like the deck of an LHD, and pilots routinely practice there.

Say what you will about the pros and cons of the program, but it certainly is interesting to watch.

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Titusville Warbird Museum

The really cool thing about this blog is that I can share my vacation photos, and no one seems to mind too much.

The official name of the museum is Valiant Air Command Warbird Museum, and the docent was kind and indulgent to the nerds in our little group. (Engineers can’t help it.)
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We got to stick our heads in the bomb bay of this B-25.
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Filed under Air Force, history, marines, navy, Personal, planes, World War II

Marine Helos- Why so big?

TimActual had a comment on the Marine air assault on Hawaii:

I have never understood why the Marines like to use BIG targets to carry troops.
And that air assault looked pretty casual to me. We were always taught to get everything off the LZ ASAP, birds and men.

As to why the Marines tend to choose somewhat larger helicopters than the Army, I alluded to that years ago in a post on the Chinook.

The Army, as it evolved its air assault doctrine, saw infantry troops (as part of a combined arms team with artillery and aerial fire support) delivered directly upon the objective. One key doctrinal issue that wanted to address was unit integrity. They wanted to ensure that the basic unit, the rifle squad, was delivered intact. That meant the optimal assault helicopter would carry an 11 man rifle squad, which, from the UH-1D on through to today’s UH-60M, is just what seating is provided, if not always the actual lifting capacity. Between three rifle squads, a weapons squad, and the platoon headquarters, four helicopters could lift a single assault platoon.

The Marines, while they might have liked to embrace the same philosophy, faced two challenges the Army did not. First, they were far more constrained in terms of manpower. Unlike the Army, with the majority of its aviators being warrant officers, the Marines aviators are all commissioned officers. Given that the total number of commissioned officers available to the Marines was set by Congress, they couldn’t afford as many helicopter pilots as the Army, especially considering the numbers needed to fly the Marines fixed wing aircraft.

The other, bigger issue was simply one of space. The Marines are a seagoing force. That means they have to be embarked on ships, and even the largest of ships for amphibious operations have severe constraints on the total numbers of aircraft they can operate.

http://www.msc.navy.mil/sealift/2013/July/images/Kearsarge.jpg

The carrying capacity, both in weight and in volume, increase faster than the actual size of an aircraft. That is, an aircraft twice as large as another can reasonably be expected to carry not twice as much, but three times as much.  It didn’t take long for the Marines to realize that two CH-46s, carrying 25 troops each –that is, a Marine rifle platoon- took up a lot less deck space than the 4 or 5 UH-1s it would take to lift a platoon. As an added bonus, it would take only half as many pilots, not to mention the numbers of enlisted aircrew, and maintenance personnel.

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The Marines did understand the risk involved, namely that losing one aircraft had a much greater impact, particularly in terms of lives potentially lost, and also in terms of unit integrity. If a platoon loses a squad, it might theoretically still be able to function. But losing half a platoon most certainly renders it combat ineffective. 

That same size issue, known as the spot factor, also influenced the size of the MV-22B, which accomodates 24 troops, in a spot factor little bigger than a CH-46. In that case, you’re trading an increase in size for an increase in performance, rather than capacity. It’s a tradeoff.

As to TimActual’s comment on using the CH-53E itself, that’s also somewhat influenced by the confines of amphibious shipping.  The MV-22 is fine for landing the initial waves. But there are only so many available aboard a ship. And the embarked Marines simply must have a certain number of the larger CH-53s aboard to move things like artillery. But they aren’t always doing that, so they are occasionally available for the lift of troops.

As to expeditiously moving off the Landing Zone, it should be remembered that Marine doctrine (and really, Army as well) is to conduct the landings away from known enemy positions. The aerial movement is simply the first stage of maneuver, leading to the dismounted movement to either a defensive position, or the line of departure for the assault. One should not dally on the ground, or disembarking the helos, but neither is tripping off the back ramp a good idea because one was unduly rushing.

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Is the Marine Corps persecuting her for being a Christian?

Making the rounds yesterday was the news that the Marines slapped a court martial upon a young Marine simply for posting a biblical verse at her workstation.

A Marine thought she was just doing what others she worked with did; she decorated her work station. In her case, Lance Cpl. Monifa Sterling printed out some quotes that gave her encouragement and taped them to her computer.

But while others were allowed to keep their decorations, Sterling was ordered by a supervisor to take hers down. Why? She had posted Christian scripture verses, including a slightly altered one from Isaiah 54:17, reports The Christian Post:

How about no. First, Sterling has already been court martialed. And convicted. And had her appeal denied. What Sterling is currently doing is attempting another appeal, again using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a basis to overturn her conviction. Good luck with that. I get why The Liberty Institute would join this appeal- it’s what they do. And ordinarily I’m on board with their goals. But this is an extremely weak case, and a not at all sympathetic client.

Sterling was most certainly not court martialed for posting biblical verses. She was court martialed for a variety of charges, essentially for disobeying lawful orders. From that IJR article linked above Mike Berry of The Liberty Institute:

“Restricting a Marine’s free exercise of religion is blatantly unconstitutional. If a service member has a right to display a secular poster, put an atheist bumper sticker on their car or get a Star of David tattoo, then Lance Corporal Sterling has the right to display a small Bible verse on her computer monitor.”

But that’s just it- it is not her computer monitor. It is the United States government’s computer monitor. And like it or not, the government gets to decide what you can or cannot tape to its property. Therefore, the order to remove the verse (which, by the way, she never even told her chain of command was a religious statement) was lawful and proper. And as the appeals court noted when it comes to what is or is not a lawful order:

Military orders are presumed to be lawful and are disobeyed at the subordinate’s peril.

The appeals court does a fair analysis why Sterling has no claim under RFRA. RFRA is not a magical incantation that allows one to do whatever one wishes, neither in the civilian world, nor most certainly in the military.

Furthermore, Sterling was also charged with and convicted of multiple counts of failure to obey lawful orders in regards to changing into the proper uniform of the day, and of failing to obey lawful orders to hand out passes for a function on post.

You can read for yourself the appeals court decision here.

Reading between the lines just a little, Sterling certainly appears to me as one of those (fortunately rare) members who simply thinks the rules that apply to others don’t, or at least shouldn’t, apply to her. They say that as a leader, you spend 90% of your time on 10% of your people. And it is apparent that she was one that simply existed to suck up leadership’s valuable time, as opposed to contributing to the unit accomplishing its mission.

Good riddance.

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