The Marines' F-35B Joint Strike Fighter achieved another first in recent weeks during an at-sea deployment when the aircraft conducted training strikes with an external ordnance load.
The 5th-generation fighters launched from the deck of the amphibious assault ship Wasp over the Philippine and East China Seas with a load of inert and live ordnance for a first-of-its-kind training mission, according to a news release from the deployed 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. The training took place between Jan. 26 and Feb. 6, officials said.
The Joint Strike Fighter, which has variants specific to the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, is designed to operate in stealth mode, carrying only internal ordnance to make the aircraft less detectable, and in what manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. calls "beast mode," with a full complement of internal and external weapons.
In full "beast mode" loadout, according to Lockheed, the aircraft can carry 22,000 pounds of bombs and missiles.
According to the 31st MEU release, the F-35Bs in the recent training evolution were loaded with CATM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II bombs; and 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition [JDAM] ordnance. The aircraft dropped inert and high-explosive externally loaded ordnance during the exercise.
"We achieved mission success by using the full capabilities of the F-35B at sea," Lt. Col. Michael Rountree, the F-35B detachment officer-in-charge with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (Reinforced), said in a statement.
Rountree added that the F-35s were able to engage role-player adversary aircraft, hit simulated targets with internally and externally loaded precision-guided weapons, and complete the training mission by executing a vertical landing on the Wasp. Only the F-35B has vertical-landing capability, thanks to a powerful lift fan in the body of the aircraft.
Officials said this was the first time the F-35B executed strikes in the region with ordnance fully loaded.
"The combination of stealth tactics and fully loaded strike aircraft increases the lethality of the F-35B, enabling greater contribution and combat effectiveness by the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit Team," said Col. Robert Brodie, commander of the 31st MEU and an F/A-18 Hornet pilot, in a statement. "The formidable and versatile capability of the F-35B provides a premier platform to support the Marine Air-Ground Task Force's ability to own the fight in the dynamic and evolving Indo-Pacific environment."
The F-35B first deployed aboard the Wasp with the Pacific-based 31st MEU in March 2018, marking the first maritime operational deployment for the aircraft.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.