Thursday, August 30, 2012

The F-35's unique capabilities make it a game changer

Col. Arthur Tomassetti is a Marine Corps officer and vice commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, Air Education and Training Command at Eglin Air Force Base.

Col. Tommassetti has been with the F-35 project since the beginning.  So he's seen it go from concept to reality.  And he's well pleased with the results:

"Whatever you want to believe about the F-35 today, we finally built the STOVL airplane we’ve been trying to build for 60 years,” Tomassetti said.

But more importantly, Col. Tommassetti "gets" the importance of the 5th generation concept.  While stealth, performance and survivability are all important, each of those capabilities is enhanced by a unique capability that develops a synergy much greater than the parts.
“The strength of the F-35 isn’t the one airplane and what it can do,” Tomassetti said. “The strength of the F-35 is the group of airplanes and what they can do together.”

This is what many of the critics can't seem to grasp.  This statement points out the big difference in the 5th generation of aircraft as compared to the 4th generation.  Trying to compare a 5th gen fighter with 4th gen standards misses that point.
Col Tomassetti elaborates on the capabilities the F-35 brings to future fights and why it's critical to assess its value based on new criteria:
The potential for cooperation among U.S. armed forces as well as coalition forces all using the F-35 variants is significant. In fact, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Air Force are working on their own F-35 variants and eight other countries have agreed to join the program.

“In today’s environment, it’s usually not just the Marine Corps by itself,” Tomassetti said. “We’re operating with the Navy, Air Force and coalition partners. What happens when we’re all in F-35s? Now we can all share that information. In terms of coalition warfare, this airplane further increases everyone’s situational awareness to a greater extent than anything we have out there today.”

The F-35’s value is not only in the flying network it creates in the battle space. The F-35 is able to perform the missions of multiple current Marine Corps aircraft, all in one aircraft.

“This is where we talk about a fifth generation airplane versus a fourth generation airplane,” Tomassetti said. “Most of what people want to lock into with fifth generation is stealth, low observable, and the cool pieces of it. That’s great and you want as much of that as you can get. But the other piece of fifth generation is that data link and that networking capability. We used to have F/A 18s go in as the fighter cover and F/A 18s and Harriers go in as the ones that were dropping the bombs and EA-6Bs as support from an electronic attack. All those airplanes were needed to go after one target that was heavily defended. Now, we have four F-35s. They can do the fighter mission; they can do the bombing mission; they can do the electronic attack mission. They can go after that same target with a lot less airplanes.”
That is the difference that continues to be ignored by many when evaluations of the F-35's capabilities are published.  However, without the inclusion of these advanced and unique abilities and capabilities, one gets a very limited and incomplete picture of an aircraft that promises to be a game changer.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Video: VMFAT-501 trains USMC F-35 pilots

VMFAT-501 has a long and proud history (The squadron has assumed the lineage of VMFA-451, which was originally known as the “Blue Devils” and saw action during World War II and Operation Desert Storm. They were decommissioned on January 31, 1997) with the Marine Corps. With the F-35, it is about to add another sterling chapter to that lineage:


Monday, August 27, 2012

F-35 flies 200th sortie at Eglin AFB

A milestone of sorts which shows that the F-35 continues to mature and, as pointed out by the growing sortie rate, is proving itself to be a very reliable aircraft:

US Marine Corps (USMC) Major Joseph Bachmann, a test pilot assigned to VMFAT-501, flew Eglin's 200th sortie on 24 August, 2012. Bachmann was instructing one the unit's transitioning pilots, USMC Major Mike Rountree-a highly experienced weapons school instructor. Rountree is converting over to the F-35B from the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II. 

The F-35s at Eglin no longer require a chase plane, another indicator of reliability.  And they're beginning to fly Block 1B software.

"The aircraft have matured dramatically since the early days," Bachmann says. "What we're seeing is just leaps and bounds of maturity here with the airplanes we have."

The aircraft are predictable and seem to be maintainable, "which is good for the sortie production rate," he adds. Rountree says that the 33rd Fighter Wing's maintainers have been gaining experience and learning how the F-35's systems behave, which has helped the unit increase its sortie generation rate.

Right now, the base has started to fly with enhanced Block 1B aircraft-which adds mostly improved software but also some hardware modifications. Block 1B aircraft are much more stable and predictable than Block 1A aircraft, Rountree says.

More good news as the F-35 continues to perform impressively and well ahead of schedule.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Marine Corps–”Damn the F-35 critics, full speed ahead!”

Reuters is reporting:

U.S. Marine Corps pilots will soon begin training flights on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at a Florida air base, underscoring the service's confidence in the new radar-evading fighter jet, two people familiar with the plans said.

Lockheed Martin Corp has delivered 10 F-35B model jets -- which can take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter -- to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle.

Test pilots began preliminary orientation flights of the F-35B at the air base in May and have completed nearly 200 flights to date, but the flights been limited in their scope and speed. For instance, they have not yet been able to conduct vertical landings at the air base.

Up to now, training of future pilots for the F-35B model has been confined to simulators and the classroom. The military needs to train a cadre of pilots and maintainers to fly and repair the jets before it can start using them for operations.

The decision to move ahead with formal training flights will allow future F-35B pilots -- most of whom are already highly trained to fly other aircraft -- to take to the skies, according to the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Obviously a lot has changed since the F-35B was put on probation.  Enough progress that it was taken off probation early and now and in fact, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Amos, has scaled back what he called his “hands on involvement”:

Amos set a goal to meet with the F-35 Joint Program Office every month to check on its status at a time when the program was mired in test delays and rising costs.

A year later, Amos said he’s taken a relative step back from the program only meeting with the program office on a quarterly basis now that he’s spun up on its progress. He’s not any less concerned about the F-35’s success, but Amos said he doesn’t need monthly briefings since he understands the program’s metrics. The four-star has them posted behind his desk.

He’s certainly keeping an eye on the program, but sees progress:

Keeping a close eye on the test flight schedule, Amos has taken notice of the ground Lockheed Martin has made up this past year in the flight schedules. A F-35B released a weapon in flight for the first time on Aug. 8 when it dropped a 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) over the Atlantic Ocean flying 400 knots at 4,200 feet after taking off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.


“I think the airplane is progressing well. Looking at all the test flights, the points and where it’s supposed to be and where it’s supposed to be as it relates to projections. We’re either on, or ahead of schedule. It’s really, really doing well,” Amos said.

But don’t take Gen. Amos’s word for it.  Maj. Richard Rusnok, a Marine Corps F-35B pilot talks about the aircraft:

F-35 is incredibly easy to fly which is a testament to the personnel who conceived and built the flight control system.  The F-35B in STOVL mode is unmatched in stability and raw power.  There are two primary benefits to this level of stability.  The obvious one is safety.  The aircraft does everything it can to protect the pilot and itself from exceeding an aerodynamic or structural limit.  The second benefit is that the less a pilot needs to concentrate on basic stick and rudder skills, the more he/she can devote to fighting the aircraft and fulfilling the MAGTF commander’s intent.”

And, unlike the critics, he actually understands what the F-35B brings to the Corps specifically and the war fighting abilities of the US military in general:

The F-35B offers incredible basing flexibility to the Marine Corps – from ships at sea, to small forward operating bases, to main air bases.  Most importantly, the three variants of the F-35 share the same mission systems components and software.  In conventional flight, the three variants have essentially the same flight characteristics with some minor exceptions.  The cockpits are virtually identical and there are only a few things that would clue you off that you are in one variant or the other if you did not already know.  The transition between different variants is pretty seamless.  Because of this similarity, the three services flying this jet are already working to develop common tactics which will only benefit the MAGTF and the joint commander in the long run.

That “z-axis” which is apparently unknown to the critics.  This is a war plane that will make a difference and could be a game-changer that guarantees the continuation of our 60 years of air dominance.

And, understandably, the Marine Corps plans to deploy those abilities and capabilities as soon as it can. 


Thursday, August 23, 2012

What the critics always seem to miss about the F-35

If you read any critical piece about the F-35 JSF you are likely to be subjected too what most would consider to be “old news”.  You will hear about cost overruns, reliability issues, behind schedule and the usual claims of performance problems. 


Most of those issues are now non-issues, lack context or ignore improvements.

However, what you’re likely never to see anyone critical of the aircraft mention is what was referred too recently as the “z-axis”.  Those are the advanced, never-before-seen capabilities packed into this fighter.  Here’s someone who did indeed make a note of them:

Climbing a ladder to get a look at an F-35 cockpit, I was amazed at the design and functionality of the displays and net-enabled operations. My mind quickly wandered back to the control knobs, switches and displays of the AV-8B Harrier and instantly realized that this cockpit is well beyond what we currently have in operations today. This new aircraft's integrated operating systems will allow the pilot to navigate, perform reconnaissance, seek out and destroy enemies in the air, on land and sea that combines the abilities of the Marine Corps' current fixed wing aircraft — the AV-8B Harrier, F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler.

Functionality, “net-enabled”, integrated, a multi-mission day-one fighter, etc., etc.  Those are incredibly important things to note, one would think.  The Marine Corps Public Affairs Officer who wrote this has a very good idea of what they mean to her service and what advantages these capabilities will bring.

She gets it.

Why is it the critics can’t seem to figure that out?

Instead we get the same old arguments each and every time one of them decides to trot out a hit piece.  It’s almost as if they’re uncomfortable with discussing those advanced capabilities and their effect.  In fact, it could cause one to wonder, given the lack of such discussion, if they even understand what those capabilities actually mean to future planning, pilot culture, strategy and/or tactics.

If one had to guess, given the dearth of such discussion, the answer is “no”.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Video: F-35C's first night flight

Short but very nice video of the F-35C’s first night flight:


Monday, August 20, 2012

F-35 critics need to update their 2008 era song and dance

Its becoming boring to see the same old arguments each and every time some critic speaks out.  Especially when most of those arguments are so dated they’re not worth reading.  Have they run out of reasons to oppose the aircraft?

The latest example can be found here.  The critic in question calls an article that is way too pro F-35 for his taste, “embarrassing”.

Actually, this is embarrassing, or should be:

The Yuma Sun newspaper published a column by Marine Corps public affairs officer Staci Reidinger after she toured the Texas factory producing Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. No mention of the JSF program’s years of delays and rising costs, its reliability and performance problems and the fact that the Marines’ slavish dedication to the flawed stealth fighter means the Corps risks losing its ability to fight in the air.

No mention by the critic of the rising sortie rate at Eglin which speaks directly against the ancient “reliability” jab. Does he not know?  No mention of the test results showing the aircraft well ahead of schedule which punches the dated “delays” meme in the head. Has he missed that?

Performance problems?  Not in anything anyone has written about it lately.  In fact, most of the people who’ve actually flown the aircraft, instead of grousing about it from the ground, are quite impressed with its performance.  Yes, believe it or not, there are actually lots of fighter pilots, to include Marines, flying it today and they love it.

He’s also not at all up on the culture change this advanced aircraft promises among pilots and war planners.  If he was he wouldn’t be making the claim that the Corps “risks losing its ability to fight in the air”.

Marine Corps General Jon Davis disagrees:

The F-35B is going to provide the USMC aviator cultures in our Harriers, Hornets and Prowlers to coalesce and I think to shape an innovative new launch point for the USMC aviation community. We are going to blend three outstanding communities. Each community has a slightly different approach to problem-solving. You’ve got the expeditionary basing that the Harrier guys are bringing to you. You have the electronic warfare side of the equation and the ­high-end fight that the Prowler guys think about and the [­communications] and jamming side of the equation, which the Prowler guys think about. And you have the multi-role approach of the F-18 guys.

Sounds like he thinks it will improve their ability to fight in the air.

So who do you believe?  Some critic or the Commander of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing?

And rising cost?  As Elements of Power points out:

If the F-35 is ahead of the curve as indicators seem to be 'indicating', then all the heretofore life cycle support cost numbers 'projected' (and now almost certainly based upon legacy systems and approaches) will have to revised downward once enough data is in hand.

And we’re headed there, not that the critics will ever notice.

SNAFU! summarizes the critical paragraph rather well:

Read the whole thing but that verbiage is straight out of the Sweetman, Air Power Australia and ELP playbook. As a matter of fact he can probably get hit with plagiarism cause I'm sure I've read those exact words on one of those websites.



Wednesday, August 15, 2012

F-35 sorties soar at Eglin AFB

In a sign that momentum continues to build in the F-35 program, more and more sorties are being flown by F-35s based at Eglin Airforce base:

"During our first week of flying in March, we had two flights scheduled. Then in the fourth week of May we had twelve sorties scheduled and eleven flown. Now in August we are planning a standard of sixteen F-35A sorties a week," said Lt Col Lee Kloos, commander of the wing's 58th Fighter Squadron. "In September we will go to a planned twenty-sortie week as our standard."

20 a week, up from 2 a week 7 months ago.

The effect?

[T]he pilots and maintainers at Eglin AFB-home of the 33rd FW-in Florida have shown that the aircraft can fly multiple sorties in the same day. Pilots at the base are also routinely flying two-ship missions, Kloos says.

The yield?

US Marine Corps Col Arthur Tomassetti, vice-commander of the 33rd FW. "As of today we've flown almost 160 sorties between the A and B models. Secondly, we are getting more pilots qualified to fly the F-35A and B variants. The Marine Corps' VMFAT-501 has five pilots flying for the F-35B squadron with the last two pilots in the process of being qualified."

The USAF has three instructor pilots qualified on the F-35A with two more in training.

Col Tomassetti again:

"We are also going through our first software upgrades from the Block 1A to Block 1B in the A and B variants, which brings more capabilities and gets us closer to the full-up fifth generation F-35," he says. "One noticeable example is the voice recognition feature being enabled so there is no need to manually switch between radio channels when talking through the mask."

So progress is obvious and the program seems to be on a healthy and positive pace.  Pilots are becoming qualified at an increasing rate, maintainers are piling up experience and knowledge that will help them train other maintainers, and sorties are proving the aircraft is indeed robust.

Interestingly, it is also a positive argument for concurrency.


Monday, August 13, 2012

F-35 successfully completes static test program

Another major test successfully completed.

If you’re not familiar with this particular test program, this is how they test the ability of the air frame to take the stress and loads it is designed to handle during its lifetime.

They actually test it by providing more stress and higher loads than it will be required to endure over a longer period of time than it is designed to fly.

The results for he F-35?

After successfully completing the static test programme on the F-35 (known as AG-1) we have now returned the aircraft back to Lockheed Martin, Fort Worth.

The static test programme broke all records for the speed of testing having applied more than 150 different loading configurations in just over nine months.

Having proven the strength of the aircraft is now beginning the 4500 mile journey back to the US after almost three and a half years in the structural test facility at Brough.

Static testing the F-35 means that the aircraft has been ‘flown’ to its limits with loads applied to it replicating the effect of high gravitational forces far beyond any conditions likely to be flown in actual flight.  This is done with the airframe nesting in a multi-million pound rig kitted out with over 4000 strain gauges, 170 actuators and over 50 miles of wiring at our Brough site in Yorkshire.  Brough is home to a world leading facility for putting aircraft through their paces to ensure they are strong enough and resilient enough to perform in the harshest environments in the world.

The F-35 has passed with flying colors, no pun intended.  This speaks to the robustness of the design for this aircraft.  It is scheduled to be our premier strike fighter for 55 years, and the test program has proven it is structurally up to the task.

Not bad for a “flying piano”, is it?


Friday, August 10, 2012

Video: F-35B First Aerial Weapons Release

It happened yesterday with a Marine Corps F-35B. A 1,000 pound bomb from 4,200 feet:

Per Naval Air Systems Command:

"The milestone marks the start of validating the F-35's capability to employ precision weapons and allow pilots to engage the enemy on the ground and in the air ... An aerial weapons separation test checks for proper release of the weapon from its carriage system and trajectory away from the aircraft. It is the culmination of a significant number of prerequisite tests, including ground fit checks, ground pit drops and aerial captive carriage and environment flights to ensure the system is working properly before expanding the test envelope in the air."



Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Israel close to signing $2.7 billion F-35 deal


It appears Israel has reached agreement with Lockheed Martin which will allow Israel's own electronic warfare (EW) equipment on the F-35.

The original F-35I agreement announced in 2008 included options for up to 75 aircraft, representing a total of up to $15.2 billion. Israel is considering including the addition of a second squadron in the upcoming multiyear acquisition budget, although the option is being weighed against other Israel Defense Forces priorities. Until this latest agreement was struck, long-term planning remained frozen. But the Israelis were recently told that the flyaway cost of the second F-35 squadron will be lower than the first.

Why was that an issue?  The IAF and Israel have different priorities and needs than NATO and our allies.  Interoperability among allies, for instance isn’t as big of a concern with Israel as it is with our partners.  And this is nothing unusual for Israel:

Israel has always insisted on adding specific systems into the platforms it procures from foreign sources. On U.S. fighter aircraft, these enhancements were focused on the insertion of indigenous EW systems; command, control and communications; data links; and integration of Israeli-developed weapons. These Israeli changes have garnered significant export orders, and some—such as the Litening advanced targeting pod—were integrated into USAF and Marine fighters including the F-16, F-15, AV-8B, A-10, F/A-18 and B-52.

Still, the Israeli EW deal was hard-fought, for a reason. Enabling JSF customers to include theater-specific threat libraries or a repertoire of jamming/countermeasure techniques, or issue frequent updates to these systems, requires a special approach compared with legacy, conventional EW systems. In the past, specific upgrades were issued to EW systems, which were kept separate from other avionics, thus enabling such changes.

In the F-35, all core avionics are integrated and fused; therefore, accessing part of the system requires integration with all associated systems. Having different air forces using different versions of core avionics would render such integration more complex and costly.

The avionic architecture of the F-35 solved this by introducing two separate integration levels. Customers can access the high level, introducing country-specific services, libraries or updates on their own, outside the aircraft software-upgrade cycles. The lower level is proprietary to the U.S. Joint Program Office and accessible only by Lockheed Martin. This level manages flight and mission-critical services, including flight controls, CNI and display, sensor management and self-protection. It also relates to the sensitive low-observable envelope of the F-35, an issue passionately guarded by the U.S.

So there’s your answer as to why this deal was eventually reached.  It again demonstrates the flexibility built into the avionics design of the F-35. 

And as has been mentioned before, Israel is not an armed force that takes its aviation acquisitions lightly.  If the F-35 was the “flying piano” some of the critics would have you believe, it would be a solid bet that there’d be nothing like the F-35I in the works right now.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Video: A pilot’s perspective on the F-35

Listen to the pilots who have flown this aircraft talk about it. Obviously, they are very, very impressed its capabilities.   And, as one mentions, it seems they’re only beginning to “scratch the surface” as far as understanding all the capabilities the aircraft brings to the services and our allies.

This is a Lockheed Martin video apparently prepared for the Farnborough Air Show.


Monday, August 6, 2012

How the F-35 will change future strategic planning

Understanding the “z-axis” that the authors of the Joint Forces Quarterly article “The F-35 and the Future of Power Projection” explain leads them to this conclusion as it concerns the deployment of the 5th generation fighter:

By building on the F-35 and leveraging its capabilities, the United States and its allies can build the next phase of power projection within affordable limits. U.S. forces need to become more agile, flexible, and global in order to work with allies and partners to deal with evolving global realities. Protecting access points (the global conveyer of goods and services), ensuring an ability to work with global partners in having access to commodities, shaping insertion forces that can pursue terrorist elements wherever necessary, and partnering with global players all require a reinforced maritime and air capability. This is thus a priority for all Services in the reconfiguring effort. Balanced force structure reduction makes no sense because the force structure was redesigned for land wars that the Nation will not take on in the decade ahead. The U.S. Army can be recast by the overall effort to shape new power projection capabilities and competencies.

Retiring older Service systems, which are logistical money hogs and high maintenance, can shape affordability. Core new systems can be leveraged to shape a pull rather than a push transition strategy. Fortunately, the country is already building these new systems and is in a position to shape an effective transition to a more affordable power projection capability. At the heart of the approach is to move from the ­platform-centric focus, where the cost of a new product is considered the debate point, to the inherent value of new systems and their ability to be conjoined. “No platform fights alone” is the mantra, and core recognition of how the new platforms work with one another to shape the collaborative concept of operations and capabilities is central to a strategic redesign of U.S. forces.

The primary point here is that with the adaptation of the new national strategy “Air-Sea Battle”, and the advent of such systems as the F-35, an entirely new approach to deployment and use of these assets has to be realized. 

It also means the death-knell for the aging and now obsolete 4th generation fleet.

This “sea change” in strategy and capability will not only change the pilot culture, but the operational culture as well (see the author’s discussion of the Libya operation for a limited example).  Systems like the F-35 bring unprecedented capabilities to the operations field that must be integrated fully and carefully to ensure maximum synergy is achieved.   The F-35, for instance, promises a degree of interoperability with our allies that we’ve never even approached to this point.  Add to that the capabilities of the aircraft’s sensor suite and suddenly numbers take a back seat to extensive capabilities.

The old culture that is indeed “platform-centric” in focus will have to be discarded and a new culture which maximizes the interoperability these new systems provide must take it’s place.

The entire focus of the new strategy is one of deterrence rather than war.  The point is to put a force so capable in the field that any possible aggressor would understand that going to war would be both a long and costly endeavor.  The F-35’s capabilities help make that case quite well.  And unlike it’s critics, those nations which would likely face the US understand those capabilities and their promise all too well.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Video: UK pilots talk about the F-35B

The Brits talk about the F-35B. Listen to the points they tick off when talking about the capabilities of the aircraft. It is no wonder they're excited.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Luke AFB gets F-35 mission

The F-35 took a large step forward with the selection of Luke AFB near Phoenix AZ as the base at which F-35 training will take place:

The Department of Defense has chosen Luke Air Force Base in Glendale for the new pilot training center for the F-35 fighter jets, city officials announced Wednesday.

The 71-year-old base west of Phoenix was competing with bases in Tucson, New Mexico and Idaho for the F-35 mission.

Glendale officials said the Air Force will station 72 F-35s at Luke for the training of both U.S. and foreign pilots.

"This is a great day for Luke," said Brig. Gen. JD Harris, 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke. "Our selection for F-35 training ensures the long-term viability of our mission of training the world's greatest fighter pilots, which we've been doing at Luke for seven decades."

Air Force officials said in a statement that Luke was chosen because of facility and ramp capacity, range access, weather, as well as capacity for future growth.

3 F-35 training squadrons will be based at Luke.  And it will continue its F-16 training mission until 2023.

It also brings a significant positive economic impact.

Glendale officials said Luke could receive up to $125 million in federal funds for construction-related projects and the F-35s could arrive as early as fall 2013.

The mission also would bring an estimated 1,000 direct and indirect permanent jobs and $17 million annually in local, state and federal tax revenues.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

USMC will used F-22 experience in deployment of F-35B

The F-35 has rightfully been called not just an evolutionary fighter but a revolutionary aircraft.  That’s because it is bringing capabilities to the fore that haven’t ever been available in previous generations of fighter aircraft.

That, of course, means rethinking how the aircraft is flown and deployed.  Not only does that require the pilot’s culture to change, but also that of the planners.

The USMC will deploy the STVOL version of the F-35, the F-35B.  But they’re already using some rare experience with the F-22 to help level out the learning curve necessary for deploying the F-35B in support of Marine Corps operations:

The USMC, having anticipated that the transition to the fifth-generation F-35B could be difficult, asked the USAF to allow one of its aviators to experience the Raptor's transition training, operational testing and tactics development pipelines. The USAF agreed to the USMC's request, and Berke spent four years flying with many of the best fighter pilots the air force has to offer.

"The Marine Corps sent Lt Col "Chip" Berke to an F-22 exchange tour with the air force three years ago with a very specific purpose in mind," says former USMC deputy commandant for aviation Lt Gen George Trautman. "Because fifth-generation essentially changes everything, we wanted to expose one of our best aviators to the clear operational edge the F-22 has over all legacy strike fighters."

Lt Gen Trautman gets it.  He understands the size and significance of the coming positive changes the F-35B will bring to the Marine Corps use of its organic fighter contingent.  The F-22 experience will allow Lt. Col Berke to apply the lessons learned from his F-22 experience to the future deployment of the F-35B.

Berke says that the USMC stands to gain enormously from the leveraging the USAF's experience with the Raptor.

"That is a challenging experience and the air force had a lot of lessons learned," Berke says. "The design was to take what I had learned and help the Marine Corps stand up its initial training squadron and de facto prepare for the initial operations and tactics development down the road."

Berke, who is one flight away from becoming qualified as an F-35B pilot, says that the F-22 and F-35, while not designed for the same mission, share a number of common characteristics. The focus for the USMC is on what is similar between the two aircraft.

"The processes to prepare a pilot to perform in that aircraft are very similar," Berke says. "While there are some unique characteristic that the two aircraft don't share, the preponderance of those things in terms of how the pilot interfaces with this fifth-gen platform are very similar."

That is where the pilot culture must change.  Berke’s experience will help shape the Marine Corps’ pilot training for the F-35B to advance that change. As for the similarities between the two 5th generation aircraft:

The most obvious similarities are that both aircraft incorporate sensor fusion, where data from multiple different systems such as the radar, electronic warfare systems, infrared cameras and data-link are correlated and displayed to the pilot as a single, easy to understand picture. By contrast, in fourth-generation fighters like the Lockheed F-16 or Boeing F/A-18, both of which Berke has previously flown, sensor data must be fused inside the pilot's brain. "That concept was pioneered by the F-22," Berke says. "The concept of how that fusion-information is presented to the pilot is very similar between the two aircraft."

And that fusion, of course, is one of the ‘revolutionary’ aspects of both 5th generation fighters.

Addressing the pilot culture, Berke notes the changes necessary to take full advantage of the F-35’s capabilities:

Perhaps the biggest change from the fourth to the fifth-generation fighters is the change in mentality that accompanies the transition. Pilots have to think in an entirely different way in the two fifth-generation machines. "The concept of becoming a fifth-gen aviator applies to both the F-22 and F-35 equally," Berke says. "That's a difficult transition. It takes a little bit of time to get used to that."

That’s where Berke’s experience and input will help the Marine Corps.  And that’s already paying off:

The process to get those USMC aviators ready for operations at VMFA-121 will be very similar to what the USAF does with the F-22 at nearby Tyndall AFB, Florida. "Unlike most other aircraft, the F-22 and F-35 have to prepare a pilot to fly solo on day one," Berke says. "The F-22 has been doing that for quite some time and we've leveraged a lot of that experience."

Because the F-35 is so new and is constantly receiving new software upgrades, VMFAT-501 has developed courses for pilots to transition from one avionics software block to another relatively painlessly. The squadron's instructors have also developed courses to allow new pilots to transition directly to the newest configuration, Berke says.

Berke's experience should also help the USMC's operational testers as they begin their conversion to the F-35B. The US Navy and USMC use a somewhat different process for operational test and tactics development than the USAF. But elements of the USAF's methodology might be useful to the naval services as they move toward deploying the F-35.

That sort of planning based on leveraging Berke’s experience is invaluable in correctly tailoring the USMC’s F-35 training to ensure the transition is as painless and complete as possible.  It also addresses the pilot culture.  As is obvious, Berke and the Marine Corps leadership see the F-35B as a game changer.  And it appears they’ve hit upon a plan to be able to develop and deploy those game changing capabilities as soon as possible.