Friday, December 5, 2014

Marines Shift F-35 Deployment Plans | Ares

Marines Shift F-35 Deployment Plans | Ares: The US Marine Corps is changing the way it plans to use its Lockheed Martin F-35B short take-off, vertical landing fighters, we report here (subscription required). Briefly, the new concept of operations envisages the use of mobile forward arming and refueling points (M-Farps) to support groups of F-35Bs, which would return to U.S. Navy amphbious warfare ships, allied carriers (special mention to the British Queen Elizabeth class) or even regional land bases for routine maintenance.

The new Conops addresses problems with earlier plans, which envisaged conducting sustained combat operations from both LHA/LHD-class ships and forward operating bases (FOBs) on land. Any naval force operating within 150 nm of a hostile coast would be within range of an increasing number of lethal and elusive ground-mobile guided missile systems, and would be hard put to avoid tracking by small unmanned air vehicles. That would make it very vulnerable, absent support from a carrier with its long-range airborne early warning coverage - and one of the major arguments for the F-35B is that it provides air power independent of the big carrier. The new Conops allows the ships to stand off outside coastal missile range because they support operations rather than launching airstrikes.

Meanwhile, large FOBs on land were considered by some (including deputy defense secretary Bob Work, in his days as deputy Navy secretary) as being vulnerable to guided missiles and rockets. The idea of the new Conops is to blunt this threat by making M-Farps much smaller and more nimble than FOBs (because most aircraft maintenance happens elsewhere). They will relocate every 24-48 hours, which is estimated to be inside an enemy's targeting cycle.