The F-35B: A War Winning Combat Capability

By Edward Timperlake

In an article published on November 17, 2010, Ed Timperlake provided a look ahead at the coming of the F-35B and how it might affect strategic thinking about combat operations.

11/17/2010 – In the not two distant future the US Navy/Marine and USAF team may have to establish presence from the sea in a potential combat theater.

The threat will be great: friendly forces can be intermixed with opponents who will do what ever it takes to win.

From placing IEDs, to employing small unit ambushes, to spotting for artillery and Multiple Launch Rockets, the enemy will be unforgiving and aggressive. In addition there is a large land Army with armor and land-based precision weapons nearby to attack.

The opposing forces also have a tactical aviation component of Fighters and Attack Aircraft, along with Unmanned Aerial Systems and some proficiency in offensive “cyber war” ready to engage.

To make it even more difficult the enemy has located and identified potential airfields that could be occupied and has targeted them to be destroyed by terminally guided cruise and intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Finally, the fleet off shore is vulnerable to ship-killing missiles. The problem for US war planners is to secure a beachhead and build to victory from that beginning. Traditionally, the “beachhead” was just that on a beach–but now it can be seizing territory inland first and attacking from the back door toward the sea to take a port and also grab an airfield.

The problem for US war planners is to secure a beachhead and build to victory from that beginning.

The USAF flying high cover after being launched from bases far enough away to be safe from attack can establish Air Superiority, and the Navy Fighters can go on CAP (Combat Air Patrol) to protect the Fleet. Both services can launch offensive weapons from their TacAir also from B-2s, surface ships and subs. UAS can go into battle for ISR and offense “cyber” can be engaged. US “smart munitions” can attack enemy offensive rockets and missiles launch sites. There will be significant casualities on both sides.

But the Marines do the unexpected and land where the enemy does not have ease of access –a natural barrier perhaps, mountain range, water barrier, very open desert or even on the back side of urban sprawl.

Once established, logistical re-supply is a battle-tipping requirement.

Once ashore the one asset that can tip the battle and keep Tactical Aviation engaged in support of ground combat operations if runways are crated is the F-35B, because every hard surface road is a landing strip and resupply can quickly arrive from Navy Amphibious ships by MV-22s and CH-53K.

The F-35B is a 5th Generation airborne stealth fighter with its own distributed intelligence center. Each aircraft has a total 360-degree knowledge.

If the enemy launches an attack from the air or ground, airborne sensors can instantaneously pick up the launch.

The battle information displayed in each F-35B can be linked to UAS drivers as well as ground and airborne command centers to coordinate both offensive and defensive operations.

The sortie rate of the aircraft is more than just rearm and “gas and go”: it is continuity of operations with each aircraft linking in and out as they turn and burn—without losing situational awareness.

This can all be done in locations that can come as a complete tactical surprise –the F-35B sortie rate action reaction cycle has an add dimension of unique and unexpected basing thus getting inside an opponent’s OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act) loop.

Enemy air is predictable by needing a runway and consequently all the problems of precision weapons crating their runways come into play for their battle plan—the F-35B does not have that vulnerability.

Now remove the USAF and USN Carrier Battle Group and instead of seeing USMC air and land forces engaged, it is only the Israeli Defense Force fighting for the survival  of the free state of Israel. Israel is a nation surrounded by hostile forces.

All of the threats mentioned above instead of being directed against US forces are  life and death problems for Israeli defense planners.

Consequently is there any surprise that the IAF is considering the F-35B. The Lightning II V/Stol version must be kept in production, because its combat potential is nowhere near fully understood and exploited.

It is a perfect aircraft for the Marines:  think not only Israel, but other contingencies;  think  Korea or Taiwan in a major incident, or USMC being used to  keep the promise with allies that trusted US. American Marines going back in from the sea  to save an Iraqi town of innocents from  being overrun or to stop  the Taliban attacking a village is a debt that cannot be walked away from

For the citizens of Israel, the IDF is fully capable of making informed and appropriate choices for their Nation’s survival.  It is always up to them to do what they think best.

However, the F-35B maybe a perfect aircraft for their Combat  situation as described above.  If Israel has to fight for their very existence, the V/Stol capability may become invaluable — so why even debate not funding such a valuable resource for both the USMC and others — it can tip an entire war effort if employed successfully.

The featured photo shows an F-35B Lightning II jet performs a vertical landing during a field carrier landing practice at Ie Shima Island, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 5, 2018.

The F-35B landed, refueled and took off for the first time at Ie Shima Island. The F-35B belongs to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. The FCLP prepares the F-35B pilots for situations faced while deployed on aircraft carriers. Pilots land within the same restrictions they would when landing on an aircraft carrier.

An F-35B landing at Ie Shima Island demonstrates the air warfighting capability, operational flexibility and tactical supremacy that this platform brings to the Indo-Pacific region, our allies and our partners.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexia Lythos)