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USMC develops F-35's austere capabilities

13 April 2017
A US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II VFMA 121 refuels using a KC-130J Hercules with VMGR 152 during Aviation Delivered Ground Refuelling training at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan, on 11 April. The technique will increase the STOVL fighter's ability to refuel in austere locations when other resources may not be available. Source: USMC

The US Marine Corps (USMC) is developing the austere operating capabilities of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), with a 'hot' ground refuelling conducted from a transport aircraft on 11 April.

The F-35B from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VFMA) 121 received fuel from a USMC Lockheed Martin KC-130J Hercules from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 152 during the Aviation Delivered Ground Refueling (AGDR) trial at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Iwakuni in Japan.

As noted by the USMC, this was the first time that the F-35 had been fuelled in this manner which is designed to enable the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) combat aircraft to be replenished in austere locations that are not equipped with the infrastructure normally needed for flight operations. The F-35's engine was kept running so as to complete the process that would be needed to get the aircraft back into the air in the shortest time.

According to the USMC, VMFA-121 used the ADGR at MCAS Iwakuni "as a stepping stone to prepare for real-time refuelling in remote locations". No timeline was given as to when these real-world ADGR events might take place.

VMFA 121 has been at the forefront of the corps' effort to develop the F-35B's austere capabilities. In December 2015, the unit participated in Exercise 'Steel Knight', which was a live-fire wargame that integrated air and ground elements in a wide range of military operations in an austere environment. This was done to prepare the 1st Marine Division for deployment as the ground combat element of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF), and saw the F-35B perform "exceedingly well", according to the Marines.

The USMC has a programme of record of 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs, to be spread across 16 and four squadrons respectively (plus an additional two training units).

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