The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II continues to hog the global limelight. In the latest development, a fully loaded F-35B belonging to the UK Navy was tested on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the US East Coast.
“Marshalled on the deck of HMS Prince of Wales off the US East Coast, this is an F-35B fully loaded. To the max. Topped out. Maximum effort,” read a readout published by the British Navy.
A Royal Navy spokesperson said, “It’s known in naval aviation parlance as ‘beast mode’: every tower occupied by a weapon, the internal bomb bay bristling. Fully loaded, the F-35B can deliver 22,000lb of destructive and defensive power: air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles and conventional and laser-guided bombs.”
The service described the fully loaded F-35B as an equivalent of the heaviest bomb carried by a WW2 Lancaster bomber, i.e., the Grand Slam or the Earthquake bomb as it is popularly known. The Lancaster went down in history as European Theatre’s most crucial aircraft that bombed Nazi Germany’s military facilities and factories.
Further describing what the fully-loaded F-35B aboard the Prince of Wales looked like, the UK Navy said, “It’s nearly three times more than the UK’s last carrier-borne strike aircraft, the Harrier GR9, over a decade ago.”
Select aviation mode:
▪️F35B ⚡️ STEALTH JET
Select capability mode:
Time to push the boundaries of 🇬🇧 carrier strike capability…
↕️Vertical take off
🌊Heavy sea states
▪️F35 BEAST MODE pic.twitter.com/W5JMJefc2b
— HMS Prince of Wales (@HMSPWLS) October 11, 2023
In this instance, the weapons bay of the specially modified F-35B from the US Navy’s Integrated Test Force was armed to the teeth with a combination of inert 1,000lb Paveways and inert 500lb Paveway IV laser-guided bombs. The latter, for one, has earned the reputation of being the Royal Air Force’s go-to bomb for its ability to be guided to its target using laser, making the bombing run very precise and successful now.
For the UK Navy, F-35s currently take off from the deck’s 350-foot marking, which is roughly where the front island ends.
However, the service explained that “Depending on a whole host of factors (including weather, wind over the deck, humidity), a fully-loaded Lightning might need a full run-up to the ski jump to get airborne… which means starting back at the 850ft marker… not too far from the rear end of the flight deck.”
This is the first time either carrier has tested a full run-up. Additionally, it is the first time planes launched from HMS Prince of Wales have dropped bombs—albeit just inert practice models.
Warrant Officer 1 John Etherington, the captain of the flight deck and a veteran of deck operations on US carriers of the Nimitz class, gave the go to the pilots flying out the fully loaded beasts. “It was impressive, launching the jet, all bombed up from the back of the flight deck,” he said. “It’s exciting to see us pushing the boundaries of UK naval aviation.”
In addition, the F-35 Lightning II achieved yet another feat aboard the HMS Prince of Wales as it accomplished its first-ever shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL). A British project, the SRVL, has been in the works for at least ten years. It enables pilots to return to the ship after a mission with more stores in the aircraft.
Get ready for the week ahead…
SRVL to come… pic.twitter.com/Xg7GB5V76d
— HMS Prince of Wales (@HMSPWLS) October 15, 2023
It is essentially a process for landing jump-jet aircraft that makes use of both the lift from the wings and the vertical thrust from the jet engine, maximizing the payload an aircraft can return with and avoiding the financial waste that results from dropping pricey weaponry into the sea to land vertically.
The SRVL witnesses an aircraft land on the carrier after approaching the ship quickly from the rear. It then uses lift from the air above its wings and thrust from the nozzle to touch down and softly come to a rest.
Until the recent test, the F-35 aircraft had only made vertical landings on the £3 billion carrier, hovering beside it before falling onto the flight deck. Video of the recent landing on the flight deck was shared by the Royal Navy carrier on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Having said that, while the F-35 continues to sweep sales and achieve new feats, the delivery of this fifth-generation stealth fighter jet has run into trouble.
A Drop In F-35 Delivery Projection
Lockheed Martin projects that, due to continuous delays in obtaining certification for a new flight-control computer, it will only be able to deliver 97 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters in 2023.
Lockheed delivered 80 F-35s during the first nine months of 2023, a significant decrease from the 141 instances of the cutting-edge fighter aircraft it shipped in 2022.
During a third-quarter earnings call on October 17, the chief executive James Taiclet said manufacturer Lockheed Martin said production issues are not the cause of the decrease in the rate and that the F-35 manufacturing is still on track with company goals.
“We are producing F-35s at a rate of 156 per year,” Taiclet says. “[We] expect to continue at that pace while simultaneously working to finalize TR-3 software development and testing.”
Upgrades to the F-35, known as Technical Refresh-3, or TR-3, include a more potent on-board computer processor and control software. The TR-3 enhancements are essential to the F-35’s next production version, or Block 4, which will greatly boost the fighter’s onboard sensors, communications, and weaponry capabilities.
Taiclet stated in April that Lockheed was in the “very late innings” of the certification process for the TR-3 package.
The Pentagon and at least one foreign customer announced that they would not accept new F-35s in the TR-3 configuration until the type had obtained complete airworthiness approval due to the delays in certifying the upgraded package.
Taiclet predicted Lockheed would deliver between 100 and 125 F-35s by the end of the year after that statement in July. After the events at L3Harris, that number dropped once more to 97 in September and is currently stable. On October 17, Taiclet affirmed that the TR-2 configuration will be used for all 2023 jet deliveries.
Having said that, Lockheed strives to certify the latest version of the F-35 standard in the first half of 2024, and the first TR-3 aircraft should be delivered in April or June of that year.
Although revenue is anticipated to suffer temporarily due to the halt in F-35 deliveries, executives at Lockheed assert that other segments of the company are still doing well. “We continue to see strong demand for missiles and munitions,” says chief financial officer Jay Malave
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