The Pentagon is busy developing new methods of warfare to traverse the South China Sea and the vast Philippine Sea. In these two seas, the US and its allies have few air bases, and the targets are far away; Meanwhile, the flight is always threatened by enemy attacks.
The US Marines plan to overcome these problems by using the F-35C , which has a range of thousands of kilometers. Currently, the pilots are training how to fight, to be able to penetrate enemy air defense systems by using AGM-154 cruise missiles to launch at the enemy and then return.
The downside to this new combat concept is that it relies entirely on logistical support, especially in-air refuelling. But in wartime, refuelling aircraft will become the main target of the enemy’s long-range fighters.
Major Mark Dion, of the U.S. Marine Corps VMFA-314 Fighter Squadron, is the Marines’ first pilot , trained in long-range stealth strike aircraft, with injections. With the F-35C, the US can penetrate deep into the enemy’s defensive position with long-range weapons.
The VMFA-314 squadron is the first F-35C squadron, of the US Marine Corps, to have formed an initial combat capability. The US Marines plan to equip a fleet of 22 F-35s, each with about 10 aircraft.
Today, however, most Marine squadrons are equipped with F-35B vertical take-off and landing aircraft. Compared to other F-35 models, the F-35B is equipped with a heavy lifting fan, which makes the fuselage heavier and the interior space smaller, resulting in a shorter range.
In contrast, the F-35C has a larger wing area than the A and B models, and it also has firmer landing gear, specifically designed to operate on US Navy aircraft carriers. Compared to the F-35B, the F-35C can carry 3 tons of fuel and has a larger weapons bay.
If the F-35B’s bomb bay can hold only 450 kg of weapons, the F-35C’s bomb bay can hold 900 kg, including long-range missiles such as JSOW and airborne missiles. anti-aircraft AIM-120C.
The greater range and weapons capacity make the F-35C the best depth-attack aircraft in the Marines. The US Marine Corps’ F-35C squadron will be deployed aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln, and could be deployed to the Pacific for the first time next year.
The F-35C’s future combat mode is expected to be: The aircraft will take off from an aircraft carrier operating in the South China Sea or the Philippine Sea, in a relatively safe area, or other waters far away from China’s surface-to-air missile range.
Each F-35C will carry two JSOW missiles with a range of 140 km and two AIM-120 air-to-air missiles in its bomb bay. Every few hundred kilometres, a Marine KC-130 refuelling aircraft, or an Air Force KC-135, can refuel these F-35Cs in the air.
For US military refuelling planes on duty, they can take off from a land-based runway or airfields at small bases. Currently, the US Army has been exploring new tactics, to quickly establish small bases.
Despite these simple bases, it may not be enough to keep fighters stationed for long periods of time; but they could be used as refueling stations for future fighters.
With aerial refuelling tankers and simple bases, the F-35C will use the gaps in enemy radar coverage to escape the enemy’s deadliest air defences.
If fighting with Chinese fighters, the F-35C can counterattack with AIM-120 missiles. All Marine Corps pilots have been trained in how to perform these missions. After launching the JSOW rocket, the F-35C will return.
The F-35C fighters, after performing the mission, can make landings on outposts on islands along the way, to replenish fuel and ammunition; or they can fly straight back to the carrier all the way and then right back into combat.
So how far can the F-35C fly in such a deep strike? To answer this question, VMFA-314 Squadron performed the test. During an exercise in July, one of the squadron’s F-35Cs flew from Miramar to Washington State, more than 1,600 km.
En route, a Marine KC-130 aircraft refueled. In another exercise plan, the F-35C is preparing to fly from California to Hawaii for a simulated deep attack mission, with a range of 4,200 km. But this is an ambitious mission, due to the long flight time.
During exercises, the F-35C can land and stay at base in Hawaii; but this is not possible in wartime. In other words, if you want to hit a target farther than 4,200 km, the F-35C may have to fly a total of 8,400 km.
The 8,400km round trip requires multiple aerial refueling. In April this year, when a formation of four US Air Force F-16 fighter jets flew from Japan to the South China Sea, the formation was supported by four KC-135 tankers. That is, with the support of a large refueling aircraft, each fighter can achieve a distance of up to 11,000 km.
The F-35C must have the support of a refueling aircraft, if it wants to make the 5,400 km round-trip flight. It is not difficult to imagine that, in long-range aerial combat in the Western Pacific, when American fighters take off from aircraft carriers, or from land bases, refueling aircraft is an indispensable element.
Depending on aerial refueling aircraft, will severely limit the number of US fighters participating in the war in the region, because the number of US military refueling aircraft is limited.
In addition, the safety of these tankers themselves is also facing a great threat, for example China’s J-20 stealth fighter, which is a very suitable aircraft, to “hunt” the enemy. large oil tankers and reconnaissance aircraft of the US military.
Although the US Marine Corps is preparing for long-range air operations, this does not mean that the force is capable of continuing to complete air missions, but despite counterattacks. The US still has many problems to solve in both theory and practice.