By Bijan Razzaghi
The F-35B has evolved naval aviation by providing Navy’s with a supersonic carrier born VTOL aircraft and reducing the need for Navy’s to adopt a CATBAR system on their aircraft carriers. The F-35B is in the process of replacing the AV-8B Harrier II in US Marine Corps service on the WASP Class LHD while the Royal Navy and Italian Navy are are also adopting the F-35B for their aircraft carriers. Prior to the F-35Bs IOC the AV-8B was the only VTOL combat aircraft available providing high subsonic ground attack capability as well as limited air to air capabilities with the AIM-9. The radar equipped Harrier II (Plus) offers integration with the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The F-35B offers the same performance as conventional carrier borne aircraft and build upon that by adding 5th generation technology such as sensor fusion and stealth.
The F-35B has a range of 900 nautical miles and a maximum speed of Mach 1.6 at 50% fuel the aircraft has a thrust to weight ratio of 1.04 and a g load factor of 7.5 compared to the AV-8B it replaced that is limited to 633 mph with a lower thrust to weight ratio and g load factor. The F-35Bs performance allows the aircraft to perform critical fighter roles such as fleet air defense while being able to counter potential threat aircraft such as the J-11B and Su-30 series. The F-35Bs stealth and AESA radar also allow the aircraft to have a first look first shot and first kill advantage over adversary aircraft.
For air to ground operations the F-35B can deploy 2x 1000 lb JDAM or Paveway bombs or 3x 250 lb SDBs in the stealth configuration. For non stealth operations the F-35B can carry up to 18,000 lb of ordnance. This includes stand off weapon systems such as the AGM-154 JSOW which can be used against both ships and land targets. Future integration with the Storm Shadow, and AGM-158 JASSM will increase the F-35Bs effective firing range against ground targets.
Currently Japan and South Korea have considered converting their helicopter carriers into aircraft carriers for the F-35B, this is also an option for Australia. Thailand and Spain who currently operate aircraft carriers could also consider purchasing the F-35B to replace their AV-8B Harrier IIs.
The advent of the F-35B will allow more countries to adopt a formidable carrier based fighter force that was previously not available. This has already allowed the Wasp Class LHDs to function as a force multiplier for the US Navy’s already large carrier fleet. The next operational carrier born F-35B force will be the Royal Navy’s HMS Queen Elizabeth air wing, whose pilots are currently undergoing training.
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