MELBOURNE, Australia — The first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron to deploy overseas is continuing the type's expeditionary workup, conducting training exercises to operate the aircraft in real-world scenarios while operating from austere locations.
In separate news releases, the U.S. Marine Corps announced that the Green Knights of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 have carried out hot reloads and aviation-delivered ground refueling, or ADGR, training with its F-35Bs at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, on April 6 and 11 respectively.
A hot reload is the process of loading ordnance onto an aircraft while the pilot remains in the cockpit with the engine running.
The ADGR exercise saw a Marine KC-130J Hercules tanker transfer fuel directly to the F-35B while both aircraft were on the ground.
According to the Marines, this signified the first time the forward-deployed squadron loaded ordnance onto a running F-35B at Iwakuni in order to prepare for real-world scenarios, while the squadron's first ADGR established flow rates of fuel in gallons per minute to determine how fast the process could be carried out.
The Marines added that successfully completing the ADGR is a landmark that increases the capabilities of the squadron, offering the ability to refuel by C-130 aircraft in austere locations when other resources are unavailable.
Video released by the service showed that during the hot reload, 1,000-pound inert GBU-32 satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions were loaded onto the internal weapons bay of the F-35B, which can carry a maximum of two such weapons.
The GBU-32 had only been loaded into the F-35B's internal weapons bay for the first time two days before, during a similar hot reload performed by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One, or MAWTS-1, during the semiannual Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course 2-17 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
The ability to hot reload the F-35B, opposed to shutting down the aircraft completely to load, can save wear and tear on the aircraft. In a combat situation, performing a hot load would save time and minimize any failure opportunities with the aircraft, according to Master Sgt. Jason Daniel, an ordnance chief with MAWTS-1.
Maj. Adam Perlin, aircraft maintenance officer for VMFA-121 and the pilot on board the F-35B conducting the hot reload at Iwakuni, said that executing the training helped build a knowledge basis and proficiency for the ordnance Marines and the aircrew.
"Little steps like what we did today are moving the entire program along," Perlin said. "Conducting this training for the first time here in Iwakuni and making sure we get these things right enhances our capabilities as well as the Marine Corps' capabilities as a whole."
VMFA-121 currently has 10 F-35Bs based at Iwakuni with the number due to rise to 16 and another six to arrive over the summer, bringing the squadron to full strength. The squadron is also due to go to sea with the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group as part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit in the fall.
The amphibious assault ship Wasp is scheduled to become part of the U.S. 7th Fleet forward-deployed naval forces later this year when it moves from Norfolk, Virginia, to Sasebo, Japan. The ship will eventually replace the current forward-deployed amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, which is due to return to San Diego, California, for maintenance and upgrades in 2018.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.