Sunday, July 12, 2020

U.S. Marines’ F-35B stealth fighter destroyed ‘killer tomato’

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The U.S. Marine Corps has announced that the newest Marines’ F-35B Lightning II fighter aircraft with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 265 (REIN), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, used the GAU-22 cannon against a simulated target and executed the first shipboard hot reload of ordnance in the Indo-Pacific region while underway in the Solomon Sea from the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), August 4.

During the training flights, F-35B jets fired the 25mm cannon in coordination with MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and Navy MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopters firing 7.62 mm machine guns to destroy the “killer tomato”, a large inflatable target used during live-fire exercises at sea.

The “killer tomato” is a target balloon which buoys for use in training exercises, man overboard drills, and race marker buoys. They were designed to be easy to deploy. Easy to unpack, set up, inflate, launch and recover.

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Photo by Lance Cpl. Cameron Parks

In addition to employment of the GAU-22, the F-35B aircraft dropped a GBU-32 1,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munition, and a GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb on a first sortie. After expending all ordnance, the aircraft returned to the Wasp, reloaded and refueled, and executed a second live-fire sortie, according to Maj. Jeffrey Davis, F-35B detachment officer-in-charge with VMM-265 (REIN).

“Successful execution of hot reload procedures while afloat demonstrates the 31st MEU’s ability to surge offensive air support for kinetic missions in the theatre, increasing available lethality for commanders,” said Davis. “Our organic MEU assets and personnel demonstrated the ability to reload and refuel a section of F-35Bs or a division of F-35Bs rapidly, when executing surge operations with a standard F-35B detachment.”

With the direction of controllers on ground or ship, targets can be prosecuted with target-practice and semi-armor-piercing high explosive incendiary tracer 25mm rounds. Employing four barrels simultaneously, the GAU-22 is able to fire 3,300 rounds per minute with deadly accuracy.

“Our skilled controllers and pilots, combined with these systems, take the 31st MEU to the next level of what it means to be lethal as we are now able to rain destruction like never before. Today, my ordnance team proved efficiency with these operations, and I couldn’t be prouder of them,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Sallese, aviation ordnance officer with the 31st MEU.

The employment of the GAU-22 and the ordnance hot reloading comes on the heels of the 31st MEU’s execution of combined amphibious operations in Talisman Saber 2019, a biennial exercise for the U.S. and Australia to sharpen their capabilities across a wide range of military operations. The 31st MEU is currently honing tactical and operational proficiency in simulated contested environments during a continuing deployment aboard the ships of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, according to Col. Robert Brodie, commanding officer of the 31st MEU.

“Our recent F-35B strike rehearsals demonstrate the 31st MEU’s lethality and readiness to address potential adversaries. The speed that we can conduct precision strikes with devastating effects while providing close air support to our Marines is nothing shy of awesome. Bottom-line; the F-35B defines shock and awe!”

Wasp, flagship of the Wasp Amphibious Ready Group, with embarked 31st MEU, is operating in the Indo-Pacific region to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as ready-response force for any type of contingency, while simultaneously providing a flexible and lethal crisis response force ready to perform a wide range of military operations.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Cameron Parks

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