Friday, December 8, 2017

F-35B Landing Considerations

Here’s a little more information relevant to those hidden, secret bases deep inside enemy territory that F-35Bs will supposedly use to wreak havoc on the enemy from within.  We all understand that Harriers and F-35Bs are not really vertical takeoff aircraft, at least not with any useful range and payload.  They require a rolling takeoff.  According to Aviation Week website (1), the runway needs to be 3000 ft long.

“… the Pentagon bought the F-35B for two reasons: it can land on an LHA/LHD-class amphibious warfare ship, and it can operate from an improvised forward operating location (FOL), created around a 3,000-ft. runway.”

A 3000 ft runway hardly supports the concept of a secret base “carved out” of enemy territory and hidden from the enemy.  I don’t think any enemy is going to have trouble spotting a 3000 ft runway in its territory!

The problems extend beyond the mere size of the runway.  The heat from the downward directed exhaust is immense and melts or tears up normal runways.

“The main engine exhaust, the engineers said, was hot and energetic enough to have a 50% chance of spalling concrete on the first VL [vertical landing]. “Spalling” occurs when water in the concrete boils faster than it can escape, and steam blows flakes away from the surface.”

“And what Navfac calls “standard airfield concrete” is military-grade, made with aggregate and Portland cement. Many runways are built with asphaltic concrete—aggregate in a bitumen binder—which softens and melts under heat.”

There are solutions.  Protective pads can be used.

“At the Navy’s Patuxent River, Md., flight-test center, F-35Bs perform VLs on a pad of AM-2 aluminum matting, protecting the concrete from heat and blast.”

“The Marines could use AM-2 landing pads. But AM-2 is not a friend to the agility that justifies the F-35B over other forms of expeditionary airpower. An Air Force study calls it “slow to install, difficult to repair, [with] very poor air-transport-ability characteristics.” A single 100 X 100-ft. VL pad weighs around 30 tons and comprises 400 pieces, each individually installed by two people.”

AM-2 Runway Under Construction

Rolling takeoffs and landings can spread the heat and blast load somewhat but comes at the expense of requiring longer runways.  A recent comment suggested the use of barges to act as refueling pads for F-35Bs.  This would be problematic in terms of physical damage to the barge although it is undoubtedly possible to protect the barge sufficiently to allow such operations.  The bigger problem is that a true vertical takeoff from a barge would limit the aircraft to very small fuel and payload weights – an unacceptable and useless scenario.

We see these same concerns even in the attempt to use the F-35B on amphibious ships – ships designed for vertical and short takeoff  and vertical landing operations (VTOL/STVOL) and helo/Harrier operations.  Our entire amphibious fleet has to be modified to handle the added heat from the F-35B exhaust.  It was originally assumed that the F-35B could land anywhere a Harrier could but, like so many aspects of the F-35 program, that turned out to be a false assumption.

“Lewis [Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy (OPNAV N3/N5)] added that the amphibious assault ships are spending more time in maintenance than planned due to the F-35B LIghting II Joint Strike Fighter interoperability upgrades taking more time than anticipated. The upgrade is meant to boost the ships’ computers and communications to keep up with the sophisticated new fighter, and to strengthen the flight deck to withstand the extreme heat of the exhaust in the vertical-landing jet.” (2)

All of these landing concerns and requirements are proof that the concept of basing F-35B’s on unimproved landing strips hacked out of the jungle and a complete and utter fantasy even neglecting the unsustainable logistical aspects.

All you “jungle flyers” out there …  let it go.  Your fantasy is just that.


(1)Aviation Week website, “Opinion: F-35B Vertical Landings In Doubt For U.K.”, Bill Sweetman, 26-May-2014,

(2)USNI News website, “Exacerbating Shortfall in Available Ships for Marines’ At-Sea Training”, Megan Eckstein, 1-Dec-2017,


  1. And another thing that is always conveniently forgotten is that operating from such locations will cause damage to the stealth coating from debris.

    1. Not to mention, ingesting all the dirt and debris would devour engines much faster than they could be replaced.

  2. Too bad no one considers "Zero-length launch" systems seriously, it could provide much of this capability to conventional aircraft. The point being to provide a means of dispersing a portion of friendly aircraft to complicate enemy counter airfield saturation attacks with cruise and ballistic missiles.

    This is important because SRBMs and IRBMs are expensive, and a while tremendously effective, there will always be a lot fewer available than wanted.

    As always, the intent isn't necessarily to be 100% effective, it is to work hard against the enemy's certainty, and to complicate his planning and logistics.


    1. Doubtful effectiveness, aircraft still have to land.

    2. Zero length launch was viable, although specialized.

      TACAIR like SU25/37, F-5s, A-4s could and did routinely take off and land from dirt fields, and highways.

      Airfields are also recuperable targets that have to be hit repeatedly during a campaign because they are easy to repair.

      Repairing airfields, even those subjected to purpose built munitions, is also lot easier than replacing aircraft destroyed on the ground in the first 24-hours of a major war.

      Continuous operations from unimproved airfields is challenging to operations, maintenance, and ILS, but valid. Again, the point is to minimize the damage to ones forces during the critical first 24-hours of a war when the enemy has surprise, initiative, and mass.


    3. Zero length launch, was one of those wacky concept from the 50ties when they experimented with a lot of stuff.
      "Again, the point is to minimize the damage to ones forces during the critical first 24-hours"
      Thats what SAM's do nowdays.

    4. Are you familiar with the historical success rate of SAMs across all eras and countries? I've posted data on SAM performance. It's not good. If you're going to depend on SAMs, alone, for initial protection, you're not going to have much left to protect!

    5. Actually i meant that if you have to rely to a jet fighter with a big rocket strapped beneath it to takeoff without a runway, you better use SAM's as point defense :)
      Of course you're gonna use both fighter aircraft and SAM's for defense.

      BTW systems like the SA-19 and or Iron Dome/Stunner can give a pretty good point defense against PGM's for airfield protection.

      And no, modern SAM's have not been used in high intensity combat between two opponents with similar forces.

      The most "modern' SAM systems USAF had to face were SA-2/3/6, and some short range mobile ones also of 80ties design.

    6. "And no, modern SAM's have not been used in high intensity combat between two opponents with similar forces."

      Do you have any idea how many decades people have been making the claim that "this" system will work because it's so far advanced over what came and failed before? Every new system in history has made that claim and, in the case of SAMs, all have failed. To believe that the newest is somehow going to magically achieve what no other system has come close to doing is pure fantasy.

      We have data from Vietnam, the various Israeli wars, the British Falklands naval SAM performance, Desert Storm, Bosnia/Kosovo, etc. That spans many decades and many types of systems, each claiming that they would be the one that succeeded and none have had any great success.

      Show me some data or acknowledge that you're just hoping. There's nothing wrong with hope but other than it's a very poor strategy.

    7. Wasn't the last victim of Patriot was during GW2 when it shot down a RAF Tornado! Good job! Oh wait, my bad....

      Jokes aside, have you seen how massive Patriot or SAM-300/400 systems are? I thought we were trying to hide from the enemy with our ain't hiding all the gear, radar, power packs, missile launchers from no one.....

    8. Israeli Patriots shot down UAVs in 2014 and 2016, that I know of. Saudi Arabia has used Patriots to intercept SCUD type missiles from Yemen on multiple occasions over the last couple years. In fact, they claim over 100 intercepts. I don't know how credible that claim is.

      Patriot has actually had quite a bit of recent combat use. Success rates are hotly debated.

    9. A reasonable assessment of the cost benefit trade-offs of cruise missiles.

      This sort of thinking also applies to ballistic missiles, but those weapons are much more expensive.

      SAMs are not the answer to saturation attacks, and dispersal seems to be far more viable and cost effective.


    10. I have no problem with dispersal per se. My problem (or maybe "question" is a better word) is with the logistics. Here's a simplified conceptual example.

      100 aircraft dispersed to 100 bases. Now, how do we operate them? How do we get sufficient fuel, munitions, technicians, computers, mission planners, etc. to 100 bases? I'm the last person to suggest war can be run as a business but the inefficiency in dispersal is enormous.

      I also have a problem (question) with the attrition of fuel, munitions, technicians, computers, spare parts, etc. No one considers combat losses of those items - only the survival of the aircraft themselves. As we lose fuel and fuel transports, for example, it begins to not matter whether we saved the aircraft if we can't assemble and transport the fuel to the dispersed bases. And so on with every other support item.

      I haven't gamed out the numbers on this and I don't know the fuel storage/transport capacity, for example, so I can't really draw a conclusion other than to note that the logistical challenge increases with the degree of dispersion. At some point it becomes prohibitive. Where that point is, I don't know.

      Any thoughts on the logistic aspects of dispersal?

    11. CNO,

      I view dispersal at the onset of war as critical, because I believe any enemy will be highly motivated to expend almost all their cruise and ballistic missiles munitions in a single decisive blow. It rarely makes sense to deploy combat power in penny packets.

      I view dispersal is a means to: 1) force the enemy to expend far more munitions than if we stick to a few "super bases", 2) the greatly expanded purchase and deployment of massed cruise ballistic missiles required to service dispersed targets will have second and third order effects (e.g. potential warning of hostile intent in advance of conflict, escalating the cost of conflict, etc.) and 3) as a means of saving our aircraft.

      After the first week of war, I imagine a regression towards concentration of aviation assets to address precisely the logistics issues you have raised. I also imagine that we will be forced to operate our aircraft from bases much, much farther from the front lines than we currently imagine. We need a lot more critical thinking in this area.

      In the end, the old idea of forward deploying ever more aircraft as a means of "deterrence" policy that we reflexively default to is really stupid given the current state of ballistic and cruise missile technology.


    12. "I view dispersal is a means to: 1) force the enemy to expend far more munitions than if we stick to a few "super bases","

      Quite reasonable. Now, do you envision attempting to defend each of these dispersed aircraft/bases vigorously or applying only minimal defenses and allowing whatever damage might occur to happen relatively unimpeded? In other words, will the "protection" and survivability of the dispersed aircraft be due to active defenses or to simply having more locations than the enemy has attacking missiles?

      If you envision active and robust defenses at every dispersed location, do we have, and can we afford, such defenses at so many locations? Again, this represents an inefficiency due to manifold replication at every site.

      Alternatively, if you envision dispersion to be its own guarantor of survivability (no robust defense) do you believe we actually can achieve sufficient dispersal to guarantee a sufficient survival rate among the dispersed aircraft?

    13. Do you envision dispersing, say, fuel storage, as well? I would assume so since aircraft with no fuel are of no use?

    14. CNO,

      What you are really hitting at is the potential requirement for *some* mix (purposefully vague here) of robust, modern single purpose fighters (F-5) in the force structure. Aircraft that can operate from austere or improvised runways without the need for extensive maintenance beyond what a squadron can provide (e.g. depot level maintenance).

      Combat power, in this case airpower, is based on what you can put into the fight day in and day out.

      I am skeptical of our ability to defend all airfields and dispersion locations given the current state of ballistic and cruise missile technology. I do think we can massively drive up the cost of a first strike, and force the enemy to sort through some huge strategic headaches.

      I also think that we could successfully mobilize some runway repair, aircraft maintenance, and fueling functions so that they could service an *area* of operations rather than a specific airfield. It is not hard to imagine SU25/37s operating this way; not nearly as effective as if they were working from a purpose built base, but some airpower is better than none.


    15. The alternative to dispersing is, of course, concentrating. A single/few bases with heavy, robust defenses, hardened hangars, ?underground reinforced hangars?, underground storage facilities, ie. a typical Chinese base! Such robust defenses would include ballistic missile defense Aegis cruisers placed out along the threat axis and layers of naval and air ASW assets.

      Dispersion or concentration? Which is preferred? I don't know. Someone with detailed (classified) weapon performance data would have to game that out.

      Is it possible to conduct a sufficiently effective defense to make concentration a viable option? My feeling is no, but I don't really know. For example, a couple of Aegis cruisers and several Patriot batteries would, in theory, provide a pretty stout ballistic and cruise missile defense especially when combined with extensive base hardening.

      Any thoughts?

  3. The actual concept:

    These are not a meant to be a "base." They're FARPs.

    A simple spray-on ablative coating is probably all that's needed to protect the deck due to its relatively infrequent use.

  4. The F-35 is almost twice as big as the AV-8B, so twice as much heat and downwash. This is why they test with little fuel and payload. Even if the deck can take the heat, V-22 testing showed it heated the space below, forcing sailors to flee as room temps reached 100 degrees F.

  5. Looks like USMC really believes they can operate F35s from islands in the middle of the Pacific, just curious, where are these islands and why is China going to be there? Fiji? Truk? Palau? Some small island off Philippines?

    I'm just trying to see where these secret islands are....because I don't see why or how we are going to operate close to Russia with FARPS that won't get hit within a few hours, Iran?, we have carriers and plenty military bases that surround Iran, North Korea? if we go to war we probably will have at least South Korea and Japan to operate out of,carriers, plus GUAM, we only have China to fight left....I could see how having F35Bs that can operate out of military bases taken out by China strikes could be a good valid reason but out of tiny islands that nobody knows about? Not really buying it....

    1. This is one of my pet peeves. Too many people insist on talking about things in isolation or in theory and ignore the reality. For example, everyone talks about the theoretical capabilities of frigates but no one addresses the specifics of how the U.S. Navy would use them. If they did, they'd quickly realize, as I do, that the Navy doesn't need frigates - at least not the mini-Burke frigates that so many people want.

      The same applies to these secret bases. People want to talk about the theoretical capabilities rather than recognize the fact that there are few or no locations where these would be useful even if we could do it.

      I'm glad you get it!

  6. Sorry, unrelated topic but didn't know where to put it: not that we didn't know this thanks to CNO site but it is still pretty shocking when it is discussed out in the "open" like this.....

    1. I've got a post coming on this. As you say, nothing you haven't heard me talk about. Plus, if this is what they're admitting to publicly, you know that there's much worse that they're not talking about.

      So far, everything I've stated has come to pass. Now consider all the things I've said that maybe you (the generic you, not you personally) haven't believed or agreed with and ask yourself if maybe I'm not right about those, too.

  7. I believe this whole idea stems from the Japan and U.S. forces trying to disperse. I believe they wished to do this in order to complicate the enemies targeting plan.
    I think it is a simple statement to suggest that any good plan can be taken too far.

    1. The whole idea of dispersing is interesting. We focus on dispersing aircraft while ignoring the weak link which is things like fuel. If an enemy hits our fuel storage, dispersing aircraft won't matter because they won't have any fuel to fly. If we're going to disperse, we need to disperse fuel storage, munitions storage, maintenance techs, computerized mission planning, and dozens of other flight-critical items. The inefficiency in this becomes staggering.

      What do you think?

  8. Joke jet. Built for "just because". Just like V-22.... A national "pig in the poke" for an unrecognizable USMC, apparently on steroids.
    But they have Mattis, et all in positions of power, eh?


    1. Do you think there's a role for a VSTOL aircraft or could a conventional fixed wing (F-35A/C) perform the mission? Factor into your answer the fact that our carrier air wings are close to half the size they once were so there would be plenty of room for additional fixed wing aircraft which would, in turn, free up space on the amphibs for more helos. The downside to that is that the carrier might or might not be readily at hand during an amphibious assault.

      So, what do you think? Is VSTOL needed?

    2. You decide

    3. My answer is no. The Harrier was one of the most ineffective attack platforms fielded and the F-35 is more of the same. The loss rate readiness of Harrier is/was atrocious, both in war and peacetime why would F-35 be different? Too complicated for what it can deliver.
      The USMC is better served with more/better attack helicopters. Remember the scope of what they can actually handle and what their limited role entails. For shore based expeditionary ops the SuperHornet EFG would be more than adequate for their needs.
      Otherwise its jack of all and master of no mission(s) for the Corps...
      I have no idea what that video shows but the reality is the USMC has a PR machine stronger than logic. Think back to the movie business back in the 90's we had the terminator rescuing his wife on the Keys bridge with a Harrier defying physics and the same with the Bruce Willis movie in 2006 before the first F-35B was flown where a postulated Marine F-35B tried to kill him in a semi on the beltway... Like I said USMC PR and Hollywood.
      More than ever we need to buy what works and can be depended on... A USMC on developmental steroids hurts the USA...IMO. However they have Mattis and Kelly in the right positions... Who can say No to the USMC or SPECOPs (now a combatant commander) in todays procurement situation? No one.

  9. The key point is there are over a hundred civilian airfields in East Asia that our military can and will use during wartime. They all have the needed runways! What the Marines need to prepare and train for is to instantly "militarize" these locations. This means a security force, AAA systems, runway repair equipment, bomb and missile loading equipment, ideally all ready on pre-po ships, along with bombs and missiles.

    1. I confess, you've got me. Where are these hundred plus airfields that the U.S. will have access to?

    2. I think, he meant that in a certain scenario where for example the US has to aid militarily an ally (or number of allies)

      They can use all the airstrips in that country.
      Witch makes total scene, use all available airstrips (civilian,military, improvised) on the mainland (or main island if were talking nations like Taiwan, Philippines e.t.c) .

      For example, my country has the same area in square miles as the US state of Virginia, however during the cold war we had ten main air force bases and around thirty other airstrips and airfields witch are able to support military aircraft. Very difficult do disrupt such a network ( without tactical nukes that is ).
      East Germany for example had a even more redundant network than this .

    3. "we had ten main air force bases and around thirty other airstrips and airfields"

      I'm fascinated by the logistics behind this. Okay, you could take 100 aircraft and land them across your 40 airstrips/bases to disperse them. Now, when you want to operate them how do you get fuel, munitions, mission planning computers, diagnostic computers, technicians, tools, and spare parts to 40 different airstrips/bases? Don't try to tell me you have enough of all of those things to fully stock 40 airstrips/bases? And, if you don't, then how do you fly the aircraft? Or, do some of the aircraft just have to sit on the ground waiting for those things to show up?

      I'm truly baffled by the logistics behind this. Explain it to me.

    4. Using Dispersed Operating Bases and Airstrips was a standard tactic on both sides in Europe.

      They had the best network in East Germany.

      The Czech had also a pretty good network

    5. "Or, do some of the aircraft just have to sit on the ground waiting for those things to show up?"
      All locations were pre planned meaning they were primary sites witch will be used if ones airfield is destroyed and secondary sites.

      About Logistics at that time, almost all of the equipment needed to operate jet fighters from non military airstrips ( COMM and NAV ) was mobile, also keep in mind - the planing process of this effort was tremendous on both sides so fuel and weapons transport to different locations would be possible, but then again were talking Europe in the 80ties.

    6. "I'm truly baffled by the logistics behind this. Explain it to me."

      Well, imagine a population of 8 million, with a peacetime armed forces of around 100.000 witch mobilize to 300.000 during wartime, and a air force of around 350 aircraft of all types on a territory the size of Virginia, the logistics are not that hard.

    7. Did you read the link you provided about NATO dispersed bases? Did you note how many there were? Did you note the size of the bases (runway size)? Did you note that they were not actually used? Did you note that each required full capabilities?

      This confirms to me that dispersed bases are a very challenging proposition and not really conducive to effective air operations. This also confirms to me that the belief that we can use small, private airstrips is ridiculous.

      This also makes me believe that the concept of 40 dispersed bases is just silly.

    8. Yes, of course i read it, but the idea of NATO vs WarPact dispersed basing was different, you read the link below and see how much there were in East Germany.

      A network of alternate/reserve airfields and airstrips does not have to be operational 100% all the time for all the sites.

      Hmm, this concept was used during the hight of the cold war on both sides when a high tech shooting war was expected by the two most powerful military blocks created in history, so planers on both sides must have tough something of the idea.

      Point being, its viable in a land/air scenario not in air sea battle.

    9. "Hmm, this concept was used during the hight of the cold war on both sides when a high tech shooting war was expected by the two most powerful military blocks created in history, so planers on both sides must have tough something of the idea."

      There's nothing wrong with the idea of alternate bases. What we're talking about, and what I'm criticizing, is the concept of little hidden bases "carved out" of enemy territory. I'm also criticizing the idea of using ad hoc airstrips such as highways. Don't conflate the two concepts because they're totally different.

  10. Landing is one thing, supplying them with fuel is another. The internal fuel load of an F-35B is about 6.5 tons. A squadron of 10 aircraft would need 650 tons to conduct a 100 sorties, something they could do in a week.

    How do the Marines plan to supply fuel to these bases?

  11. I'm no fan of the F35 and especially the -B version, I guess there is a spot for it in US arsenal BUT I think the whole dispersal/VTOL is very overrated as a SUSTAINABLE capability.

    It might work when you have a lot of time to pre-plan and have all the gear ready to move in a disused or damaged airport that USMC or SF just assaulted and took over so you have to operate for a few days, maybe a few weeks TOPS in "austere" condition BUT you rapidly have to have a real runway and airport structure to have long term military operations.

    Reading memoirs from Harrier pilots that practiced dispersing, it was fun and stuff BUT they realized that it was a very difficult exercise with limited military usefulness. The idea that you can just hop around or keep dispersing in PEACETIME wasn't very realistic with a Harrier, it's even less so with an F35B...just imagine the degree of difficulty when the bad guys decide they want to share their "opinion" on our operations....


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