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Avalon 2017: USMC aviation ramps up As-Pac capability

01st March 2017 - 9:16 by Gordon Arthur in Melbourne

Avalon 2017: USMC aviation ramps up As-Pac capability

The aviation wing of the US Marine Corps (USMC) has been enjoying unprecedented modernisation in the Asia-Pacific region, with the recent deployment of Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II fighters and AH-1Z Viper helicopters in Japan.

Addressing media at the Avalon Air Show near Melbourne, Lt Gen John 'Dog' Davis, the USMC's deputy commandant for aviation, highlighted the USMC's capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Vipers from Helicopter Attack Squadron 267 (HMLA-267) deployed to Okinawa, Japan late last year to swap out older AH-1W SuperCobras as part of a regular six-month rotation.

'We're very happy with it,' the general said of the Viper. 'It's much better, a much more capable four-bladed rotor system with better avionics and better killer capability…'

He praised the sensors on the nose of the Viper and the UH-1Y Venom, as well as their ability to fire the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) 70mm guided rocket.

'For a long time with our Yankee it was an unguided rocket that had a really smart sensor and a dumb weapon. Now I've got a smart weapon matched with a smart sensor.'

Referring to the Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey, he described it as 'an incredibly capable airplane', allowing the USMC to 'collapses speed and distance'. He said it was tailor-made for the vast distances encountered in the Pacific region thanks to such features as an aerial refuelling capability.

'We can't build them fast enough, we can't train the people to maintain them fast enough and meet the demand from commanders for V-22s,' he noted. The effort in Nepal after the April 2015 earthquake illustrated how the tiltrotor was suitable for both war-fighting and humanitarian assistance missions.

Turning to fighters, next year the F-35B will embark aboard a ship with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit as part of a task force for the first time. The USMC has not yet decided whether six or eight fighters will be a typical embarked complement.

There are currently ten F-35B fighters stationed in Iwakuni, Japan with another six due in October to complete Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121's (VMFA-121) full complement.

'We've got a real winner on our hands,' he enthused. He praised the much maligned aircraft's capabilities, noting it scored a kill ratio of 24-0 in a recent exercise.

'It's very high quality, maybe the best high-quality fighter we have available to us in respect of being a killing machine. It's a fighter, it's an attack airplane, an exceptional attack airplane, [and] it's also an electronic warfare airplane,' he exulted.

Davis stated that the USMC could turn around an F-35 in 12 minutes when refuelling and rearming it. He claimed the problematic Autonomous Logistics Information System (ALIS) was also being sorted out.

Block 2 of the ALQ-213 Intrepid Tiger electronic pod, usually carried on the AV-8 and Hornet, will be rolled out to other USMC aircraft such as the AH-1Z and V-22 to give a more distributed electronic warfare capacity for the USMC.

It is notable that the USMC is stationing its best equipment in the Western Pacific, especially as tensions hot up in the East China and South China seas. China has been growing more assertive in its territorial claims, and the USMC provides the US military's regional frontline capability.

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