Reapers, Ospreys and Herks

UNITED STATES

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Sailors assigned to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 53 (VR-53) guide a pallet aboard a C-130T Hercules during a mission providing logistics support for commands conducting maritime security operations in the US 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Chief Mass Communication Specialist Mark Schultz/US Navy

THE US Navy plans to deactivate F-35C-equipped Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101) ‘Grim Reapers’ based at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on July 1, 2019. VFA-101 was the first Navy F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron and is tasked with training instructor and test pilots.

According to the internal Navy directive dated September 10, VFA-101 assets will be realigned into VFA-125, an F-35C Fleet Replacement Squadron based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. The directive said the realignment will co-locate F-35C pilot training with the operational squadrons scheduled for transition to the Lightning II, and meet testing and evaluation requirements for initial operating capability with VFA-147 as the first F-35C unit set to deploy in FY2021. Furthermore, the move of VFA-101 personnel and aircraft will also support Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center advanced training at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

Special projects

The Navy has established a new unit to sustain a special mission capability in its maritime patrol community with the coming retirement of the P-3 Orion aircraft.

A directive issued by the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations established Fleet Support Unit 1 at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida, on September 10. According to the directive, Fleet Support Unit 1 will configure and operate P-8 aircraft to provide a follow-on special mission capability in place of special projects P-3 aircraft that are due to stand down in 2019.

Fleet Support Squadron 1 will provide oversight, training, operations, maintenance and configuration management for the P-8 quick-reaction capability aircraft, and rather than a commanding Officer will have an Officer in charge who will report to Commander, Patrol Reconnaissance Wing 11, at Jacksonville.

The Navy’s sole special projects P-3C unit Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2 (VPU-2) operates specially configured P-3C Orion aircraft from Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. VPU-2 is scheduled for deactivation in FY2019 in concert with phase-out of the P-3C from operational activeduty patrol squadrons.

C-2 retirement moved to 2024

Replacement of the Navy’s C-2A Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft with the CMV-22B Osprey tiltrotor transport has been moved by three years, because of accelerated procurement of the Osprey.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee on September 28, Rear Admiral Scott Conn, Director of Air Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, said: “The initial plan was to sundown [a US Navy term for retirement] the C-2 in 2027. With additional CMV-22Bs we’ve been able to push that to FY2024. The CMV-22 will IOC [reach initial operational capability] in the Navy in 2021. That is mapped to our first F-35 deployment for [F135] engine [transport] considerations. Transition will be complete by FY2024.”

Conn noted that the C-2A is more than 30 years old and is accordingly more difficult to sustain. He said: “We have gone from a 32% mission-capable rate in 2017 to 40% in 2018, so the trend is in the right direction, but it is nowhere near where we want it to be. We’re going to continue to invest [in the C-2] to make sure the aircraft are safe until the end of their service life.”

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An F-35C Lightning II assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 101 (VFA-101) makes an arrested landing on the flight deck of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian Wilbur/US Navy
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A C-2A Greyhound, assigned to Fleet Logistic Support Squadron 40 (VRC-40), lands on the flight deck of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Thomas Gooley/US Navy

Highlighting the operational beneits of the Osprey, Conn said on a hot tropical day fully loaded with 10,000lb (4,535kg) of cargo a CMV-22 will be able to ly in excess of 1,100 nautical miles (2,000km), meeting the Navy’s requirements for combat operations.

The first CMV-22B is being built at Boeing’s plant in Ridley, Pennsylvania, and will be delivered in 2020. Conn said the CMV-22 will enjoy a short test programme because its modiications compared to the MV-22 are slight: “We then IOC and get our first three aircraft to deploy in 2021. There is no means by which I can accelerate that any further when you look at the [facilities’ construction], the training that’s required for our sailors to operate and maintain, and the aircrew that have to ly it and get the hours they need. We’re going as fast as we can go. Any additional aircraft at this point would relieve or provide a shock absorber during the transition as we go from transition to deployment to follow-on detachments until we’re completely divested of our C-2.”

Full up in FY2019

The Navy expects to have all of its C-130 Hercules transport aircraft back lying this iscal year, after grounding many for problems with their propellers.

Testifying before the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee on September 28, Rear Admiral Scott Conn, Director of Air Warfare in the Oice of the Chief of Naval Operations, said: “We’ll have all the aircraft up by FY19 and all the aircraft to the NP2000 [propeller] by FY20.”

The Navy Reserve operates 24 C-130T and KC-130T transports, as well as 15 C-40A Skytrain II airlifters used to transport personnel, cargo, spare parts and mail to ships and stations. The C-130 will become even more important in the future. The C-130T is the only Navy aircraft capable of moving all modules of the F-35’s engine.”

Many Navy and Marine Corps C-130s were grounded as a precaution after a Marine Corps reserve KC-130T crashed in Mississippi in July 2017, with the possibility that a propeller separated from an engine and cut through the fuselage. The crash killed 15 marines and one sailor.

Congress supported the Navy in procuring new propeller blades and new NP2000 propellers for the legacy C-130Ts and KC-130Ts with funding of $121 million.

The Air Force and Navy formed an independent review team at Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex in Georgia to revamp C-130 propeller overhaul requirements, with the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and partner-nation C-130 operators also invested in the process.

The logistics complex began build-up of 54 propellers in March in support of Navy and Marine Corps C-130s. The propellers were assembled using new production blades procured from the original equipment manufacturer, which should have increased delivery from 30 to 48 a month by October.

The Navy is also upgrading the mission systems of its C-130s. Conn said: “For FY2019, the Navy requested $28.5 million for avionics and communications obsolescence upgrades to keep the aircraft compliant with FAA and ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organization] standards to be able to enter air traic management systems throughout the world. These modernisation eforts are critical to maintaining Navy logistics support to our deployed forces.”

The Navy completed procurement of its C-130Ts in 1996 and is now looking at recapitalising its leet beginning with advance procurement and buying three C-130J aircraft in FY2023.

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A US Marine Corps KC-130T prepares to taxi during a Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course at Yuma, Arizona. Lance Cpl. Jodson Graves, 2d MAW Combat Camera/US Marine Corps