Home » Aviation » USS Essex Enters Persian Gulf with Squadron of Marine F-35s


USS Essex Enters Persian Gulf with Squadron of Marine F-35s

Lt. Cmdr. Luis Alvarez, navigator aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) on Oct. 11, 2018. US Navy Photo

Amphibious warship USS Essex (LHD-2) is now in the Persian Gulf, bringing for the first time a squadron of Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters through the Strait of Hormuz.

Essex, its attached Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), the Wake Island Avengers of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 and the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) have been in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations for about a month. The Essex ARG transited the Strait of Hormuz Wednesday, spokespersons from Central Command and 5th Fleet told USNI News.

However, just after Essex entered the Persian Gulf, its complement of F-35 fighters was grounded as part of enterprise-wide joint strike fighter stand-down. A faulty fuel tube inside the aircraft’s engine possibly contributed to the September 28 F-35B crash near Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, according to a statement released Thursday by the F-35 Joint Program Office. The F-35B is the vertical take-off and landing variant flown by the Marine Corps.

Essex, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, is the first U.S. capital ship operating in the Persian Gulf since Wasp-class USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) departed in August.

At the end of August, about two weeks after Iwo Jima left the region, Rear Adm. Ali Reza Tangsiri, the recently installed head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), claimed Iran would now take care of security in the region.

“There is no place for foreign forces, like the U.S. Navy, in the Persian Gulf,” Tangsiri said, according to Tasnim News Agency, a pro-Islamic Republic outlet which has reportedly close ties to the IRGC.

Gunner’s Mate Seaman Lillian Reinhardt stands watch in the combat information center aboard Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) while transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Navy Photo

At the time, Pentagon officials shrugged off Tangsiri’s rhetoric, stating there was no plan to alter ship operations in the region. The Essex ARG did not report any unsafe or unprofessional contacts with Iranian naval forces or unmanned vehicles as of Thursday, a 5th Fleet spokesperson told USNI News.

Before entering the Persian Gulf, Essex took part in a theater-wide exercise practicing mine countermeasures, operating near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. The focus was maintaining safe navigation through the region’s three major shipping choke points – the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and Strait of Bab al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen, according to a 5th Fleet spokesperson.

  • George Hollingsworth

    OK, here is the question: how much payload (fuel and ordinance) can the F-35B take off from the Essex’s deck with? The deck is 843 feet long. Assume a 90 degree F day, a 10 knot surface wind and the Essex is maxed out at its 22 knots of speed. Empty weight of the B is 32,472 pounds, max internal fuel is 13,326 fuel which leaves 14,202 pounds for ordinance to reach its max take-off weight of 60,000 pounds. Can this airplane take off from this ship under these conditions at 60,000 pounds of weight. If not, what is the payload it can carry under these conditions? It is obvious that with a 50,000 pound thrust engine it is not going anywhere vertically weighing 60,000 pounds. Does the short deck really allow it to get airborne with any reasonable payload?

    • delta9991

      There’s images of F-35s aboard USS America doing weapons tests with 4 500lb bombs under the wings. Likely includes 2 1000lb or 500lb bombs in the bays as well as the AMRAAMs. So, confirmed by image is takeoff weapon weight is ~4000-5000 lbs in addition to full fuel. wouldn’t be surprised if they were capable of carrying the gun pod with that as well. 6 bombs and 2 AMRAAM at longer range (without refueling of course) than current fighters is pretty darn good

      • George Hollingsworth

        Thanks for both of your replies, I appreciate them very much. My experience is with the F-4s. I still am somewhat skeptical of how much total fuel and ordinance the B can carry off of a relatively slow, short ‘Jeep’ carrier in hot weather.

        • RunningBear

          It will be more than the Harrier and the EA-6B and should be more than the F/A-18A-D. I don’t doubt this, but I also have not seen the test results of the “Bee” with your required conditions. 13.5Klbs. of fuel and 15Klbs. of ordinance to a 450nm. radius; which will be less than a F-35A/B/C on a full length runway! But,…..I don’t discount a max ordinance load as mission requires and “topping off” the fuel after launch from the LHA/D.
          IMHO
          Fly Navy
          🙂

          • George Hollingsworth

            You seem to be saying there is no difference between the payload an F-35B can carry off a jeep carrier and the payload it can get airborne with off a 11,000 foot runway. The difference between the empty weight (32,472) and the max take-off weight (60,000) is 27,528 pounds. With the utmost respect, I would have to see it to believe it.

          • RunningBear

            The Marine Corps F-35B Short-Take-Off-and-Vertical-Landing Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter took off from a Navy amphibious assault ship for the first time with a full load of weapons — in preparation for its planned deployment in 2018.

            DT-III was also the first time an operational F-35B took off with the latest Block 3F software at sea, and involved the first qualification ofa British Royal Navy F-35B.

            The F-35B Lightning II third developmental test phase (DT-III) aboard amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) reached a new milestone as the program completed weapons load testing Nov. 16.
            Fly Navy
            🙂

          • George Hollingsworth

            You have not answered the question(s). What is the weight of a ‘full load’ of weapons and what fuel load did the aircraft have in question have while taking off with this weapons load?

          • RunningBear

            F-35B/ 32,300# can carry 15,000#+ of ordinance and/or 13,500# of fuel off the LHA/D, as follows;

            – AIM-9X/120
            – GBU-12/32/49
            – JSOW
            – GAU-22 25mm cannon

            caveat: more ordinance, less fuel based on 60,000# [email protected] 450nm.
            radius.
            Note: WWII B-17 Short range missions (<400 mi): 8,000 lb

            Fly Navy
            🙂

          • George Hollingsworth

            I think you need to replace the “and/or” in your post with “or”.

          • RunningBear

            Thanks, George!

            I now am confident that you understand there is only a 500# delta in the ordinance load vs. fuel load on take off from the LHA/D, depending on MTOW for mission requirements. We anticipate that a fully loaded 15K# “Bee” will be able to IFR after take off from the MV-22B VARS.

            Just a little different than the Harriers.

            IMHO
            Fly Navy
            🙂

          • George Hollingsworth

            Well, since the USAF Al Udeid Air base is only 20 miles from the Persian Gulf coast and has about 50 KC-135s parked on the ramp there I doubt if you will need the MV-22B. In fact, the USAF would probably give you some ramp space so you could fly the airplanes outside of the Rube Goldberg mode. If push comes to a shove the Doha airport in Bahrain (site of USN headquarters in the region) has three runways, the shortest of which is 11,000 feet.

        • Sally

          There were a lot of complaints about this going back to the 1990’s, so your concerns are very valid. So, what Lockheed did was a compromise. They changed out the originally designed F119-PW-100 turbofan engine, for the more powerful Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburner turbofan. (Of course, it uses more fuel too). Although the advertised armament specs is greater than the Harrier’s, the F-35B, even with the added thrust, is not loaded to maximum capacity in hot weather. There was another, more powerful, engine being developed for it, (the F136), but that was canceled because of the lack of funding. The problem with the F35B is that the engine it has now, cannot be used for supercruise. That is a major drawback in its fuel efficiency. The F-22, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Russian SU-35 and Mig 31s has this capability.

          • E1 Kabong

            “The problem with the F35B is that the engine it has now, cannot be used for supercruise.”?

            Where was that specified as a requirement for the F-35B?

            Since the F-35B replaces HARRIERS, try comparing it, to that.

            Last I checked, F-22’s, Typhoons, Su-35’s and MiG-31’s can’t do STOL/VTOL….

        • Secundius

          The British Phantom used either the RR Spey 203 or Spey 202/204 Turbofan, which allowed them to operate off of Flight Decks as little as 731-feet in length…

          • George Hollingsworth

            The British F-4K with the Speys was catapulted off the deck as, of course, were the USN F-4s. The F-35B does not have the capability to be catapulted.

          • Secundius

            I’m aware of that! But the J79 Turbojet’s weren’t capable of Operating of of Small Flight Deck like the “Spey” Turbofan’s were…

          • E1 Kabong

            Try comparing the F-35B to the AV-8B Harrier….

      • Spencer Whitson

        I can’t say we can be sure of the fuel load simply because of a lack of visible information.

        One interesting thing to note is the usefulness of a V-22 tanker. It allows for heavier amounts of armament at takeoff and filling up the lightened fuel load immediately afterwards.

        • delta9991

          Absolutely, V-22 Tankers open up a world of possibilities. That being said, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume fuel load during the test period (doubt we’ll get a look at the gas gauge). Should be a simple google of the KPPs for a final answer

          • johnbull

            Good point about the tankers. I’m not a navy vet, just an interested observer, but isn’t it commonplace for fighters to “top off their tanks” after launch anyway?

          • Spencer Whitson

            For a given definition of commonplace, but yes.

          • delta9991

            I would need to defer to Navy vets on that. I’m just a casual observer and follower of major programs like yourself

      • PolicyWonk

        It is doubtful it can carry a full weapons load with full tanks of fuel, because it can’t do that even with a ski-jump.

        I’d like to see the USN build a few more LHA-6 sea-frames, simply because of the aviation-centric nature of the design. These could be used in less volatile parts of the world, reducing the need for CVN’s to be everywhere, despite the lack of CATOBAR if they carry a few more squadrons of F-35B’s. Then use V-22’s, fitted out with the Brits lightweight AEW, or a set of fuel bladders, and you got a pretty effective CVL, that can pack a pretty good punch.

        • delta9991

          I’m not saying it can take off full 60k off a LHA vessel (though if it can’t take off from ski jump fully loaded and can take off LHA-6 with this load…. not much point in a ski jump). Those images aboard America though make very little sense if there is no weaponry in the bay. Think about it, those weapons are fully capable of being carried internally (they’re 500lb bombs). so why would you not load the central bays and eliminate the drag penalty of two of the bombs?

          Completely agree on building more LHA-6 however. Load up 10-12 Bee, 8-10 Osprey, and a small number of choppers and we have a potent quick reaction ship for most hotspots around the world. Great strike aircraft combined with Osprey Marines for quick offensive/defensive ops. Load them up with 20 F-35 for a full up light carrier role. We have serious LCAC capability elsewhere in the fleet (Expeditionary docks with 3 LCAC spots, along with LSD and LPDs) and additional LHA-6 would give both the light carrier Congress wants and more amphibious vessels for the Marines

    • Duane

      The aircraft is designed to do a rolling takeoff at max gross takeoff weight from an LHD.

      Actually, an LHD flight deck is relatively long, not short, for effective use by STOVL aircraft. The overall length of the total flight deck is shorter than a CVN, but only a minority portion of the full CVN deck is actually used for catapult takeoffs. Thus, the main limit for an LHD is that it can only do one launch of a STOVL aircraft at a time, so it cannot support anywhere near the volume of aircraft ops of a CVN.

      • Hugh

        Cross-decking with an RAN LHD with a ski ramp?

        • E1 Kabong

          The USMC is cross-decking with the HMS Queen Elizabeth, so what’s the problem?

    • Sally

      You are very much right about that. This was a major complaint about the F35B that has never gone away, since the mid 1990’s, when they first tested it out at Edwards AFB. The issue for a stealth aircraft is that if it has to use drop tanks, it will compromise is stealth capability meaning there was little point in investing billions of dollars in an aircraft that can offer little improvement on the previous generation. There are only 2 options to get around this: 1. Load the plane lightly with armament, or refuel immediately after take off.

      The other major criticism leveled against the F35B is that it has smaller internal bomb bays than the other two models, mainly because of the vertical thruster fan behind the cockpit. Needless to say, It will be unable to carry internally a 2000 lb bomb such as the Paveway III.

      • E1 Kabong

        So what?

        Compared to the Harrier, it’s a VAST improvement.

        Last I checked, Harriers can’t face S-200’s, S-400’s, etc…

    • E1 Kabong

      More than what an AV-8B can carry.

  • johnbull

    Did a few minutes of internet looking and saw that it designed to be able to takeoff with four 1000 lb JDAMs, internal missiles, and full load of expendable stores in 600.’

  • RunningBear

    Now that the non-event of getting thru Hormuz is behind them, the F-35B can settle down to some interesting flights off Kuwait across Iraq to soak up the S-300/400 emissions while performing their air support for US and allies in the ISIS campaigns.
    This data gathering should be as interesting evolution for the correlation of data crunched into the Mission Data Files from the library database. We wait to hear!
    IMHO
    Fly Navy
    🙂

  • Secundius

    IF “ALL” US F-35’s have been Grounded for Crack’s found in the Engines! How are they expected to Operate in the Persian Gulf…

    • Duane

      It’s a quick inspection and, if necessary, replacement of a single part. Completed within no more than 1-2 days, so probably already accomplished today.

      • Secundius

        They could also paint British Markings on the Plane, and Fly them as British F-35B’s. Considering the British haven’t grounded any of their F-35B’s…

    • Sally

      You got a good point! There is another article on USNI about what the Inspector General from the GAO found. Here is the quote: “in October 2017 GAO found F-35 availability was below service expectations and sustainment plans did not include key requirements. GAO recommended that DOD revise F-35 sustainment plans to include requirements and decision points needed to implement the F-35 sustainment strategy”. In other words, spare parts for the F-35 are lacking, and so once they are taken out of service for maintenance, or any other reason, their effectiveness in the Persian Gulf comes to a stand-still until spar parts arrive. In the meanwhile, they would be more useful as ship ballast if parked below in the Essex hanger deck, during rough seas. As it stands now, barely 1/2 of the F-35 fleet is flight ready, and that is why Sec. of Defense Mattis ordered fighter jet readiness to jump to 80 percent this year.

      • Secundius

        But then again, in Late September 2012 a 3D Metal Printer (Sintering) Unit was placed on the “Essex” to allow for Manufacturing of Space and Replacement Parts. Because of a Steering Issue that Essex had, with no possible means of Repair that didn’t include being Ship Lifted to a Shipyard. I suspect the Sintering Unit can be used to make repairs on the F-35B’s too…

        • Sally

          Yes, that is true, but I am not sure if they have the new Siemens, GE, or EOS GmbH Electro Optical 3D printers loaded on the Essex yet, which can make turbine blades or some of the other critical engine parts. Perhaps we need to investigate what the Essex has onboard now?

          • Secundius

            It was and/or is a uPrint FDM (Fused Deposition Model)! But Model specifically I don’t know…

      • Mu’ammar Abdur-Rashid

        That would be some expensive ballast weight.

    • Mu’ammar Abdur-Rashid

      It could be a bad political statement to prove that the F35 is mission ready; being that Israel’s F35’s have been combat tested. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions and I don’t think we’ll know for sure whats on the USS Essex as far as parts and maintenance.

      • Secundius

        Unfortunately Israel was allow to do their Own Maintenance Work and Software Updates without US Supervision (i.e. “Laissez Fare”)…