Footages of Marines from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, MCAS Yuma, Arizona, during Exercise Red Flag 16-3.
The F-35B is the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the aircraft. Similar in size to the A variant, the B sacrifices about a third of the A variant’s fuel volume to accommodate the vertical flight system. Vertical takeoffs and landings are riskier because of threats such as foreign object damage. Whereas the F-35A is stressed to 9 g, the F-35B’s stress goal is 7 g. As of 2014, the F-35B is limited to 4.5 g and 400 knots. The next software upgrade includes weapons, and allows 5.5 g and Mach 1.2, with a final target of 7 g and Mach 1.6. The first test flight of the F-35B was conducted on 11 June 2008. Another milestone, the first successful ski-jump launch was carried out by BAE test pilot Peter Wilson on 24 June 2015
Unlike other variants, the F-35B has no landing hook. The “STOVL/HOOK” control instead engages conversion between normal and vertical flight. Jet thrust is sent directly downwards during vertical flight; the nozzle is being redesigned to spread the output across an oval rather than circular shape in order to limit damage to asphalt and ship decks. The variant’s three-bearing swivel nozzle that directs the full thrust of the engine is moved by a “fueldraulic” actuator using pressurized fuel.
The United States Marine Corps plans to purchase 340 F-35Bs, to replace current inventories of both the F/A-18 Hornet (A, B, C and D-models), and the AV-8B Harrier II, in the fighter and attack roles. The Marines plan to use the F-35B from “unimproved surfaces at austere bases” but with “special, high-temperature concrete designed to handle the heat.”The USMC declared initial operational capability with about 50 F-35s running interim block 2B software on 31 July 2015. The USAF had considered replacing the A-10 with the F-35B, but will not do so because of the F-35B’s inability to generate enough sorties.
The U.S Marine Corps plans to disperse its F-35Bs among forward deployed bases to enhance survivability while remaining close to a battlespace, similar to RAF Harrier deployment late in the Cold War which relied on the use of off-base locations that offered short runways, shelter, and concealment. Known as distributed STOVL operations (DSO), Marine F-35Bs would sustain operations from temporary bases in allied territory within the range of hostile ballistic and cruise missiles, but be moved between temporary locations inside the enemy’s 24- to 48-hour targeting cycle. This strategy accounts for the F-35B’s short range, the shortest of the three variants, with mobile forward arming and refueling points (M-Farps) accommodating KC-130 and MV-22 Osprey aircraft to rearm and refuel the jets, as well as littoral areas for sea links of mobile distribution sites on land. M-Farps could be based on small airfields, multi-lane roads, or damaged main bases, while F-35Bs would return to U.S. Navy ships, rear-area U.S. Air Force bases, or friendly carriers for scheduled maintenance; metal planking would be needed to protect unprepared roads from the F-35B’s engine exhaust, which would be moved between sites by helicopters, and the Marines are studying lighter and more heat-resistant products.