Marines Shifting To Composite Hornet Squadrons Made Up Of F/A-18Ds And F/A-18Cs

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Single-seat F/A-18C Hornets have began showing in Marine all-weather strike fighter squadrons, designated VMFA(AW)s, which have historically been outfitted with two-seat F/A-18Ds. It hasn’t been made clear precisely what’s going on with what is really an odd sight for navy aviation aficionados to see—single-seat Hornets flying with the designations and motifs of famed two-seat VMFA(AW) squadrons. The Struggle Zone was simply as curious as anybody concerning the peculiar association, though we had a good suggestion of how and why it got here to be. However nonetheless, the transfer, if everlasting, is a serious one for the USMC and its 4 VMFA(AW) squadrons, so we reached out to the Corps to get the underside line on simply how in depth and long-lasting the brand new squadron construction could also be. The knowledge we acquired from our inquiry describes a much more widespread metamorphosis that’s occurring throughout your complete Marine Corps’ Hornet enterprise. 

Earlier than we get to that, we have to make it clear that the two-seat Hornets in VMFA(AW) models are not trainers, they’re absolutely missionized with their rear cockpits outfitted with interfaces and tactical shows for devoted Weapon Programs Officers (WSOs) to make use of. Traditionally talking, these distinctive squadrons, that are solely land-based, have taken on extra advanced missions, together with the Ahead Air Management (Airborne) function, in addition to the tactical reconnaissance mission. The latter of which includes utilizing the small variety of specifically modified F/A-18Ds—a dozen in complete, three serving in every VMFA(AW) squadron—outfitted with the Superior Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance System (ATARS) of their noses. 

Cpl Terry Haynes
An ATARS outfitted F/A-18D. 

The Marines’ 4 VMFA(AW) models can nonetheless carry out extra conventional Hornet strike fighter missions, as properly, and all climate deep strike is clearly additionally part of their repertoire. Now, because the Navy divests a lot of its Legacy Hornet stock, the USMC is getting an inflow of very badly wanted more energizing F/A-18C airframes. It is a great point for the Corps, but it surely must be considerably bittersweet for the VMFA(AW) squadrons who will now not stay by the long-standing two crew idea of operations that dates again half a century to early Marine A-6 Intruder operations.

But the adjustments because of this shuffling of belongings aren’t so simple as swapping out drained single-seat Hornets for much less worn single-seat Hornets, and even porting over a single-seat Hornet to a VMFA(AW) squadron quickly as a result of fleet administration necessities, which has sometimes occurred with non-deployed models previously. Here’s what Captain Christopher Harrison, a Communications Technique Officer for the Marine Corps Communications Directorate, shared with us concerning the adjustments to the plane inventories of VMFA(AW) squadrons: 

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“Because the F/A-18 nears the top of its service life, the variety of F/A-18Ds obtainable in its stock will begin to equal the variety of F/A-18Cs. Generally known as F/A-18 composite squadrons, Marine Plane Group (MAG) commanders started inserting F/A-18Cs in VMFA(AW) squadrons whereas on the identical time introducing F/A-18Ds into VMFA squadrons. A mixture of F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Ds supplies the MAG with elevated flexibility in resourcing squadrons whereas concurrently spreading the more adept mission abilities related to two-seat cockpits, resembling an airborne ahead air controller (FAC(A)), to extra squadrons.

The F/A-18 neighborhood is comparable in readiness to the AV-8B neighborhood, and the materiel situation of the F/A-18D fleet is almost the identical because the F/A-18C fleet.  Nevertheless, because the Marine Corps progresses by way of the subsequent decade, it’ll have a bigger pool of low-flight-hour F/A-18Cs from the Navy because the F/A-18D reaches the top of its service life sooner.

The Marine Corps just isn’t prioritizing F-35B/C substitute of the F/A-18D (or F/A-18C) over the AV-8B.  In accordance with the 2019 Marine Corps Aviation Plan, we’re changing each F/A-18 and AV-8B squadrons concurrently, alternating backwards and forwards between platforms over the subsequent decade till the final AV-8B squadron transitions in Fiscal Yr (FY) 2027 and the final F/A-18 squadron transitions in FY 2030.  In any case, the F/A-18 will stay the first TacAir bridging platform to the F-35B/C all through this transition.”

Lance Cpl. Clare J. McIntire
VMFA(AW)-225 “Vikings” F/A-18D. 

There’s some huge information in that assertion. First off, the very thought of VMFA(AW) squadrons appears to be heading towards its demise inside USMC as single-seat VMFA squadrons are additionally getting some F/A-18Ds redistributed to them because the fleet is consolidated. As well as, Captain Harrison provides additional proof to the notion that there is no such thing as a prioritization for changing both the Harrier or the Hornet first with new F-35s. It had been reported that the USMC would give attention to changing its getting older Hornets earlier than its AV-8B Harriers because the Harrier fleet had higher longevity and readiness, to not point out the handfuls of surplus Royal Air Pressure Harriers that the USMC purchased for a laughably low sum largely as a spare components bin. The Navy’s transfer to purchase extra Tremendous Hornets and divest the vast majority of its Legacy Hornet fleet has both upended this initiative or it has never been the plan to switch one sort over the opposite, at the very least not in the previous few years.

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The one factor we do not know is the place this leaves the USMC’s tactical jet Weapons Programs Officers which were an enormous a part of the VMFA(AW) neighborhood for many years. Will the Marines wind down that place completely, placing pilots in each seats of F/A-18Ds as they get dispersed all through the Marine Hornet neighborhood, or will they proceed discipline WSOs, with every squadron with D fashions getting a lot of them available?

A1C Joshua P. Strang, USAF
VMFA(AW)-224 ‘Bengals’ F/A-18Ds depart in formation.

We’ll attain out once more to the USMC to try to clear this up, however regardless, it appears abundantly clear now that Marine Hornet squadrons are going to look more and more various with single and two-seat fashions on-hand as time goes on. And we’ve to emphasize that the Legacy Hornet has a few years of service forward of it with the USMC, with present plans placing its out of service date round 2030. 98 of those plane are being deeply upgraded with new Lively Electronically Scanned Array radars, together with different modifications, which is able to present an enormous leap in capabilities. It stays unclear if any of the F/A-18D fleet will probably be a part of this improve, however having two crew obtainable to work the brand new radar set—which may function in a number of modes, resembling air-to-air and air-to-ground, on the identical time—is an enormous benefit. 

So, despite the fact that it might be unhappy to see the distinctive identification of VMFA(AW) squadrons fade, the Marines’ plan to squeeze essentially the most out of the final of the Pentagon’s front-line Hornets is fairly thrilling.

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Contact the creator: Tyler@thedrive.com

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