Flying & fighting in the F/A-18 Hornet: interview with a USMC Hornet veteran

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The F/A-18 Hornet ushered in a new generation of ultra agile, ‘glass’ cock-pitted multi-role fighters. We spoke to former US Marine pilot Louis Gundlach about flying and fighting in the F/A-18 Hornet. 

Which aircraft have you flown and with which unit? “I was a Hornet guy my whole career. I flew the F/A-18C (Lot 11) attached to VMFA-232 twice. First tour was from 1995 to 1998 and the second was from 1999 to 2001. I was one the Marine Air Group (MAG) – 11 Weapon and Tactics Instructors for seven months and I flew F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Ds. I moved on to VMFA-323 where I flew F/A-18Cs (Lot-15) from 2001 to 2003. I finished up my career at VMFAT-101 (F/A-18 training squadron) and I flew F/A-18As, Bs, Cs, and Ds.”

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How do you feel about the aesthetics of the Hornet? “I grew up by El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California. The Marine Corps received their first F/A-18s in 1983. My Dad was a retired Marine so we would go on El Toro quite a bit, many times because I would bug him to take me so I could look at the jets. To a 14-year-old, the F/A-18 looked like a spaceship compared to the F-4s, A-6s, and A-4s that were also based there. The Hornet was sleek and new and did not have all the blisters and bumps that the older jets had. Obviously, I have been biased about the Hornet for a long time and I still am. It is still a cool looking jet.”

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What were your first impressions of the F/A-18? “I wrote about my first impression as a kid above. My first ride in a Hornet was cool. While waiting to go to flight school I was able to spend three months at El Toro attached to VMFAT-101. I got three rides in the Hornet while I was there, and it was amazing. The first ride was in a new F/A-18D. Getting in the jet, the cockpit still had a little bit of that new jet smell (like a ‘new car smell’ but in a jet!). The cockpit was overwhelming with the two DDIs (Digital Display Indicators) and the MPCD (Multi-Purpose Color Display). Taxing out I felt very high off the ground and like I was sitting out on the end of a stick. The takeoff was amazing, especially to someone who had only flown a Cessna 172 to that point. When you add power to the Hornet and hold the brakes to do a quick pre-takeoff checklist the jet will squat a little bit on the front nose wheel.

sharpshooter.jpgThe noise, the jet shaking just a bit, the other Hornet to our left on the runway was so cool. The takeoff roll started and then after a couple of seconds the pilot selected afterburner and felt like someone kicked that back of my seat. We were airborne quickly and the other Hornet joined up. The flight was a basic formation flight but to me it left a lasting impression. It was perfect California day over the Pacific. At one point in the flight when the instructor had the student doing break up and rendezvous maneuvers, the pilot asked me if I wanted to go Supersonic? I said yes but I remember being a little apprehensive. The pilot selected afterburner for about 10 seconds, the Mach meter went through Mach 1, and that was it. There was no boom, or shaking, or anything, just the number changing. I even got to fly a little bit from the backseat. I wanted to fly Hornets since the first time I saw the airplane, getting a ride in the jet had me sold.

Which three words best describe it?

Fun: The Hornet was fun to fly. I often said that I cannot believe they pay me to do this. Every flight was a blast.
Reliable: It always got me home. A few times single engine, but it was always was reliable.

Accurate: A lot of people focus on air to air, but the Hornet was a fantastic bomber. When I first got to the fleet, we were almost exclusively training to dumb bombs and the Hornet was so accurate. Put the designation or the CCIP (Constantly Computed Impact Point) cross over the target, be smooth during the release, and the jet would do the rest.

What is the best thing about it? “The Hornet was reliable. The systems, for the most part, were almost always working. The Marines working on the aircraft did a tremendous job keeping the Hornets flying and the systems working. Often at austere locations. This is not only a testament to the Marines who worked tirelessly on the jets but the reliability of the Hornet itself.”

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And the worst thing? “The lack of fuel, at least around the carrier. I flew the Hornet for a long time in a land-based squadron. I did not really understand the critique of the legacy (F/A-18 A thru D) Hornet not carrying enough gas. Fuel becomes a lot more critical when the runway is only open for 15 minutes every hour and a half or two hours. When flying missions that ended up at a runway, we would plan for having 2,000 pounds when we landed. We would fly our mission and when we hit bingo fuel (Fuel left was the 2,000 poundsds plus the fuel required to fly back to base) we would fly home and land. Carrier operations are much more complicated. At the ship, we would plan on landing at the max trap weight and depending on what we were carrying that could be 4,500 to 5,000 pds of fuel. Daytime carrier operations we could land with a lower fuel weight, if I remember correctly it was 3,500 pounds, but that 1,500 pounds is still more than 10% of your fuel load with two external tanks. Add to the fact that you had to wait for the ship to start recovery operations, you often would need to cut your mission short to conserve fuel so you would have fuel to hold and then land. For carrier operations the Hornet could have used more fuel.

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One of our jets. Goofy gas with three GBU-31 2000 pound JDAM.

How you rate the F/A-18 in the following categories?
Instantaneous turn

“The Hornet’s instantaneous turn was as good or better than any jet that I flew against.”

Sustained turn

“The Hornet had a good sustained turn, but it was outclassed by jets with better thrust to weight like the F-15C and F-16. This was especially true at higher altitudes or when the Hornet was loaded with drop tanks and pylons. A completely slick Hornet was a dog-fighting machine, but more on that later.”
High alpha

“The Hornet was excellent at high alpha flying. The Hornet was better than any jet I flew against in high alpha manoeuvring flight.”

Acceleration

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A picture of me landing at NAS Atsugi for the Atsugi airshow in 1996. A Japanese photographer gave me this photo the next day.

“Hornet was fair but outclassed by many other jets.”

Climb rate

“Once again the Hornet was OK, but outclassed by F-14Ds, F-15C, F-16. The F-16s out at Buckley ANGB in Denver would do an Immelmann at the end of the Runway on takeoff. They had to hit a certain altitude which I believe was above 11K MSL. I tried to do it in a Hornet once (F/A-18C with a centerline tank and two pylons)… nope, I did not make it. I was wallowing around at 10K ft and 100kts trying to comply with Departure’s new instructions. Good thing the Hornet was forgiving and was good at high alpha flight.”

Dissimilar air combat training (DACT)

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Flying over Mt Fuji on my first deployment.

“My first squadron was an F/A-18C squadron, VMFA-232, that would deploy to Iwakuni Japan for six-month deployments. We did Close Air Support and air-to-air training for over 90% of our training. We did not have to do the endless flights of Field Carrier Landing Practice or all the other months of workups the squadrons attached to a Carrier Air Wing had to. We also did not have to do all the Tactical Airborne Controller – Airborne and Forward Air Controller – Airborne (TAC-A and FAC-A) that the two seat F/A-18Ds had to do. We did a lot of air to air training, both similar and dissimilar. When we deployed to Iwakuni, the lack of air to ground ranges made us schedule even more air to air training. A few of the more senior pilots in the squadron were Desert Storm vets and grew up with the Hornet. They taught us how to fight the Hornet against the other 4th Generation fighters, the F-14s, F-15s, and F-16s.  The game plan against other teen fighters was pretty much the same, we wanted to get our nose on the opposing fighter first to either get the first shot or to cause the opposing fighter to react by matching our turn thus getting into a slow speed fight where the Hornet excelled. Transitioning to a one circle fight, usually at the initial merge or the second merge was the game plan. Some of our older pilots really pushed fighting in the vertical also. As one of the Desert Storm vets put it, “Going over the top in a fight you will quickly find out if your opponent is part of the BFM (Basic Fighter Manoeuvring) club”. There was a lot of learning to go with this advice. How to judge the other fighter’s position, energy, separation, etc. all had to be taken into account. Experience is the best teacher and we got a lot of air to air experience in my first squadron.

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My first squadron VMFA-232 did a photo shoot when I first joined the squadron. No, it is not me. They don’t let new guys do the good deal photo shoot.

The problem with game plan with the Hornet against the other teen fighters is that even though you could beat another 4th Generation Fighter by forcing it to fly where the Hornet had the advantage, manoeuvring around at below 200 kts in a rolling scissors or flat scissors is a terrible place to be in a multi-fighter engagement. A slow fighter is an easy kill for your opponent’s wingman and when you are dogfighting it is difficult to keep situational awareness (SA) of what is going on outside the visual arena. Through experience I found that keeping your speed up, getting a quick kill and leaving an engagement was a much better way to stay alive than getting in a turning engagement in a multi-bogey environment. A dogfight in a multi-fighter engagement will bring all the players to the fight like moths to a flame and if you are the guy fighting a one versus one at 180 knots in the middle of that fight, you are going to quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a missile shot.”

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My HUD (Heads up display) as I land on the USS Constellation

What is the best way to fight an F-14? And the worst? Which aircraft has the advantage?

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“My history of fighting against the Tomcat is broken into two parts. My first year in a fleet squadron flying against F-14As and then later in my career flying against F-14Ds. F-14As and F-14Ds were different airplanes. When I fought against the F-14As, they were really starting to show their age. The F-14A had TF30 engines which were unreliable, smokey and did not provide much thrust. The F-14A also had the AWG-9 radar which the Tomcat aircrew complained about, mostly for being old and unreliable. The F-14D had GE F110 engines which were much more reliable, did not smoke, and gave the Tomcat much better thrust. My first year in a fleet F/A-18 squadron we flew against F-14As based there and then on my first deployment to Iwakuni, Japan we flew against the F-14As based out of Atsugi NAF. The F-14 is a big aircraft and the Hornet’s radar could detect it and keep track of it at a considerable range. The F-14A’s smokey engines made tally’s (Visually picking up the jet) possible outside of 20nm. Having a Tally at range meant you could setup the merge to execute the Hornet’s WVR game plan. Usually this meant merging low to high and pulling aggressively in the vertical in a one circle fight. Usually the vertical maneuver would have an oblique aspect to it so we would be 45 to 60 degrees nose high and aggressively pulling to put our nose back on the adversary. I liked going in the oblique vertical vice the pure vertical because it gave me a chance to counter a jet that might also be coming in the vertical but was out turning your (usually another Hornet in a similar WVR fight). In my first fight against an F-14, which I think was my first fight against an dissimilar 4th Generation fighter (F-14, F-15, F-16) I came over the top and was surprised to see I had weapons separation for a missile shot. A quick Fox 2 (simulated missile shot) from me and a continue call from the Tomcat pilot. The F-14 pulled up to my altitude and we entered a flat scissors. The Hornet outclassed the F-14A (Flat scissors is a High Alpha Fight) and I was quickly above and behind the Tomcat when the F-14A pilot called knock it off (Stop the fight).
The first time I flew against an F-14D was several years later, on a training detachment (or det) to NAS Key West. I was had a lot more experience by this point in my career. I was a recent graduate of Top Gun and had over 1,000 hrs. of F/A-18 time. You could say I was in my prime. We also flew completely slick Hornets. No pylons or drop tanks, just a training AIM-9 and a TACTS (Tactical Air Combat Training System) pod. This was the only time I fought the Hornet with nothing on it. A slick Hornet was a BFM machine. I found it amazing that the removal of the centerline tank and the wing pylons would make such of difference, but it did. The Hornet accelerated much faster and its ability to fight in vertical was even more pronounced. To say the Tomcat, even a newer one with better engines, was at a disadvantage, would be an understatement. I only had one sortie against the F-14 during the det but I remember one of the sets pretty well, it was an abeam setup. On an abeam setup, the two fighters would setup at the 3 or 9 O’clock position of the other fighter. Distance would usually be 1.5 to 2 nautical miles, at a designated altitude, and between 300 to 400 knots. I was the flight lead for this fight, all BFM sorties designate a lead to control the setup, the fight, and ensure safety. The comms would go something like; “Speed and Angels on the right.” (I am at the briefed speed and altitude on the right) “Speed and Angels on the left”. “Check tapes on, turning in” (Check recording device on, turn toward each other), “Tapes on, turning in”. The two fighters would turn toward each other and at the merge (When the fighters pass each other) the fight would be on. On the fight that I remember, at the merge I turned hard across the Tomcat’s tail and then went into a max G oblique turn about 45 degrees nose up. The Tomcat matched my oblique turn and we had a second merge in the vertical inverted. The Tomcat was slightly out in front of me. His wings were fully forward, and he had a lot of vapes (vapors) coming over the wing roots. Being in a slick Hornet I was able to start and second climb, this one pure vertical and the Tomcat turned across my tail and then started a descent in a left hand turn to try and get his speed back. At about 70 degrees nose up I had enough separation and I executed a rudder pirouette to the right, I got the nose on, a lock on, and called two simulated missile shots. I remember the pirouette because it was so crisp. A slick Hornet was an amazing machine. Too bad you would never actually take a slick Hornet into battle.

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I also fought against F-14Ds while on cruise on the USS Constellation. This was totally different. Our Hornets had two tanks and all four pylons. We had one tank on the Centerline and one on the wing. We called it goofy gas. This put some limitations on the Hornet’s maneuvering. The Hornet in this configuration was a bit of a pig but it could still formidable if flown properly. As a more senior guy I fought against the more junior Tomcat pilots and held my own by sticking to the Hornet game plan. I altered the game plan a little bit by not going as high in the vertical so I would not get too slow and so I would have nose authority to pressure the Tomcat. The danger with the F-14D was that if you were not pressuring it, it could accelerate quickly and get airspeed to go into the vertical and get a shot on an opponent that does not have the air speed to match the vertical maneuver. The more senior Tomcat pilots did this to our junior pilots. It would have been interesting to fight some of the “Old Hand” Tomcat pilots, especially in a goofy gas configuration that was not advantageous to the Hornet. The Tomcat CO (Commanding Officer) on that cruise had a reputation of being an excellent BFM pilot and he could make the Tomcat maneuver in ways that most Tomcat pilots could not. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to see him fight the Tomcat firsthand.”

What is the best way to fight an F-16? And the worst?

“Throughout my career I flew against F-16s many times and in my opinion, it was the hardest of the 4th generation fighters to beat. It was small, had a lot of thrust, and a very impressive 9G turn. The F-16 had a turn rate advantage and much better thrust to weight when compared to the F/A-18C. The F/A-18C had a better turn radius and could fly at a higher angle of attack (AOA) than the F-16. The best way to fight an F-16 is in a 1 circle fight, usually in the vertical. Getting the Hornet’s nose on first to try and get an early shot, whether with a missile or the gun. The key would be to get the F-16 reacting to the Hornet, bleeding energy, and getting slow. At slow airspeeds, the F/A-18’s AOA advantage meant I could point my nose easily and get a shot. The worst way to fight against an F-16 would be two circle fight on the Horizon. The F-16s 9G turn and superior thrust to weight would give him a better turn rate and the F-16 would out turn the Hornet. If an F/A-18 tried to match the F-16 turn rate, the Hornet would get bleed energy and its turn rate would continue to be less than the F-16.

Like all fighters, most of the ability of a fighter plane to fight is dependent on the skill of the pilot. The F-16’s performance, much like the Hornet’s, would suffer if it was carrying external stores. A slick Viper (F-16) flown by an experienced pilot was a beast and was always a tough fight. There was a Air Force reserve squadron out of Luke that was full of experienced pilots, all of them had at least a thousand hours in the Viper. They always flew slick Vipers and they were a tough fight for an F/A-18C which always had at least one external tank and two pylons. This reserve squadron also went on that Key West Det. From what I saw and experienced, in a pure visual fight a slick Hornet was better in the visual arena than a slick Viper. I rate the F-16 pilots from that reserve squadron in Luke as the best I ever fought and in the visual arena the Hornet more than held it’s own on that Key West det.”

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A picture from a KC-10 of me tanking over Iraq during OIF.

What is the best way to fight an F-15C Eagle? And the worst?

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I do not think I ever fought a USAF F-15C in a pure 1 v 1 dogfight. We would always fight the F-15C in BVR fights that might end up in a multi-plane visual engagement. In the visual arena, the F-15C’s large size made it easy to keep sight of and keep situational awareness (SA) of all the bandits (bad guys) in a visual fight. I remember, on different engagements, being able to switch from one F-15 to another and get a shot outside my own fight, across the circle because I could keep SA on multiple F-15s.

I can tell you by experience the worst way to fight against an F-15 in to attempt a turning engagement up at 40,000ft. The Eagle, with its big wings and big engines has no problem turning up at 40,000ft, but the F/A-18C, with its little wings and smaller engines has trouble turning up at that altitude. On one fight out of Kadena AFB in Okinawa, Japan, when I was a junior pilot, I merged with a couple of Eagles above 40,000ft. I turned across the outside fighter’s tail and quickly found my turn rate was not very good at that altitude and I was bleeding energy quickly. The F-15s were able to keep a fair rate of turn and I quickly found myself defensive heading downhill.

I did fly many 1 v 1s against Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) F-15Js. The one circle, vertical manoeuvre game plan was very effective against the JASDF pilots. Often, I was able to get a shot on the F-15Js as I came over the top and then I could transition to offensive BFM on the Eagle.”

DACT
“Of the aircraft you have flown DACT with, which was the most challenging?
The F-16. It was small so it was difficult to see. Its 9G turn was eye watering and if you did not keep the pressure on a Viper it would out accelerate you and either out turn you or out climb you. If the F-16 pilot was experienced at dogfighting, it was always going to be a tough fight.”

What was it like fighting RAF Tornados? “I flew against GR1s, the ground attack version. Most of the flights we did were large engagements with many different types of aircraft. The Tornados flew strike missions during that exercise. I got a shot on one visually and it attempted to defend into me. The turn was not that impressive, but these were ground attack Tornados loaded with tanks and bombs. Air to Air was not their mission and the load-out was not conducive to manoeuvring.

D. Which foreign air force impressed you the most? The British and the Australians were just like flying with Americans, just with funny accents. Their professionalism and preparedness were the same as our air forces. I flew two DACT sorties against Singapore Air Force F-16s based out of Luke Air Force base. These sorties could have had a US instructor or exchange pilot in in the formation, but with a limited sample size, I was very impressed. The Singapore’s tactics and aggressive flying were equal to what we would see from the U.S. Air Force F-16s.”

Would you have felt confident going against in Flankers in a real-world situation?

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“Yes, especially 15 to 20 years ago. We had a better missile with the AMRAAM, and the Su-27 was inferior as far as a weapon system, except for maybe the electronic warfare systems at the time. The big reason I would have felt confident was because of training. We felt that our training would have given us the advantage against any potential adversaries at the time. We felt we had much more experience in realistic situations than potential foes. The current Flankers and their weapons from both Russia and China are different aircraft the original versions of the Su-27. They are much more deadly. It still depends on the pilot and his training though. Some famous dead guy once said, ‘The quality of the box matters little. Success depends upon the man who sits in it’.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

How did you feel when deployed to war? “Being a Marine, we have a different mindset. Nobody wants to go to war, but if your buddies are going you want to go with them. It is was we train to do. I also was fairly senior and had to volunteer to extend to go on cruise to the expected combat zone. I had watched Desert Storm as a brand-new Second Lieutenant on TV from school in Quantico, Allied Force as a Captain from another school in Quantico. I did not want to watch another conflict on TV while my friends were over there fighting. I also felt the readiest I would ever be. I had been flying F/A-18s for over eight years. I was a graduate of Top Gun and MAWTS-1 (Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One) Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course. I felt that I would never be as ready to go to combat as I was when I deployed on the USS. Constellation.

What was your most memorable mission and why?

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Finnish Hornet

“Probably the most memorable mission was a strike mission that got re-rolled to a Close Air Support mission on the outskirts of Baghdad. We launched as a section (two aircraft) loaded with three GBU-31s (2000 pd JDAM) each. I actually was the wingman and my lead was a brand new Section lead. This was his first mission as a Section Lead. I do not remember what our original target was but as we flew into Iraq we were switched to Marine Controllers. We were then tasked with supporting the Marines as they pushed into Baghdad from the east. When we switched up to the Forward Air Controller (FAC), he had an urgent target for us. The Marines were taking artillery fire from Iraqi positions along a highway that went into the city. The target coordinates were derived from counter battery radar. We had never practiced Close Air Support using counter battery radar coordinates. Even though I was not the flight lead I questioned the FAC to make sure he knew we had 2000 pd bombs on board. The FAC understood and cleared us in to drop. The weather was crappy that day. Layers of clouds all the way up the 35,000 ft and the bottoms were around 4,000 ft. We flew inbound in and out of the clouds and release all six of our GBU-31s on the coordinates given. I detached and flew down to just below the cloud bottoms. I broke out of the clouds about two seconds before the bombs hit. My FLIR had a good picture of where the bombs hit. When we reviewed the tapes back on the ship, we could make out six different artillery positions next to the highway. The FLIR we used during OIF was pretty antiquated and did not have great resolution, but we could make out a smaller star shaped blobs next a square shaped blobs. (Artillery with trucks next to them.) The GBUs hit right where the artillery was. When we checked out with the FAC, he said the artillery fire had stopped and gave us a “Good Job.” I was there to protect my fellow Marine, that Lance Corporal on the ground. It was good to have that gratification during a mission that you helped your fellow Marines.
11. Does a sailor or airman reserve the right to refuse a mission if he doesn’t agree with a war? Has your own personal morality ever been challenged by a mission?
I am sure you could refuse a mission once. You probably will not get the opportunity to do it again because I figure you will be taken off the flight schedule. My personal morality was never challenged by a mission. My ethos, as with most Marines I knew, were flying so that 19-year-old infantryman could make it home. The more of the enemy we took out and the more of his equipment we destroyed, the more of my brothers would stay alive. I never had an ethos problem during OIF because of this belief.

 Was there a piece of equipment or weapon that you wish the Hornet had during OIF? “I wish I had a better FLIR. Our FLIR was the AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk pod. It was pretty old and it was built to hit buildings and bridges, not vehicles. The F-16s and the AV-8Bs had the Litening Pod. What a great piece of gear that was. I watched an F-16 tape from the Air National Guard guys from Buckley, Colorado. The F-16 pilot was finding a shed , behind a True Value store, in a little town, out in Colorado. From over fifty miles away, you could make out cars, stop lights, people. With the Nite Hawk I could not tell the difference between a tank and a truck even if I was right over it. We (my squadron) had a few missions where the AV-8Bs were finding targets and guiding our bombs to the targets because of their much better FLIR.”

How good were the aircraft’s sensors?
“The Hornets sensors were good but not great. The radar, APG-65, was reliable but it was getting older and it was a mechanical scan radar with limitations. Nothing like an AESA today. The FLIR was reliable but like I talked about above, it was becoming outdated. Our Electronic Warfare suite was adequate for the Iraqi threat, but I would not have wanted to bring it against a more advanced threat. For the conflict, the Hornets sensors were adequate to get the job done.”

Was the range sufficient?
“Our carrier was usually tasked with supporting the U.S. Army in western Iraq. We could make it there but our on-station time was usually pretty short. Near the end of the fight against the Iraqi Army, North of Baghdad, we started carrying three external tanks. Range was good enough, but we could have always used a lot more.”

Which weapons (if any) did you use and were there any surprises in how they worked in actual combat?
“No real surprises for me. I dropped JDAM and Laser Guided Bombs, along with shooting the gun. Our squadron did shoot a couple of SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response) missiles. The SLAM-ER were sophisticated and had a large pilot workload. The SLAM-ERs fired by my squadron worked as advertised and flew right into the target. The last frame of one of the missile’s recording was a close-up image of the tyre belonging to the target.”

Looking back, how do you feel about this time?
“I am proud of my service. As a Marine, my mindset separates me from the politics and the hindsight. If Marines are going to war, as a Marine I need to be there with them. I was highly trained and experienced at the time. If I did not go, someone less experienced would have probably taken my place. I was there to provide the best support to US forces on the ground. If even one of our soldiers, airman, sailors, and Marines made it home because of my actions, it was worth being there.”

How does the Hornet community generally feel about the F-35?

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“The USMC Hornet community has always been supportive of the transition to the F-35. The F-35 is a huge step up in technology and capability, especially for the USMC Hornet community which did not buy the Super Hornet. I have a quite a few friends who have transitioned to the F-35 and there are no major complaints. I have had them talk about the performance and unlike what you hear in the press, it is an impressive airplane. It is not a Raptor, but it is not a dog either. It is the systems onboard the F-35 that makes it a quantum leap above what a legacy Hornet was. The only complaints I have heard is that the F-35 is not optimised for Close Air Support or Recce missions as it could be.”

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A loaded Hornet out at 29 Palms for a Combined Arms Exercise (CAX).

 Is there a difference in tactical thinking in USMC aviation to the Air Force or Navy?
“There is a big difference in USMC aviation compared to the Air Force and the Navy and you probably can see it from my answers above. U.S. Air Force Tactical aviation is the center of their tactical thinking. Navy aviation, especially tactical aviation, has been the primary striking arm for the U.S. Navy with only Tomahawk Land Attack Missile adding to the strike capability during the last 30 years. In the Marine Corps, our mindset is different. It starts with all officers going to The Basic School where we learn how to be a Marine Officer and we learn infantry tactics. After our first tour, most aviators either go back to school, where they learn more about the tactical and operational level of war, from a ground-centric mindset, or we do a tour with ground units as a Forward Air Controller. USMC aviation exists to support the Marine on the ground. As a Hornet pilot, the ground Marines do not see us as much as the AV-8B force who deploys on Marine Expeditionary Unit deployments. Also, the Hornet missions of air-to-air and deep strike are unseen and under-appreciated by the ground units. It took me awhile in my career to realise that I needed to be a bit of a salesman, and explain why having the ability of shooting down enemy planes is important and why destroying enemy reserves or rear units (like artillery) was important to the USMC ground unit.”

What is the biggest myth about the Hornet?
“Around the aircraft carrier the Legacy Hornet could have used more gas, but compared to other land-based fighters, the Hornet had more fuel endurance. When fighting against F-16s, AV-8Bs, and F-5s we would have gas left over when those aircraft were “Bingo” (low enough fuel that they had to head home). This was often after flying farther to the training range and having farther to fly home.”

What should I have asked you?
“I am surprised you did not ask about the Canadian T-33s. I figured that was so far outside the norm that it would have been a question. The Canadian T-33s were still used for training into the 2000s. A detachment of them were down in Yuma, Arizona during the winter of 2001. They were part of some large force exercise we were a part of. On one of the strikes I was on, the T-33s were providing Red Air along with some F-16s and F-5s. The T-33s were simulating MiG-17s, which was pretty rare by that time. My division (four ship) were strikers and we had sweepers in front of us. As we headed down range the sweepers did pretty good work against the other Red Air and there was only one leaker that our Division lead shot with a simulated AMRAAM. We were up above 20,000 ft and as the radar cleared a ridge up a head, it broke out four contacts at low altitude. One was hot, one was cold, one was turning to the right and one was turning to left. (All this is relative to my radar) It was a perfect MiG wheel, an old Vietnamese Air Force tactic. It was very cool to see. The APG-65 radar did not have any problem breaking this out and at closer range a simulated AMRAAM was not an issue. Our Division shot all four with ease. Being a student of aviation history, I knew this tactic played havoc against the F-4’s radar and AIM-7 Sparrow missile during the Vietnam War. Add to the fact with laser guided bombs we did not have to descend to an altitude like the strikers in Vietnam where a MiG-17 would be able to climb and ambush us. This tactic had been passed by technology and time. It was still cool to see though.”

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One comment

  1. Pingback: Tuesday NatSec Roundup - Lawyers, Guns & Money

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