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The Marine Corps Has Just Integrated the F-35B into its own “TOPGUN” Program

U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Colin J. Newbold, front, and Maj. Mark A. Noble, F-35B Lightning II pilots taxi on a runway in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-16 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jorge A. Dimmer MAWTS-1 COMCAM/Released)

Held twice a year at Marine Corps Air Station Yume, the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI) is one of the most demanding high-caliber schools available to Marine aviators, akin to what the Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (aka TOPGUN) is to the Navy, or Weapons School is to the Air Force. Given the Marine Corps’ unique mission, along with its diverse array of resources spread out over land, amphibious and aerial spectrums, WTI gives its students an unmatched seven-week curriculum, developing strike/attack, air support and battlespace coordination skills beyond what they’ve learned during their training pipelines. As with the similar Navy and Air Force courses, graduates of WTI are expected to pass on what they’ve learned to their fellow pilots upon returning to their respective squadrons. Only the top 10% of USMC pilots are given the opportunity to attend WTI, making it an extremely sought-after school in the military aviation community. WTI is also open to pilots from other branches of the military, or from foreign armed forces with strong ties to the United States; once again the high minimum standard for acceptance applies. And now, for the first time ever, the newest weapon in the Marine Corps’ arsenal, the F-35B Lightning II, has been integrated into the WTI program, only a few months after reaching initial operating capability.

Superseding the AV-8B Harrier jumpjet, the F-35B offers the USMC and its pilots a slew of brand-spanking-new features that have never before been used together within the context of fighter aviation. The F-35B, which has been very well received by USMC pilots, will be used as an integral component of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, in addition to providing support for allied nations when the situation calls for it. As they did with their Harriers, the Marine Corps expects to operate their F-35Bs from amphibious assault ships, extending the reach of its air support/strike capabilities beyond the limitations of having to stage and deploy fighters from land bases. Majors Colin J. Newbold and Mark A. Noble were among the first F-35B pilots to have their aircraft fully into the course which is hosted and overseen by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1).

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) inspect an F-35B Lightning II aircraft in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-16 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 1, 2015. Newbold's flight was historic in nature since it marked the first WTI class to fully integrate F-35s into the course. WTI 1-16 is a seven week training event hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One (MAWTS-1) cadre which emphasizes operation integration of the six functions of Marine Corps aviation in support of a Marine Air Ground Task Force. MAWTS-1 provides standardized advanced tactical training and certification of unit instructor qualifications to support Marine Aviation Training and Readiness and assists in developing and employing aviation weapons and tactics. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jorge A. Dimmer MAWTS-1 COMCAM/Released)

U.S. Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 (VMFA-121) inspect an F-35B Lightning II aircraft in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course (WTI) 1-16 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Oct. 1, 2015. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jorge A. Dimmer MAWTS-1 COMCAM/Released)

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About Ian D'Costa (260 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been featured and referenced in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at idcosta@tacairnet.com.

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