Photo Information

US Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 load a Guided Bomb Unit 49 onto an F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter in the Western Pacific Ocean on September 12th, 2021. The GBU-49 is a laser and GPS-guided bomb effective across various conditions and against many types of moving or stationary target. VMFA-211, deployed aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth as part of the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21, became the first fleet squadron to employ the GBU-49 in a training exercise.

Photo by 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner

The Wake Island Avengers Validate GBU 49

21 Sep 2021 | 1st Lt. Zachary Bodner 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

 Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 loaded, armed, and employed a Guided Bomb Unit 49 at a range within the Joint Region Marianas on September 12, 2021. VMFA-211 launched from the Royal Navy's HMS Queen Elizabeth, part of the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group 21.

The Wake Island Avengers validated the modern Laser Guided Bomb. US Marine Corps aviation has employed the GBU-49 before during training exercises and courses such as Weapons Tactics Instructor Course at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.

"The Marines of VMFA-211 continue to impress me with their capability and ability to transition rapidly with operational requirements as well as capitalize on training opportunities,” said LtCol Andrew D’Ambrogi, the commanding officer of VMFA-211. “The ability to reconfigure the aircraft with external pylons, load both internal and external stores to include a GBU-49 high explosive bomb, and then launch from the HMS QNLZ off the ramp and employ rapidly just over a 100NM away is no simple feat, but the Marines make it look easy.”

The GBU-49 is a laser and GPS-guided bomb effective across various conditions and against many types of moving or stationary targets. The enhanced computer-controlled guidance the GBU-49 increases the accuracy with which pilots can engage targets and the effectiveness with which they can reduce the capability of an enemy's threat.

In addition to the employment of a GBU-49, the mission was a professional first and accomplishment for both US Marine Corps Captain Andrew Sanchez from Centreville, Virginia, and US Marine Corps Marine Corporal Jacob Houston from Morris, Illinois. Sanchez was the F-35B pilot who flew and dropped the ordnance, while Gibson served as the load team leader, responsible for the safe and successful armament evolution.

“It takes a great amount of effort to build ordnance, load it on to an aircraft, and prepare that jet to launch from a flight deck.”  US Marine Corps Captain Andrew Sanchez from Centreville, Va.

“Performing the final step in that process was personally and professionally rewarding,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez dropped the ordnance at Farallon Day Medinilla range, near Guam Naval Base, where HMS Queen Elizabeth is preparing to conduct a port call. Joint Region Marianas is a strategically vital part of U.S. efforts to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific due to its unique geographic proximity to Asia and its unparalleled value as a critical regional supply hub and training location for the U.S. and allied forces. Preparing for the evolution under a starlit pacific sky, Houston and his team of Marines began the evolution as the sun rose behind them.

”Being a team leader means taking control of the evolution, from start to finish. Knowing the publications, safely executing the load, and preparing the aircraft to employ the ordnance,” said Gibson. “Loading the GBU-49 was slightly more complex because we have less experience loading externals, so I planned, assigned tasks, and relied on my training during the execution.”
When asked how it felt having his first-team leader experience also being the first employment of the GBU-49, Gibbons replied with a smile, “I am an Ordnancemen. Loading bombs is what makes me happy.”

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 and USS The Sullivans are humbled and proud to continue the special relationship with the United Kingdom through the deployment of Carrier Strike Group 21. Their interoperability with the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and additional international allies will preserve our collective military advantage and reinforce rules-based international order. The United States and United Kingdom’s forward-deployed forces remain ready to respond to crises globally as a combined maritime force – we stand together.