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Marines load ordnance onto an F-35B Lightning II during Operational Testing 1 aboard USS Wasp at sea, May 27. Marines and sailors have been working together since May 18 to assess the integration of the F-35B Lightning II, which is currently on track to replace the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Prowler, and the AV-8B Harrier. By the end of the testing period on May 29, U.S. Marine pilots had flown 110 F-35B sorties from USS Wasp, racking up more than 85 flight hours.

Photo by Cpl. Anne K. Henry

Marines conduct night ordnance load on F-35B at sea

2 Jun 2015 | Cpl. Anne Henry The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

Marines with various units worked together to accomplish an ordnance load and unload on the F-35B Lightning II as the first operational test of the aircraft winds down aboard USS Wasp May 27, 2015.

For the past two weeks, Marines and sailors have been working together to assess the integration of the F-35B into amphibious operations.

The ordnance exercise gave the Marines the opportunity to verify data and put their skills to the ultimate test by performing an ordnance load and unload of the F-35B in night conditions aboard an amphibious vessel in standard sea conditions. This was the first time for both the Marines and aircraft.

“The purpose of the mission last night was to load the Guided Bomb Unit 12, Guided Bomb Unit 32, and AIM-120 [Advanced Medium Range AIR-to-AIR Missile],” said Gunnery Sgt. Casey Gort, the ordnance chief with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22. “It was ultimately an opportunity to check the suitability of us actually loading that aircraft at night.”

Over the course of four hours, as USS Wasp pitched and rolled in the darkness, the Marines loaded and unloaded all three types of ordnance into and out of the aircraft, testing both their knowledge and teamwork.

“When you do something at night, there are going to be more inherent dangers,” said Gort. “There are more variables that you have to watch out for simply because it’s dark and you are losing a sense. We wanted to see if we ran into any other problems and safety concerns at night that we didn’t during the day time.”

With so many moving parts in the low-light environment, communication was the key to success, according to Gort.

“Since your sight is limited, you have to be very verbal,” said Gort. “Typically when we do this, we have daylight and use hand and arm signals. At night, you can’t do that. It wasn’t necessarily all that much harder; it was just different.”

In addition to working together to accomplish a task in a night environment aboard an amphibious vessel, the Marines also worked with new gear they had been unfamiliar with prior to the exercise.

“We had some new gear on board that we’d never dealt with before,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew Beard, the ordnance officer for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. “Throughout OT-1, we’ve been trying to integrate with the ship to see if any of this new equipment is different from a legacy mindset.”

Overall, the evolution left the Marines with pride in their accomplishment and increased knowledge on the F-35B and its capabilities, according to Gort.

“Last night, we were making suggestions and giving our input,” said Gort. “We are taking a lot of pride in the fact that the information we provide could shape the future of F-35B ordnance. The payoff with something like that is amazing.”

The data collected from OT-1 will be laying the foundation for the Marine Corps’ F-35B initial operational capability declaration this summer, and future F-35B deployments aboard U.S. Navy amphibious carriers.