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F-35 pilot shares insight on US military’s top fighter jet: Weapons and Warfare

Jan 31

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In this Weapons and Warfare episode, step into the F-35 Lightning as host Ryan Robertson sits down with Tony “Brick” Wilson, a retired Naval aviator and current Lockheed Martin test pilot. Wilson shares the inside story on the U.S. military’s frontline fighter and his candid thoughts on “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Also in this episode:

  • The Navy is turning to the Army for added protection when at sea.
  • The Air Force’s latest long-range bomber takes its second flight.
  • An Estonian defense contractor is promising to build unmanned military vehicles in Ukraine. Here’s why the deal is still pending.
  • The Humvee is now giving way to the Oshkosh L-ATV, our weapon of the week, as the military looks to replace the iconic Gulf War-era vehicle.

You can subscribe to the Weapons and Warfare podcast on the platform of your choosing here.

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[Ryan Robertson]

WELCOME BACK TO ANOTHER EDITION OF WEAPONS AND WARFARE. I’M RYAN ROBERTSON. JUST AHEAD ON THIS WEEK’S SHOW, WE GO ONE-ON-ONE WITH AN F-35 TEST PILOT. TAKE AN UP-CLOSE LOOK AT THE MILITARY’S REPLACEMENT FOR THE HUMVEE. AND…. BUT FIRST, SOME HEADLINES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED.

THIS SPRING, LOCKHEED-MARTIN WILL DETERMINE IF THE MODERN GENERATION OF PATRIOT MISSILES CAN BE USED AT SEA BY THE U.S. NAVY.

LONG A STAPLE OF AMERICAN GROUND-BASED AIR DEFENSE, THE POWERS THAT BE WANT TO SEE IF THE PATRIOT CAN BE INCORPORATED INTO THE NAVY’S AEGIS COMBAT SYSTEM. THAT SYSTEM WAS ORIGINALLY DESIGNED TO WORK AS A SORT OF IRON DOME AT SEA TO PROTECT AMERICA’S AIRCRAFT CARRIERS. SINCE THEN, IT’S GROWN IN SCOPE AND CAPABILITY, AND NOW THE NAVY WANTS TO KNOW IF IT CAN HANDLE ADDING THE PATRIOT TO THE MIX.

IN A RECENT INTERVIEW WITH DEFENSE NEWS, TOM COPEMAN OF LOCKHEED–MARTIN SAID THE TEST WILL USE GROUND-LAUNCHED MISSILES RATHER THAN ONES AT SEA, BUT THEY WILL BE INTEGRATED WITH THE AEGIS COMBAT SYSTEM. IF THOSE TESTS ARE SUCCESSFUL, LOCKHEED MARTIN WOULD LOOK TO THE NAVY OR THE D-O-D TO FUND ADDITIONAL TESTING FROM SHIPS AT SEA.

FOR JUST THE SECOND TIME, THE AIR FORCE HAS PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGED THAT THEIR NEXT-GENERATION STEALTH BOMBER HAS TAKEN FLIGHT. IN JANUARY, A SPOKESPERSON CONFIRMED THE FLIGHT OF THE B-21 RAIDER AT EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE IN CALIFORNIA.

UNVEILED TO THE PUBLIC IN DECEMBER OF 2022, THEN AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF, AND NOW CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS, GENERAL C-Q BROWN JR., SAID THE TESTING PHASE, WITH FEWER ACTUAL FLIGHTS, WILL BE DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF ANY AIRCRAFT IN MILITARY HISTORY.

[Gen CQ Brown Jr. | Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]
“Because we have all this digital information, and the work we’ve done, the test points we would do in a traditional program, we don’t need to do because we don’t need to do as many, and it’s a cultural shift as well, because our test community, they like testing.”

[Ryan Robertson]

THE NORTHROP GRUMMAN PROJECT IS EXPECTED TO EVENTUALLY REPLACE THE B-1 AND B-2 BOMBERS.

MEANWHILE IN UKRAINE, THE BUSINESS OF WAR ROLLS ON. MILREM ROBOTICS, OUT OF ESTONIA, ANNOUNCED AT THE INTERNATIONAL DEFENSE INDUSTRIES FORUM IN KYIV LAST MONTH THAT THEY ARE LOOKING INTO STARTING A PRODUCTION LINE OF THEIR THeMIS UNMANNED PLATFORM IN UKRAINE. SPECIFICALLY, THE COMBAT, ENGINEERING, AND CASUALTY EVACUATION CONFIGURATIONS. UKRAINE HAS ALREADY TAKEN DELIVERY OF AT LEAST 15 SUCH VEHICLES.

BUT IT’S FAR FROM A DONE DEAL. MILREM IS OWNED BY AN EMIRATEE DEFENSE CONGLOMERATE, AND FINAL APPROVAL WOULD LIKELY COME FROM ABU DHABI. A STICKING POINT COULD BE THE U.A.E.’S PUBLICLY HELD NEUTRAL STANCE ON RUSSIA’S INVASION.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

IF YOU WERE ONE OF THE MILLIONS THAT ENJOYED THE TOM CRUISE BLOCKBUSTER ‘TOP GUN: MAVERICK’, THEN YOU NO DOUBT REMEMBER HOW MUCH OF THE MOVIE WAS SPENT TALKING ABOUT TAKING ON FIFTH-GENERATION FIGHTERS. SO IT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU TO LEARN THAT THE UNITED STATES HAS TWO FIFTH-GEN FIGHTERS. THE NEWEST OF WHICH IS THE F-35 LIGHTNING. BUILT BY LOCKHEED MARTIN, AND FLOWN BY THE AIR FORCE, NAVY, AND MARINES, IT’S EXPECTED TO BE THE U.S. MILITARY’S FRONT-LINE FIGHTER FOR THE NEXT QUARTER CENTURY. I RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH F-35 TEST PILOT TONY “BRICK” WILSON TO FIND OUT WHAT MAKES THE LIGHTNING THE BEST FIGHTER JET IN THE WORLD.

SINCE ENTERING SERVICE IN 2015 THE F-35 HAS NOT ONLY ESTABLISHED ITSELF AS PART OF THE U.S.’s FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE, BUT IT’S ADVANCED AVIONICS ARE HELPING PILOTS BECOME BETTER FASTER.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“What used to take, you know, a naval aviators, you know, say eight to 12 years to achieve to become a large force mission commander, you now have the capability to lead a large number of aircraft into a combat scenario with the F-35. And the tools that it provides the pilot pilots are attaining that level in two to four years now.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ONE BIG ADVANTAGE F-35 PILOTS NOW HAVE IS TECHNOLOGY THAT PAINTS A MUCH CLEARER PICTURE OF THE BATTLEFIELD. MEANING DOGFIGHTS ARE ESSENTIALLY A THING OF THE PAST.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“With a single F 35. And the capability that it brings to the pilot, you can identify almost anything that’s out there, and if I know what I’m going up against, then I can solve any tactical problem, right? Because I’m able to exploit on the weaknesses of whatever I’m going against, as well as capitalize on my strengths.”
If I have the capability to find, fix and track an aircraft to include what its identification is, then I can pick the best tactic to solve that tactical challenge, long before this threat ever knows that I’m even there.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

”And by solve that tactical challenge, that’s a nice way of saying take out the bad guy?”

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“Exactly… Exactly.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

FOR THE MODERN FIGHTER PILOT THE JET ISN’T THE ONLY TECHNOLOGICAL LEAP MAKING LIFE IN THE COCKPIT A LITTLE EASIER.

“The helmet, we talked a little bit about it, you know, you have the six cameras. But the idea of like a glass plane, you know, like, I just look around, and I can see anything and everything. I want to like that when you were training to become a pilot, you know, all those years ago? Was this considered like? Would that would that be magic to you?

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]
if you’d asked me or told me when I first started flying about this helmet, I’m like, this is something out of Star Wars. This is not, I’m never gonna see it in my lifetime. And now it’s here, right? And we’re only getting better with our helmet technology. So, you know, the capability I see today, I can only imagine and get excited about what’s in the future with this helmet.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

We’re running out of time. So I’m going to skip to my last couple of questions. What is the most unrealistic thing you’ve ever seen depicted? In Hollywood on TV, whatever, where you’re as a pilot, you’re just going, that’s stupid.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“Maverick Top Gun when they said we couldn’t send in fifth Gen. Right, because of X, Y, or Z. It was completely fake news. Right? The reason? You know Maverick Top Gun didn’t use the F 35. Was it would have made the movie boring, they would have launched off the carrier, they would have picked their way through the threat, they would have put the bomb on the target and come back undetected. Right? And like, come on, really? You know, I understand the reasons why. But But yeah, going back to your previous question about you know, when I first started flying, you know, what was capable what wasn’t as a test pilot, one of my roles is to help engineers make the impossible possible. Right. So I’ve seen what’s where we’ve gone from fourth gen. fighters to fifth Gen fighters and I again, I’m I’m just super excited to see what comes next.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

For those of us of a certain age, it might be hard to believe Operation Desert Storm took place a little more than 33 years ago, 

 

[GEORGE BUSH]

Just two hours ago, Allied Air Forces began an attack on military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. 

 

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

From that conflict, several American icons were born. Among them, General Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf, the F-117 Nighthawk and the legendary High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, otherwise known as the Humvee. How popular was the Humvee? Well, Arnold Schwarzenegger demanded he’d be sold a civilian version. And he was. 

 

Though it still serves our troops today, lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan spurred military leadership to ask for a new workhorse to replace the now 40 year old Humvee. Enter the Oshkosh defense Light Combat Tactical All Terrain Vehicle, or the L-ATV. After years of testing, this beast bounded into active duty in 2019. With a price tag of just $344,000, this four wheeled ferocity is currently used by the United States Army, the Marines and the U.S. Special Operations Command. 

 

There are four different vehicles and all kinds of variants available for users, the general purpose, the heavy gun carrier, the utility and the close combat weapons carrier. On average, each L-ATV weighs 11 tons and is comparatively easier to transport than its cousin, the M-ATV. So, it can be sling loaded under helicopters and fits inside a C-130. 

 

Fully fueled, the L-ATV could go 400 miles and pegs the speedometer at around 70 miles per hour. That combination of range and speed means the L-ATV is a difference maker when it comes to mission capability. But no beast is complete without a thick hide. The L-ATV is Mine Resistant and ambush protective with modular armor. It also likes to go for a dip when the opportunity presents itself. The L-ATV can navigate up to 60 inches of water even with all that armor. 

 

And if all that wasn’t enough to make you a fan, last year Oshkosh defense introduced the eJLTV. That’s right kids, it’s a hybrid that allows operators to charge the lithium ion battery while the diesel engine is in use. That battery that allows users to drive in silent mode. Perfect for those times when you want to sneak up on your enemy in an 11 ton vehicle. Of course, it’s more than just an SUV on steroids that can get your soldiers or Marines where they need to go. It can also be configured to carry a number of weapons, allowing troops to take the fight to the enemy.

 

The L-ATV can be fitted with light, medium and heavy machine guns, as well as automatic grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, and honestly, I would not be surprised at all to see some containerized drone launchers on it at some point in the near future, which makes the vehicle an essential part of any modern battle plan. 

 

By now you might be asking yourself the same question Arnold Schwarzenegger asked all those years ago. Can I buy one? Well, surprisingly, the answer is yes. If you want one and can live with the fact it doesn’t come with armored plating or machine guns, you can have one. The civilian version is cheaper as well, all it will set you back is a cool quarter of a million dollars.