F-35A Stealth Brings Flexibility to Battlespace
Stealth isn’t new in the Air Force; but, stealth combined with the multirole capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be a game changer in the Nevada desert.
Units from across the Air Force have converged here for Red Flag 17-1, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise, which pits a friendly force against an aggressor force in scenarios designed to give pilots true-to-life experiences before heading into actual combat.
Military strategists have long noted that while the United States has invested heavily in combat aircraft technology, potential adversaries have pushed their capital toward advanced surface-to-air missiles in integrated air defense systems. Planners say any realistic large-force exercise must test the Air Force’s ability to survive and suppress these sophisticated systems.
That is what the Airmen of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, bring to the fight with the combat-capable F-35A.
“During this Red Flag we’re training against the highest level threats we know exist,” said Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “Just as we’re getting new systems and technology, the adversary’s threats are becoming more sophisticated and capable.”
Fourth-generation aircraft, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Thunderbolt II and others, cannot operate in an environment where they are targeted by advanced anti-air systems with sophisticated radar and infrared capabilities.
Red Flag planners are tasking the F-35A with taking out these threats and the aircraft’s stealth capability is proving pilots can survive and operate effectively where others cannot.
“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot. “It’s pretty cool to come back from a mission where we flew right over threats knowing they could never see us.”