Future Battlespace Emerges as F-35 Variants, F-22 Train Together
The semi-annual Air Force exercise Red Flag marked a historic milestone in July when three different variations of U.S. fifth-generation fighter aircraft trained together, offering insights into what aerial warfare may look like in the not-so-distant future.
Held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, the exercise featured for the first time both the Air Force and Marine Corps variants of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with F-35Bs from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 an dF-35As from the Air Force’s 58th Fighter Squadron converging to train with aircraft from more than 50 units across the Defense Department, including the Air Force’s other 5th-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor.
In a media panel July 26, two days before the 18-day exercise wrapped up, squadron commanders and exercise planners described how the aircraft fell into roles that highlighted their operational strengths, simulating the way they would be used together in a real fight.
While officials have reported that previous Red Flag exercises demonstrated the F-35’s dominance in air-to-air kills — F-35As wrapped up an exercise at the beginning of this year with a 20:1 kill ratio — this Red Flag iteration kept the two squadrons of Joint Strike Fighters focused on other missions, including air interdiction, dynamic targeting, and suppression of enemy air defenses.
“What we found with the F-35 is, it is a very flexible platform and we were able to do a lot of different mission sets, although our primary mission is the air-to-ground focus,” said Lt. Col. John Snyder, commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron. “We can do the air-to-air escort role, but the F-22 specifically is designed to dominate in that arena. So when we have F-22s here, that’s how we’re going to try to employ them.”
Snyder said the aircraft had nonetheless done a few escort missions, though he couldn’t speak to kill ratios or other metrics of success on those missions.