Red Flag May Affect Whether F-35s Deploy Overseas This Year

Defense News // February 14, 2017

As Air Force leaders ponder whether to send F-35As overseas this year in what would be the jet’s first-ever operational deployment, officials could point to this year’s Red Flag exercise as a case study of how it can enhance both training and combat.

Red Flag 17-1 wrapped up Friday after three weeks of high-intensity air-to-air training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Although the final results are not in yet, F-35 operators and service officials said the jet’s performance actually got better in the last week of the exercise.

During a Friday interview, Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, who heads the Air Force’s F-35 integration office, called Red Flag a “milestone event” that will help operational F-35A squadrons at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, determine whether they are ready for a “theater security package” — a deployment of six to eight aircraft and a small maintenance group to support training and exercises with partner nations.

Late last year, then-Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James hinted that F-35As would deploy to Europe this summer. But ultimately it will be up to combatant and major command heads to request that the joint strike fighter deploy to their area of responsibility.

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