The Perfect Storm

Airman Magazine // April 05, 2016

On a secluded road, a truck kicked up dust as it neared a village. The vehicle rounded a bend and pulled clear of the houses just as a bomb impacted a yard or two away from its front fender, throwing dirt high into the air.

In a war zone, the bomb would have blown the vehicle to pieces, killing its occupants. But this village, constructed of shipping containers and populated with dummies, was located at Saylor Creek Range, part of the Mountain Home Air Force Base Complex in Idaho. The vehicle was remotely controlled; its only passengers were radio receivers and other equipment. The bomb was an inert practice round that did little more than hit the ground with a thud and kick up some soil.

From a neighboring vantage point, the exercise’s joint tactical air controllers called in for air support, relaying coordinates to nearby aircraft and giving the green light for an aerial strike. The F-35 released ordnance from 16,000 feet above — a hit — which was followed by the ear-splitting blasts from the A-10’s cannon.

Though a generation apart, the two jets integrated together during the F-35’s first simulated deployment. Their joint mission: providing close air support and keeping friendly forces on the ground safe.

The operational test run in February by the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron brought the F-35 one step closer to the projected goal of declaring the airframe’s initial operation capability later this year. While at Mountain Home AFB, six F-35s went through combat testing scenarios that included the mission sets of air interdiction, limited suppression of enemy defenses and basic CAS. To assist with the testing process, the fighter jets flew each scenario alongside F-15E Strike Eagles from the 366th Fighter Wing and A-10s from the 124th Fighter Wing.

Testing scenarios varied, from coordinating ground strikes with JTACs to flying joint missions with the F-15E against opposing aerial forces and surface to air missiles. Maj. Chris White, the 59th Test and Evaluation Squadron F-35 project manager, explained that the training followed a building block approach, with combat scenarios steadily increasing in difficulty throughout the week. As the simulations progressed, pilots and maintainers had to immediately integrate each day’s lesson into future training plans.

Read the entire article from Airman Magazine.