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F-35A Lightning II Exercises in Europe

 

 

F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are training across Europe during their first overseas deployment, according to Air Force press releases.

Eight F-35As and more than 200 airmen from the wings deployed to Europe April 15.After arriving at RAF Lakenheath, the F-35As began flying approximately 10 sorties a day, training with F-15Cs and F-15Es from the 48th Fighter Wing, as well as the Royal Air Force and other NATO allies, and demonstrating the capabilities of the Lightning II.

“The sensor fusion capability of the F-35A gives [our F-15s] unprecedented situational awareness, which is invaluable when you’re fighting against a high-end threat,” said F-15C pilot Lt. Col. Scott Taylor, who is also the 493rd Fighter Squadron director of operations. “The key is it allows us to make quicker, more accurate decisions on targets.”

“For me, it’s my first time dogfighting against an F-15,” said Maj. Luke Harris, a 34th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. “Dogfighting is a test of pilot skill, but it’s also constrained by the aircraft’s capabilities and I’ve been really impressed by the flight control and maneuverability of the F-35.”

“We fight best when we fight together. We’ve had a lot of synergy in our training. When we come back and talk after missions, we can have that face-to-face interaction and review our tactics. That’s just going to improve the way we fight with the F-35A and has made this an outstanding deployment,” Taylor said.

f-35a estonia

A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, flies alongside a 100th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight to Estonia on April 25, 2017. The F-35s were participating in their first-ever flying training deployment to Europe. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Christine Groening

The training scenarios included air to ground and air to air missions, and showed how the F-35A’s sensor and stealth capabilities can be a force multiplier for fourth-generation aircraft.

“We’ve been flying basic fighter maneuvers and air combat maneuvers, as well as air to ground missions,” said 34th Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. George Watkins, an F-35 pilot. “We fight air to air to get to simulated ground targets and once we take them out, we fight air-to-air to get back to our designated ‘safe’ zone.”

“All the guys we’ve flown with have said that having the F-35 in the fight has been an eye-opening experience and they’re glad that these capabilities are on their side,” Harris said.

“The stealth of the aircraft allows us to go where other aircraft cannot and our sensors and communication allow us to identify targets and allow fourth generation aircraft to dominate the airspace,” Watkins said.

Along with flying mixed-type missions with everyone on the same side, the squadrons have also been squaring up against each other air to air. F-15Cs are well known for being an air-dominance platform, and the F-35A pilots are enjoying the unique opportunity to fly against other airmen in a foreign country in an airspace they’ve never before flown in with the F-35A.

“For me, it’s my first time dogfighting against an F-15,” said Maj. Luke Harris, a 34th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. “Dogfighting is a test of pilot skill, but it’s also constrained by the aircraft’s capabilities and I’ve been really impressed by the flight control and maneuverability of the F-35.”

Harris said the F-35A’s stealth capability makes dogfights less likely, however, allowing F-35A pilots to engage air targets before enemies have time to react defensively.

f-35a refueling

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft assigned to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is refueled by a 459th Air Refueling Wing KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, April 28, 2017. Eight F-35s deployed to RAF Lakenheath, England on April 15 and two forward deployed to Bulgaria, which allowed the F-35s to engage in familiarization training in the European theater while reassuring allies and partners of U.S. dedication to the enduring peace and stability of the region. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton

“All the guys we’ve flown with have said that having the F-35 in the fight has been an eye-opening experience and they’re glad that these capabilities are on their side,” Harris said.

A detachment of F-35As also arrived at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, April 25, 2017, to train with Estonian personnel in a planned deployment.

“The introduction of the newest fighter to Europe, with its state of the art systems, will help the alliance maintain the fundamental sovereign rights of all nations,” said Margus Tsahkna, Estonian minister of defense, during a ceremony at Ämari Air Base.

This deployment maximizes training opportunities with allies and partners and while the Air Force stresses it was a planned deployment and exercise series, it also serves as a visible demonstration of the United States’ resolve to support NATO.

“In addition, hosting such advanced aircraft is certainly a big recognition to Ämari Air Base and to the Estonian air force as a whole, who have made your stay here possible. You’re always welcome here. Enjoy your stay in Estonia and in our skies,” added Tsahkna.

two f-35as

Two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II arrive at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, April 28, 2017, marking the first time the NATO country has hosted the 5th generation fighter aircraft. The F-35s are assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron and are supported by total force Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing, and the Air Force Reserve’s 466th Fighter Squadron, 419th Fighter Wing, Hill Air Force Base, Utah. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane

“The United States and Bulgaria have a strong and enduring relationship,” said Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, the Third Air Force commander, during a press event after the arrival. “We routinely train through joint and combined initiatives like Operation Atlantic Resolve and in flying exercises like Thracian Eagle, Thracian Summer and Thracian Star. Our commitment to Bulgaria is but an example of our unwavering support to all allied nations.”

“I have to say that for us, this makes us very proud,” said Maj. Gen. Tsanko Stoykov, the Bulgarian Air Force commander. “Our efforts have been appreciated and we are trusted as a reliable ally and it immensely contributes to the development of the bilateral relations between our two counties and our two air forces.”

“We are grateful to our Bulgarian friends for their support in making today possible,” Clark said. “Your cooperation helps prepare the F-35 for its invaluable contribution to our alliance. We look forward to many more years of our shared commitment and partnership.”

Taken altogether, the deployment helps to integrate with NATO’s existing infrastructure and current aircraft, and to enhance interoperability between legacy and fifth-generation aircraft. The training provides real-world maintenance and operational scenarios as well as demonstrating the aircraft’s capabilities to European allies. In addition, it helps refine requirements for stationing and operating the F-35A at RAF Lakenheath in order to enhance Europe’s ability to host the future capabilities of the Air Force and coalition team, according to the Air Force.