Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs will train alongside their Air Force F-35A counterparts for the first time at Red Flag 17-3, according to DOD press releases.
The three-week exercise, which began July 10, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, will include a variety of attack, fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, search and rescue, aerial refueling, and electronic warfare aircraft as well as ground-based command and control, space, and cyber forces. The exercise concludes July 28.
“It’s … important to practice integrating assets from all across the [armed forces’] inventory because if we go to conflict, we don’t want that to be the first time we all integrate with each other.”
“For Red Flag, we bring in our joint warfighters with their capabilities and their equipment,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Sadler, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. “We come together and fight as a team. And, we get to learn from each other as we do that.”
Seven F-35As and more than 120 personnel from the 33rd Fighter Wing out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, are participating in the exercise, alongside Marine Corps Air Station Miramar-based F-35Bs from VMFA-211. The Wake Island Avengers of VMFA-211 brought 10 F-35Bs to the exercise, along with maintenance and support personnel and equipment. Both of the F-35 variants will be flying alongside Air Force F-22A Raptors of the 95th Fighter Squadron during the exercise.
“This is going to make our instructors better so they can train the next generation of F-35 pilots,” said 33rd Operations Group Commander Col. Ryan Suttlemyre. Suttlemyre is also vice commander of the Red Flag Air Expeditionary Wing.
“Because of our interaction at Red Flag, when we start presenting forces and deploying F-35s, planners will understand how to employ these aircraft, regardless of which command they are a part of.”
The exercise is the first time Air Force F-35As will train with the Marine Corps’ F-35Bs during a combat exercise. The services are working to develop and standardize F-35 tactics and share “best practices” across the fleet of three variants.
“Red Flag 17-3 is designed to be a venue for U.S. forces to integrate on a scale that’s not possible anywhere else – so Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Army assets come from all over the United States and participate in advanced mission sets together,” said Maj. Paul Holst, VMFA-211’s executive officer, in a 3rd Marine Air Wing release. “It’s … important to practice integrating assets from all across the [armed forces’] inventory because if we go to conflict, we don’t want that to be the first time we all integrate with each other.”
More than 50 units and 80 aircraft are participating in the exercise, conducted over the Nevada Test and Training Range with more than 12,000 square miles of airspace, 2.9 million acres of land and nearly 2,000 possible targets. The dedicated opposing force, the U.S. Air Force’s 57th Wing, includes seven aggressor units, including two aggressor squadrons flying F-15 and F-16 adversary aircraft, as well as space, information, and air defense squadrons employing realistic threat systems and tactics.
“The Air Force, Navy and Marines are all flying the same aircraft,” Suttlemyre said. “Because of our interaction at Red Flag, when we start presenting forces and deploying F-35s, planners will understand how to employ these aircraft, regardless of which command they are a part of.”
The exercise will also enable pilots and crewmembers of other aircraft types and other units to refine and develop tactics that take into account the F-35’s capabilities, which promise to enhance and expand the capabilities of existing aircraft.
“We are going to make the rest of the combat air forces better,” Suttlemyre said. “[Y]oung aircrews from other platforms that have never operated beside F-35s will have the chance to learn the aircraft’s capabilities, which will help them to understand how they will integrate with the jet in the future.”
More than 2,500 personnel will participate in Red Flag 17-3.
“We’re not going to go to war alone,” Sadler said. “The more we can do joint exercises like Red Flag – where we get everybody together and learn from each other – the more we can better use each other’s tactics, techniques and procedures to successfully go after whatever the problem set is.”