The Lightning Strikes At Red Flag 17-1

01 F-35A_13-5072_HL_388th FW 34th FS_1024

USAF F-35As were the highlight and most interesting participant of the Red Flag 17-1 exercise, which took place from 23 January to 10 February 2017. The F-35As came from the 34th FS of the 388th FW of the Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which is the first active F-35A unit of the USAF. On September 2nd , 2015, the 34th FS got its first F-35A and on August 2nd, 2016 the USAF declared the unit “combat ready”.

After some training and preparations at its home base, and additional work at Mountain Home Air Force Base, the unit deployed with 13 aircraft to Nellis Air Force Base to participate in Red Flag. Further participants there included F-22As, EA-18Gs and assets from the Royal Air Force, including Typhoons, a Sentinel and one of their new RC-135s. From Australia came an E-7. These two guest nations are the next to introduce the F-35 into their Air Forces, and the RAF was especially interested in finding out how the Lightning works in a challenging environment, and how it can work together with their Typhoons.

During the media panel in the second week of the exercise, some information was released. The F-35s coordinated with EA-18G Growlers, F-15Cs, F-16s, F-22s, B-1 bombers, British Typhoons and Australian airborne early warning and control E-7A Wedgetails. Overall, the Joint Strike Fighter communicated with more than 60 aircraft including various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. With the inclusion of the Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) and Link 16, the F-35 was able to share one threat picture across 70 aircraft, Lt Col Dave DeAngelis, commander of the 419th Operations Group said. Where threats used to be communicated via radio on legacy aircraft, MADL saves time by communicating with the F-35’s wing-man, he said. He said the F-35s achieved a 15 to 1 kill ratio recorded during this Nellis exercise. He emphasized that the 414th Combat Training Squadron, which was responsible for the exercise, did its best to challenge the participants. He also mentioned that he had participated in past exercises with the F-16, but this time was faced with threats and challenges which were much more sophisticated.

The USAF also leveraged some Blue forces to fly on the Red side to increase threat numbers, Lt Col John Wagemann, director of operations for 414th Combat Training Squadron said. At its peak, more than 20 Red aircraft flew against Blue forces. Still, there was room for further improvement and challenges, and they still were not at the end of the line.

Not only in the air did the Lightning perform well, but also on the ground. He said that up to the second week, not a single sortie had to be aborted due to maintenance issues. It increased his pride and satisfaction with his aircraft. The same sentiments came from the member of the RAF who were impressed by the performance of their future brother-in-arms aircraft.

More than 80 aircraft participated in this exercise; two missions were flown each day, one during daylight and one during the night. In a training area of 12,000 square miles, there are roughly 1900 possible goals. The 414th CTS is the organizer of this exercise, and once again has done the best work. With this big Flag, many new things were tried, and new challenges in the electronic arena were introduced to get the best out of the participants.

The following units took part on this Red Flag 17-1
-57th W/64th AGRS Nellis AFB/Nevada F-16C
-1st FW/94th FS Langley AFB/Virginia F-22A
-20th FW/77th FS Shaw AFB/North Carolina F-16C
-388th FW/34th FS Hill AFB/Utah F-35A
-28th BW/34th BS/37th BS Ellsworth AFB/South Dakota B-1B
-51st W/38th RS Offutt AFB/Nebraska RC-135W
-461st ACW/ 128th ACCS Robins AFB/Georgia E-8C
-125th FW/159th FS Jacksonville IAP/Florida F-15C
-115th FW/176th FS Dane Country Airport/Wisconsin F-16C
-6th ARW/927th ARW McDill AFB/Florida KC-135R
-22nd ARW/931st ARG McConnel AFB/Kansas KC-135R
-92nd ARW/141st ARW Fairchild AFB/ Washington KC-135R
-VAQ-132 Whidbey Island/Washington EA-18G
-VAQ-134 Whidbey Island/Washington EA-18G
-VAQ-138 Whidbey Island/Washington EA-18G
-6th Sqn RAF Lossiemouth/UK Typhoons FGR4
-10th/101st Sqn Brize Norton/UK Voyager KC3
-24th/30th/47thsq RAF Brize Norton/UK C-130J
-5th Sqn RAF Waddington/UK Raytheon Sentinel R1
-2nd Sqn RAAF Boeing 737-7ES AEW&C

We would like to thank the members of the Nellis PAO, especially MSgt Smith and SrA Joshua Kleinholz for their great support and the participants at the media panel for their time and patience.

Peter Boschert

Peter is a photographer covering events in the United States and in Europe. He likes to cover Nellis AFB, NAS Fallon and RAF Lakenheath.

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