OGDEN — Hill Air Force Base launched roughly 2 ½ squadrons worth of F-35s Monday afternoon, an exercise officials there called a show of military power for United States allies and potential adversaries alike.
Hill’s 388th and 419th Fighter Wings conducted the combat power exercise shortly after noon, launching 35 F-35A Lightning IIs over about an 11-minute period. The jets headed west for the Utah Test and Training Range and conducted various missions among them, including an in-air refueling operation.
Col. Michael Ebner, 388th FW vice commander, said Monday’s operation was the most Lightning IIs simultaneously launched in the history of the Air Force’s F-35A program. Ebner said in addition to sharpening certain combat flying skills, the effort was also intended to demonstrate the wings’ ability to conduct a large-scale combat deployment at a moments notice.
As the Air Force’s only combat mission ready F-35A units, the 388th and 419th FWs must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support the national defense mission at any time.
“We stand at the ready 24/7, 365 days a year,” Ebner said.
Ebner, who called the fifth-generation fighter aircraft a “global deterrent” against conflict, said the exercise was not only intended to show the American public what its military can do, but also to serve as an advisory for potential enemies.
“We are ready to fight tonight, and exercising with multiple squadrons of F-35s can demonstrate our ability to defeat potential adversaries wherever they may arise,” said Maj. Caleb Guthmann, 34th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations and exercise project officer.
Hill spokesman Micah Garbarino said the two wings fly between 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flight line. During the exercise crews launched roughly the same number of sorties, but with aircraft taking off in 20- to 40-second intervals.
Ebner said launching aircraft from multiple squadrons at the same time presented several challenges and allows the wings to evaluate the capabilities of pilots, maintainers and command and control teams.
The colonel said pilots had been maintaining regular flying schedules up to the exercise and would resume regular flying patterns immediately after the exercise concluded on Monday.
“We didn’t break any glass to make this happen today,” he said.
Hill was selected as the Air Force’s preferred home for the F-35 in December 2013 after a four-year environmental review process.
Since the initial delivery of two jets in in late 2015, the base has been accepting one to two aircraft each month. Once the full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs is complete, which is expected sometime in 2019, the planes will be divided among three fighter squadrons.
Ebner said Hill currently has 47 F-35s. Hill’s Ogden Air Logistics Complex also performs maintenance on all Air Force F-35s.