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Hill airmen embark to join simulated war exercise for combat training in F-35A Lightning IIs

By Deborah Wilber - | Jan 24, 2022

Photo supplied, Staff Sgt. Cory Payne/U.S. Air Force

A formation of F-35 Lightning IIs from the 388th and 419th fighter wings stationed at Hill Air Force Base perform aerial maneuvers during a combat power exercise over the Utah Test and Training Range on Nov. 19, 2018. The exercise aims to confirm their ability to quickly employ a large force of jets against air and ground targets, and demonstrate the readiness and lethality of the F-35A. As the first combat-ready F-35 unit in the Air Force, the 388th and 419th FW are ready to deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Twelve F-35A Lightning II fighter jets along with approximately 200 airmen have deployed to participate in Red Flag, the Air Force’s premier combat exercise.

Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing is acting as the lead wing in the exercise, which takes places several times throughout the year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. Among the participating units from Hill are the 421st Fighter Squadron, 421st Fighter Generation Squadron and reservists with the 419th Fighter Wing.

Airmen will train alongside other personal from the Air Force, Department of Defense and allied-nation units for the next three weeks in a simulated deployed environment as a Joint Expeditionary Wing.

As the lead wing, the 388th Fighter Wing will be the hub for integration, support and resources for the deployed force while the 421st Fighter Squadron will be maintaining and flying the F-35A in daily combat scenarios.

Red Flag was created in 1975 to help the Air Force train as it fights following a devastating lack of combat experience during the Vietnam War. The Air Warfare Center through the 414th Training Squadron manages the simulated combat training where pilots can train their first 10 combat missions in a realistic and controlled environment.

“Since our first Red Flag with the F-35A in 2017, we have come a very long way,” Col. Craig Andrle, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a news release. “Both the jet and our tactics have improved.”

After 18 months of combat deployments and multiple high-end exercises, Andrle said the units are more experienced at deployed maintenance and sustainment.

According to organizers, Red Flag was initially a drill designed to help pilots survive. It has since transformed into a multidomain, simulated war with air, space, cyber and intelligence components. It was designed to align with the National Defense Strategy and better prepare for modern adversaries with the F-35A being a key component.

“It’s truly a fifth-generation platform,” Andrle said of the jet’s stealth and sensor suite that sees and makes sense of everything going on in the fight. “With that situational awareness, we are able to make other legacy aircraft more lethal and survivable.”

Lt. Col. Stephen Redmond, 421st Fighter Squadron commander, said the planning, preparation and work put in by the Red Flag organizers, Nellis and the 388th is for the benefit of all wingmen, especially younger pilots and maintainers in need of combat experience.


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