Hill AFB at Red Flag

F-35 Lightning II pilots with the 388th Fighter Wing's 421st Fighter Squadron return after flying a sortie during Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2020.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Young F-35 fighter pilots from Hill Air Force Base deployed to the southern Nevada desert to lead the Air Force’s premier combat training exercise.

Base spokesman Micah Garbarino said airmen from Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing, along with reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing, are wrapping up training in the Air Force’s “Red Flag” exercise.

Garbarino said Red Flag was created 40 years ago to give young pilots a realistic combat experience before flying against a real enemy threat.

The Hill group is also performing the “core wing” function at the exercise, which means they serve as the hub for integration, support and resources for the entire deployed force. Groups participating in the exercise include air and ground units from across the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force, Garbarino said.

The realistic combat training, which takes place at Nellis air Force Base’s Nevada Test and training Range includes attack, fighter and bomber aircraft that perform missions like air attacks on enemy targets, combat search and rescue, close air support and others. In short, the exercise is meant to replicate a battle against near-equal enemies during a large-scale conflict.

The Hill group will be at Nellis through Feb. 15.

“Red Flag gives us — especially our young pilots and maintainers, many of whom have never been down range — the opportunity to experience a joint, deployed environment,” Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander, said in a press release. “We don’t simply learn how to execute the mission, we also get to know each other better, how we work, and succeed together.”

The 388th Fighter Wing isn’t the only unit at the exercise with F-35s. The British Royal Air Force 617 Squadron brought F-35Bs to Red Flag, Garbarino said.

During the exercise, a friendly “blue force” fights against an enemy “red force.” The enemy force showcases combinations of the most advanced weapons systems and threats known to the Department of Defense.

“Our aggressors here are very good, they know the capabilities and shortcomings of the good guys and they work to exploit those,” said Col. William Reese, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. “We want them to fail here, so they learn and do better in the future, which may be in real-world combat.”

As the Air Force’s first combat-ready F-35 fleet, Hill received its two jets in in late 2015, and accepted one to two aircraft each month since until its full fleet of 78 Lightning IIs was complete late last year.

The wing’s three squadrons — the 4th, 34th and 421st — each have 24 F-35As, with another six back-up aircraft stored at the base.

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