HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Hill Air Force Base launched more than four dozen F-35s Monday morning — an effort base officials say had been planned for months, but one that nonetheless showed the world the military power of the United States Air Force.
Hill’s 388th and 419th Fighter Wings conducted the combat power exercise at about 11 a.m. Monday, launching 52 F-35A Lightning IIs over what was about a 10-minute period. The jets headed west for the Utah Test and Training Range to perform various missions, then a short time later, flew back to the base.
Col. Michael Ebner, 388th FW vice commander, said Monday’s exercise had been planned as a “culminating event” after the two fighter wings received their full complement of fighter jets.
In December, Hill received an F-35 from defense contractor Lockheed Martin — a jet that marked the final F-35 delivery at Hill and brings the total number of aircraft on base to 78. The first two operational F-35s arrived at Hill in September 2015. Since then, the base has received approximately one to two jets every month. 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.
Ebner said while Monday’s effort was intended to demonstrate the wings’ ability to conduct a large-scale combat deployment at a moments notice, it was not in direct response to the United States’ escalating situation with Iran.
“That’s completely coincidental,” Ebner said.
Coincidental or not, Ebner said Monday’s demonstration sends a message not only to potential adversaries, but allies and U.S. military brass as well.
“What you saw today was our ability to take off (52) aircraft ... it’s no small feat,” he said.
As the Air Force’s only combat capable F-35A units, the 388th and 419th fighter wings must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support the national defense mission at a moment’s notice, said 388th FW spokesman Micah Garbarino. Last year, the wings began regularly supporting combat operations with the F-35A with multiple deployments.
From April to October 2019, the 4th Fighter Squadron deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and conducted combat operations in support of the Central Command mission in the region. In October, the 34th Fighter Squadron departed on the wing’s second combat deployment.
“We are at full strength and our airmen are ready to continue to deploy this aircraft wherever we’re needed to meet any adversary,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th FW commander.
Currently, the wings fly between 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flight line.