The exercise offered an opportunity of interaction and integration between F-35A, F-35B and F-22.

Red Flag fifth generation fighter jets
An F-22 Raptor is parked on the flightline at Nellis AFB during Red Flag 17-3

The Red Flag 17-3 was the largest integration to date of 5th generation fighters with the participation of the F-35A, F-35B and F-22.

Ten F-22 Raptors from the 95th Fighter Squadron joined the exercise alongside Marine F-35Bs and Air Force F-35As. For the first time in Red Flag history, both variants of F-35 took part in the exercise (More details here).

The Red Flag 17-3 was organized to provide specific training to the U.S. military forces designed to
coordinate 5th generation assets. 

Both aircraft’s stealth capabilities, advanced avionics, communication and sensory capabilities helped augment the capabilities of the other aircraft.

“Working with the F-35s brings a different skillset to the 5th generation world,” said Capt. Brady Amack, 95th FS pilot. “Having a more diverse group of low-observable assets has allowed us to do great things.”

During the Red Flag 17-3, the F-35 pilots were integrated with the Raptors, but they could also operate with the other F-35 variant.

“It's been an awesome experience integrating with everyone but especially the F-35A in particular,” said Maj. Brett Abbamonte, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 F-35B pilot. “The ability to see the overall situational awareness and capabilities that the F-35 brings to this joint fight with all these assets is eye opening to us as F-35 pilots and pilots of other aircraft platforms.”

The interoperability between the branches stretches past the battlefield to mission planning.

“With the A to B similarities, I can walk into mission planning, know what they have to offer and they know what I have to offer, so we can build our tactics,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Vickers, 58th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. “Even though we may be executing different roles, if I need their help, they can swing immediately without having to explain any aircraft or capability differences.”

In the past, when the missions were operated by different aircraft, communications barriers existed between the services, creating limitations. With these consolidated guidelines, those issues are minimized if not eliminated.

That continued integration is crucial as the F-35 enterprise approaches full warfighting capability. Currently, some of the aircraft’s systems only communicate amongst their own variant. As new sustainment blocks are created to upgrade the platform, those restrictions will also be erased.

The next session of Red Flag (17-4) is scheduled from August 14 to 25, Blog Before Flight will follow the exercise.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo credits: USAF
Source: USAF 33rd FW and 325th FW media releases

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