AF Commanders aim for smooth take-off for F-35A

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LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. — Wing commanders from U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor and F-35A Lightning II units met at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, July 20-21 to discuss integration of the two aircraft.

The conference focused on joint training, maintenance techniques, manpower and strategies to develop successful integration the F-35A as a part of the joint team of fighter aircraft.

During a roundtable discussion, Col. Pete Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander, said both aircraft were designed to work together.

“The F-22 and F-35A bring an incredible capability,” said Fesler. “You have two airplanes that are designed, one primary focus is on air-to-ground and another focus on air-to-air with complementary capabilities, to assist each other in either role. Together, they are a team that is optimized to go after an air threat and a surface threat simultaneously.”

In addition, Fesler said the discussions over the past few days were not all about the pilots teaching each other perform better with their specific aircraft, but a conversation in both directions.

“The F-35A right now could benefit from some of the fifth-generation experience that the F-22 community has built up over the last decade or so,” said Fesler. “The F-22 community is going to benefit in the next year or two, bringing guys back from the F-35A into the F-22 to help us better understand how to integrate these two platforms.”

Fesler said from a maintenance stand point, the F-22 community is trying to take the lessons that they’ve learned over the last decade and pass them to the F-35A.

“It was a great opportunity for us to talk about how we would blend the two together to maximize their effectiveness,” said Col. Brad Lyons, 388th FW commander at Hill AFB.

According to Lyons, the Air Force has done a lot of fighter integration with their fourth-generation, but haven’t yet had an opportunity to do much fifth-generation fighter integration with the two platforms.

Opportunities may have been limited for the 388th FW, but it was 20 months ago, when Langley deployed four F-22s to Eglin AFB for the unit’s first operational integration training mission with the F-35A’s assigned to the 33rd FW. During the training, the pilots gained operational familiarization and captured lessons learned to improve future exercises.

In regards to future manpower and operations, Fesler said commanders discussed how they could cross-flow people back and forth between aircraft to streamline maintenance processes and increase experience pilots’ experience.

According to Lyons, the F-35A will be the backbone of future joint and combined air operations, enabling critical interoperability. This fifth-generation fighter provides unprecedented global attack capability and air superiority, he said.

“In a near pure environment in advance air-to-air and air-ground threats, this is the team that you need,” said Lyons. “This is a realization of a resourcing strategy the Air Force has been putting together for a long time. It’s the realization of a tactical dream, that we would have this team available to go out and do what it needs to do in the world today.”