Wing leaders discuss F-35 role in national security

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Col. David Smith, 419th Fighter Wing commander, and Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander, took part in a panel discussion on F-35A capability and performance during a national security conference March 31 in Salt Lake City.

Hill’s fighter wing commanders participated in “America’s Role in the World,” an annual conference hosted by Rep. Chris Stewart that gathers government agencies, defense contractors, elected officials, and community members.

The commanders called the F-35 “the future of tactical aviation” and highlighted its achievements since being declared combat ready last year.

Lyons said the jets “proved themselves” during recent deployments to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, in 2016, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, earlier this year, where the F-35A took part in its first Red Flag exercise and boasted a 15:1 kill ratio. Thirteen F-35s from Hill participated in Red Flag, the Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise, from Jan. 23 to Feb. 10.

“The F-35 can hold its own and it’s gonna deal with every threat on the battlefield before they even know it’s there,” Lyons said. 

Smith noted the Marine variant of the F-35 was a “game changer” in recent military exercises in South Korea, also improving the performance of fourth-generation aircraft due to its high-tech ability to share information.

“On the battlefield, information is power,” Lyons added.

Hill AFB is currently home to 20 F-35As and their pilots have racked up more than 2,500 flying hours.

The panel also took questions from the audience of about 200 and addressed various concerns including reliability, cost, acquisition, pilot shortages, and comparisons between the F-35 and other aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory. 

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