HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings are heading north with the F-35A for three weeks of training alongside a variety of other Air Force units at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
The 4th Fighter Squadron, which returned in October 2019 from the F-35A’s first combat deployment, will participate in Red Flag Alaska from July 30 — Aug. 14. After Red Flag, they will stay for an additional week to conduct air-to-air combat training with F-22s and F-16s in smaller, more limited scenarios.
This will be the first time Airmen from the 388th and 419th have participated in Red Flag Alaska with the F-35A. They will take a dozen jets and nearly 200 total-force Airmen — pilots, maintainers and support personnel.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our Airmen — different from the Red Flags we’ve done at Nellis. This will be alongside other fifth-generation fighters, and in the midst of a pandemic that forced some adaptability,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “But, they’re ready and the experience will be invaluable, especially for our younger wingmen.”
During Red Flag, a friendly “Blue Force” takes on an enemy “Red Force.” Red Flag exercises have been around for decades, and are designed to provide pilots with a number of combat-realistic training scenarios that will better prepare them for situations they may face when they are deployed in the future.
The exercise also provides experience for maintainers, intelligence, cyber and other support personnel. It is a welcome training experience for all the younger Airmen in the squadron who don’t have that foundation yet, said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th Fighter Squadron commander.
“We do have a lot of new faces, but we’re also bringing a strong foundation of folks with real combat experience,” Arki said. “During this exercise we will be laser focused on bringing the future of offensive counter air to the joint fight faster, building on what we have already learned.”
Different from the Red Flags the wing has completed at Nellis AFB, Nevada, which focused primarily on scenarios developed for the U.S. Central Command Region, this exercise will focus on scenarios in the Pacific Command Region.
The missions will take place over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex — more than 67,000 square miles of air space that is populated with advanced surface-to-air threat emitters and aggressor aircraft flown by seasoned pilots. The size of the airspace is key to providing realistic training with the F-35A, highlighting the platform’s strength of collecting and sharing real-time threat information across a vast formation of aircraft.
“We will have unparalleled access to the space we need to execute realistic tactics against modern threats, and to test the validity of those tactics,” said Arki.
Hill’s jets won’t be the only F-35As in the fight. The 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson is currently in the process of bedding-down the Air Force’s newest combat-coded F-35A unit, and the two squadrons will integrate during this Red Flag.
“We’re going to work together in the offensive counter-air mission,” Arki said. “This will enable us to strike simulated targets deep into enemy territory against the toughest threats they can throw at us. When we fight together as an integrated package, and alongside our F-22 brothers and sisters, we are tough to beat.”