EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska — Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings took a dozen jets and nearly 200 total-force Airmen — pilots, maintainers and support personnel, and participated in RED FLAG-Alaska with the F-35A.
The 4th Fighter Squadron, which returned in October 2019 from the F-35A’s first combat deployment, participated in the three-week training exercise alongside a variety of other Air Force units at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, from July 30 — August 14.
After Red Flag, they are staying for an additional week to conduct air-to-air combat training with F-22s and F-16s in smaller, more limited scenarios.
The 356th Fighter Squadron and 388th Fighter Wing’s F-35A Lightning IIs are the first F-35s to participate in the U.S. Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise.
“The purpose of RED FLAG-Alaska is to provide training for the aircrew participating on the blue-air side in order to increase mission readiness and prepare them for combat operations,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Kinsey, the 18th Aggressor Squadron commander.
Unlike recent RF-A exercises, the F-35s have given the 354th Fighter Wing the chance to have the ‘home team’ play as blue air to enhance their warfighting capabilities.
“We’ve been flying F-35s for the past three months and this is the first RED FLAG exercise for the 356th FS,” said Lt. Col. James Christensen, the 356th FS commander.
The presence of fifth-generation aircraft will make this iteration of RF-A a bit different from past exercises.
“The F-35 brings more information to the airspace than we’ve had in previous generations of aircraft,” said Christensen. “This RED FLAG is really unique because we now have all fifth-generation fighters on the blue side. When we combine those forces together we can be more lethal.”
Once the 356th FS received its first F-35s in April, the F-35 pilots wasted no time learning the ins and outs of RF-A’s 77,000-square mile playground, also known as the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex.
“What we had to do is get our pilots ready for this RED FLAG by flying as much as we possibly could to get proficient in the airplane,” said Christensen. “For us, this is kind of the intro to the airspace and an intro to four-ship tactics. This is the first time we’ve flown four aircraft together at the same time and we are combining the other F-35s and F-22s to make a large force exercise.”
Christensen mentioned pilots train on a basic fundamental skills-type progression, which means pilots start at basic skills and work up to advanced tactics. RF-A offers a realistic combat feeling for pilots to train exactly how they fight, he said.
“They can simulate that environment here at RED FLAG with the 353rd CTS (Combat Training Squadron) and in the JPARC. They can give us the realistic threats, jam our communications, jam our navigation systems and they can give us these problems that I want my young wingmen and my experienced flight leads to experience,” said Christensen.
Now that the 354th Fighter Wing established the F-35 in Alaska and will grow in size with a second F-35 squadron, the goal for future exercises is to see even more fifth-generation aircraft from Pacific partners join the fight.
“What we need to do in the future and what we have planned for the next RED FLAG iteration later this year is we are going to start bringing in partner countries and allies from across INDOPACOM,” said Christensen. “There are F-35s that are going out to Australia, Japan and Korea, and in the future we want to bring those F-35s up here and practice and train…so that we have a standard set of tactics, techniques and procedures.”