F-35B jets with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 ‘Wake Island Avengers’ 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, have arrived for Exercise Red Flag.
A total of 10 aircraft and more than 250 Marines with VMFA-211 will participate in Red Flag 17-3, a realistic combat training exercise hosted by the US Air Force to assess the squadron’s ability to deploy and support contingency operations using the F-35B.
The reported performance of the F-35A at the last Red Flag was a major victory for an aircraft that was criticised for its cost and earlier developmental setbacks. The F-35 had earned a 15:1 kill ratio against the aggressor squadron F-16s, more recent reports from the US Air Force and Lockheed Martin then put that ratio at 20:1.
Tech Sgt Robert James said about the jet:
“It’s giving the airmen something they never had before. It’s giving the maintainer information to help them do their job faster and easier while making the Air Force more streamlined.”
Along with the aforementioned kill ratio and maintenance rate, the jets executed unprecedented weapons targeting exercises.
James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot said:
“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once. It’s pretty cool to come back from a mission where we flew right over threats knowing they could never see us.
After almost every mission, we shake our heads and smile, saying ‘We can’t believe we just did that’. We flew right into the heart of the threat and were able to bring all of our jets back out with successful strikes. It’s like we hit the ‘I Believe’ button again after every sortie.”
Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said flying the F-35A in combat feels like air dominance’.
“I’ve had four of my (F-35A) pilots come back from missions, guys who have flown the F-15 and F-16 at Red Flag for years, and tell me ‘This is amazing.
I’ve never had this much situational awareness while I’m in the air. I know who’s who, I know who’s being threatened, and I know where I need to go next.’ You just don’t have all of that information at once in fourth-generation platform.
The first day we were here, we flew defensive counter-air and we didn’t lose a single friendly aircraft. That’s unheard of. The number of adversaries has increased, their skill level has increased, the sophistication of the surface-to-air threat has increased.”
The F-35 will drastically increase the situational awareness and combat capabilities of the forces with which it will deploy and for the UK, where numbers may be a concern, it represents a fantastic way to enhance combat capability in any coalition or national effort.