Eielson F-35s participate in their first ‘Red Flag’ exercise

Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 4:26 PM AKDT
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Monday marked the first day F-35s stationed at Eielson Air Force Base took part in a RED FLAG-Alaska exercise. The 356th Fighter Squadron received its first F-35s in April and have been working and training to be ready for the operation over the last few months.

“This is one step in getting us ready to go. When we go to combat, the Air Force joins with partner countries all over the Indo-Pacific region. We have F-35s that are being sold in Japan, South Korea and Australia, and we need to learn how to integrate with those F-35s. So this is an integration exercise for F-35s to work out our tactics with each other,” said Lieutenant Colonel James Christensen of the 356th Fighter Squadron.

RED FLAG-Alaska allows the airmen to simulate real world scenarios. Christensen said, “the way we train is the way we would fight.” The exercises go for two weeks and get progressively more difficult as training continues. In order to simulate the air-to-air combat, F-16s from the 18th Aggressor Squadron simulate dog fights with the F-35s. Christensen said this provides realistic training for the pilots and crews. Planning started months before when the 356th Combat Training Squadron began building scenarios for the airmen to train in.

“When you have those people out there, you can’t pretend anymore. It’s not a simulation, you actually have to find that aircraft, you actually have to be able to put yourself in a position to employ your weapons against them and be successful,” Christensen said.

Fortunately for the pilots of the F-35s, the fifth generation fighters give them the upper-hand. Christensen said, “The F-35 is absolutely fantastic at getting into an air-to-air fight and finding the adversary before he is able to detect and target and then shoot at us.”

The first two RED FLAG-Alaska exercises were cancelled because of COVID-19. This exercise has F-35s from Eielson as well as Hill Air Force Base. They are also joined by F-22s from Elmendorf Air Force Base. Christensen said that the F-35 training at Eielson is ahead of schedule, “We are meeting our goals, we are exceeding them and I am excited to see us push a little harder and get even more ready.”

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