Hill Airmen take F-35A to Red Flag combat exercise

  • Published
  • By Micah Garbarino
  • 388th Fighter Wing

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Pilots and maintainers from Hill’s active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings are heading to Nellis AFB, Nevada, to take a leading role in Red Flag 20-1.

The 421st Fighter Squadron, the last of the wing’s three squadrons to fully stand up, received their final aircraft in December 2019 and are prepared to take approximately 200 Airmen to train alongside allied nations and sister services in what is known as the Air Force’s premier combat training exercise.

The three-week Red Flag exercise sees an integrated friendly “Blue Force” take on the enemy “Red Force” aggressors in intense training environments to test air-to-air, air-to-ground, and space and cyber warfare.

As the United States Air Force’s first F-35A lightning II unit, this will be the 388th FWs third trip to Red Flag with America’s most advanced fifth-generation fighter aircraft – the first time since a real-world combat deployment and since declaring Full Warfighting Capability within the wing.

As in years past, the 388th FW will provide offensive and defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defense, and close air support against enemy forces.

Commanders say that Red Flag provides young pilots with training that is “hard to replicate” anywhere else in the world. With the advanced enemy threats presented on the Nevada Test and Training Range, and the ability to both integrate with, and fly against, some of the best pilots in the world, the exercise prepares inexperienced wingmen for their first trips into combat.

During the exercise, maintainers are also challenged by the high operations tempo and work to provide a large number of sorties every night and day.

The first operational F-35As arrived at Hill in September 2015 and reached initial operational capability in August 2016. The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.

The wings have deployed two squadrons F-35As to the Middle East since April 2019.