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Hill Airmen deploy F-35A for large combat exercise

A photo of an F-35A

Maintainers with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit recover F-35A Lightning IIs during Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 3, 2020. (U.S. Air Force file photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

A photo of an F-35A

Maintainers with the 421st Fighter Sqaudron prepare an F-35A Lightning II for launch during Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force file photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

A photo of an F-35A

F-35A Lightning IIs prepare for take off during Red Flag 20-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb. 7, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing here are deploying to Nellis AFB, Nev., to take on a tough adversary – other Airmen.

Approximately 200 Airmen with the 34th Fighter Squadron and 34th Fighter Generation Squadron, will participate in Red Flag 21-1 from Jan. 25 – Feb. 12.

The exercise is the Air Force’s premier combat training experience and pits an integrated friendly “Blue Force” against an aggressor “Red Force.” The 34th FS will integrate and fly side-by-side with fighters, bombers, command and control, and other support aircraft from across the Department of Defense.

“Working together at Red Flag, in a high-tempo integrated fight, all focused on that day’s missions, is a confidence builder for our young pilots and maintainers,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “It’s also a good opportunity to build strong working relationships across weapons systems and cohesiveness as a wing.”

Developed after the Vietnam War, Red Flag was created to give young pilots at least ten combat-realistic, large-scale, training missions. Since then, planners have shaped the experience into an all-inclusive modern battlespace, adding space, cyber and intelligence assets – all aimed at making life as tough as possible for the attending units. 

The scenarios at Red Flag are robust, and the training space has enough threats to realistically test the fifth-generation combat capabilities of the F-35A.

“Red Flag is always great opportunity for all of us to train in an environment that is extremely challenging,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “We’re able to plan and fight as a joint force. We want to find any of our weaknesses here, before we find them in combat.”

The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force's first combat-capable F-35A units. They fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.

“There’s no better way to train for combat than to practice in the complex and intense training environment that is Red Flag,” said Col. Matthew Fritz, 419th FW commander. “We look forward to further refining our skills as F-35 pilots and maintainers alongside our active duty counterparts.”