HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Aircraft and Airmen from the 4th Fighter Squadron returned to Utah this week after deploying the F-35A Lightning II to Europe a little more than a month ago.
The squadron, compromised of active duty Airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing and Reservists from the 419th FW here, participated in Atlantic Trident 21, which took place at Mont-de-Marsan Air Base, France, May 17-28, and the initial stages of Falcon Strike 21 at Amendola Air Base, Italy.
The Hill AFB Airmen brought the F-35A’s fifth-generation combat capabilities to integrate with France’s Air and Space Force and the U.K. Royal Air Force and Navy in large-scale aerial combat scenarios.
“Fourth to fifth-generation integration is about putting teams together that leverage their unique capabilities. … It’s really optimizing the force to generate the combat power we need to deter and win.” said Gen. Jeff Harrigian, Commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa.
During Atlantic Trident, the 4th FS primarily focused on bringing the advanced technology of the F-35 into offensive and defensive counter-air missions. The amount of information that an F-35 can gather, fuse and share with friendly units enables every fourth-generation platform in a force package to be more lethal and survivable.
“We utilized advancements in datalink and tactical integration to meld our formations into a singular fighting force,” said Lt. Col. Joshua Arki, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “Integration helps maximize the advantages of each type of aircraft at the point of attack.”
The most beneficial aspect of the exercise for the 4th FS was the chance to cooperate with the French and U.K. military aircraft and crews, said Arki. The group overcame language and culture barriers and built personal relationships through group academics, planning, briefing and “no-holds barred debriefs” after each mission.
“You can’t surge trust, you have to build it over time…where people look each other in the eye and understand how we’re going to operate through these kinds of exercises,” Harrigian said. “That’s how we’re going to do it if we have to go into combat.”
Before returning to Hill, the squadron also fully integrated with the Marines, Italian Air Force, Israeli Air Force, and British Royal Air Force, during the initial stages of Falcon Strike 21, another multinational exercise in Italy.
The purpose of the exercise was “to optimize the integration between fourth and fifth-generation aircraft, increase the level of cooperation in the F-35 logistics and expeditionary fields, and strengthen interoperability of allied and partner air forces during joint operations.”
This is the third time the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings have deployed the F-35A to Europe. The first time was in 2017, when the 34th Fighter Squadron went to Lakenheath, United Kingdom. The second time, the 421st, deployed the F-35 to Aviano Air Base, Italy, and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, and forward deployed to nine other countries. Those experiences paid off for the 4th Fighter Squadron.
“The 4th Fighter Squadron have done a phenomenal job of getting here, bedding down, and immediately integrating with our French and United Kingdom partners,” Harrigian said. “That’s what we do, and I want to thank them for the way that they did it. Complete professionals every day.”