The first ever deployment of a combat-size unit flying the new Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is wrapped up at Nellis Air Force Base (USA) on 18 April 2015. The 61st Fighter Squadron of Luke AFB put half of its squadron assets – 10 planes in total – into simulated war action on the ranges and in the airspace of Nevada, after the stealthy jets landed at 4 April.
How well the unit could conduct operations somewhere else was the main target of the two-week deployment, executed 240 miles (390 km) from home. The drill is an important step to Initial Operational Capability planned for the Autumn of 2016, when at least 12 F-35s, pilots and ground crew are officially ready for combat missions such as interdiction/strike, close air support (CAS) and Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD).
The 61st Fighter Squadron flies the F-35 since March 2014. One of its pilots made the 1,000th sortie in March 2015. Of the 20 Lightning IIs on strength, two are of the Royal Australian Air Force. F-35As of the Royal Netherlands Air Force and the Italian Air Force are expected in relatively short time. By 2024, Luke is expected to have six F-35 squadrons with 144 jets and will train pilots and maintainers from 11 countries. The base in Glendale, Arizona, is the main training hub for the future backbone of the US and many of its allied air forces.
From January 2017 the Luke’s F-35A crew are expected to be deployed in real-war situations in the new jet.
Source: US Air Force
Featured image (top): Pre-flight checks on one of 10 F-35As on the first sizable deployment of the type at Nellis AFB, Nevada (Image © Staff Sgt. Darlene Seltmann / US Air Force)