At Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Lt. Col. Nakano las week became the first Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) pilot to fly solo on the Lockheed Martin F-35. Luke currently provides training to pilots from the US, Australia, Israel, Italy, Norway and Japan.
“This is an historical event for JASDF and my career as a pilot,” said Nakano. “My first flight was perfect. The weather was fine, and the jet was great. I’ll never forget this day.” After completing his training at Luke, Nakano will be involved in standing up the first F-35 squadron in Japan. The country is looking to buy 42 F-35’s to replace ageing F-4 Phantoms and F-15J Eagles.
The first of three Japanese F-35s arrived at Luke for training last year. A fourth aircraft is expected to arrive in February. In total, Luke is scheduled to have six fighter squadrons and 144 F-35s. Pilots from South Korea, Turkey, Netherlands and Denmark will receive their future training at Luke also.
The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is currently not able to fulfill all of its tasks, especially when it comes to operations with its F-16 fighter jets. According to Tom Middendorp, commander of all Dutch armed forces, RNLAF pilots especially need additional training to sharpen their air-to-air skills.
Years and years of flying air support missions over Afghanistan and most recently, Iraq and Syria, have caused RNLAF pilots to loose certain skills that may be required again in light of increased Russian interest and involvement in Europe.
Dutch pilots need to become well trained again in all areas of air combat, including intercepts of other aircraft and actual air-to-air engagements, says Middendorp. The RNLAF earlier stated it needed time to perform maintenance on its tired F-16 fleet, plus additional training for its crews.
Extra training is currenty being undertaken in the US. In February, Airheadsfly.com will report on RNLAF participation in large scale military flying exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas.
Dutch F-16s are currently also deployed to Lithuania as part of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission. From Šiauliai airbase, Dutch pilots now get to intercept actual Russian aircraft operating near the Baltic states.
Not other operational RNLAF F-16 deployments are foreseen for the near future, giving more time for extra training. Also, the Dutch are slowly but surely preparing for the arrival in 2019 of the first F-35 Lightnings in the Netherlands.
US Secretary of Defense Mattis has ordered a complete review of both the F-35 program and the program to replace the current Boeing VC-25 aircraft in their role as Air Force One. The review of the F-35 is to include a comparison with the F-18 Super Hornet.
The announcement should come as no surprise, given president Trumps recent criticism of both programs. Even before his inauguration on 20 January, Trump said F-35 costs are out of control while at the same time he asked Boeing to come up with the F-18 Super Hornet as a reasonably priced alternative.
For the F-35, a recent DOT&E report by the Pentagon’s own watchdog is an excellent starting point. That report mentions plenty of delays in F-35 development and testing.
It remains uncertain what the outcome of both reviews could be. Chances of the program being cancelled are close to zero given the program’s strategic and economic importance. However, the naval F-35C version may be under threat. The DOT&E mentions persistent problems in this version specifically.
In a response, Lockheed Martin said it ‘stands ready’ to support the review. Earlier, both Lockheed Martin and Boeing promised to keep costs down. This fresh review will put even more pressure on both manufacturers to actually make up on that promise.
US Navy Air Station Lemoore in California on Wednesday 25 January saw the arrival of the first Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning IIs. Lemoore is the first West Coast naval installation to have F-35Cs permanently assigned. By the end of this year, the base will have ten F-35Cs assigned, building to more than 100 jets in the early 2020s.
The four jets now belong to VFA-125 Rough Raiders, which earlier flew F-18 Hornets and has now been reestablished as a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS). The squadron is to gain no less than 30 Lightning IIs. The squadron is expected to reach Initial Operational Capbility (IOC) on the new jet in 2018.
Back in 2014, Lemoore was chosen over Naval Air Facility El Centro as the US Navy’s West Coast F-35 base. According to the US Navy, Lemoore meets operational needs and minimizes potential environmental impact. Apart from the FRS, Lemoore is to house seven Navy Pacific Fleet squadrons with 10 aircraft per squadron.
US Navy F-35C’s are also based at Edwards Air Base in California for test purposes.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II on Monday 23 January kicks off its very first participation in the US Air Force’s famous Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas. The F-35s involved belong to the 388th Fighter Wing and 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base.
Red Flag is widely regarded as the most prestigious air warfare exercise anywhere. While involved in the exercise, the Hill F-35s will fly alongside dozens of other fighter aircraft and provide offensive and defensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and limited close air support. Among the other aircraft are also Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors
The US Air Force declared the F-35A combat ready in August last year. Red Flag marks the first major exercise since then. “Our airmen are excited to bring the F-35 to a full-spectrum combat exercise,” said Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander. “This battle space is going to be a great place to leverage our stealth and interoperability. It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset to the commander.”
“Red Flag is hands-down the best training in the world to ensure our Airmen are fully mission ready,” said Col. David Smith, 419th FW commander. “It’s as close to combat operations as you can get. Our Reserve pilots and maintainers are looking forward to putting the F-35A weapon system to the test alongside our active duty partners to bring an unprecedented combat capability.”
The current edition of Red Flag runs until 10 February.