Airmen deployed from the US Air Force active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, recently wrapped up the F-35A Lightning II’s first participation in a large, European air-and-missile defence exercise.
The focus of the multinational exercise, Astral Knight 2019, was to defend several key areas of terrain from cruise-missile and aircraft strikes. During the exercise, US military forces worked closely with coalition forces from Croatia, Italy and Slovenia at various locations across Europe, carrying out operational and cyber scenarios.
From June 3-6, Hill AFB’s 421st Fighter Squadron flew eight sorties per day and met all their frontline requirements.
Lt Col Richard Orzechowski, 421st Fighter Squadron commander, said: “It’s hard to appreciate the challenges if you’ve never been in an exercise like this before. We’re bridging commands, services, countries and continents.
“We have some really smart, dedicated problem-solvers who helped us overcome the early hurdles that are going to be present at the start of any conflict or large, integrated exercise.”
Lt Col Brad Klemesrud, 419th Operations Group deputy commander, said: “In an exercise this large and complex, you get the opportunity to see how theory meets reality and put into practice what’s only been on paper.”
For the first time, US Air Force F-35As integrated operationally with Aeronautica Militare F-35As and communicated with each other over the Multifunction Advanced Data Link, a system unique to the F-35.
Lt Gen Steven Basham, US Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa deputy commander, said: “Bringing together multiple nations for an exercise of this scope is crucial. It is vital that we continue to expand our capability to operate with each other and integrate fifth-generation assets, like the F-35.”
Hill’s F-35As also flew alongside Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, KC-135 Stratotankers, E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control aircraft and B-52 Stratofortress. They also flew with coalition Eurofighter Typhoons and MiG-21s and integrated with European-based US Army missile-defence systems.
Source: US Air Force