F-35 Finally Has A Good Day, Dominates Training Exercise

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

The often-maligned F-35A made an impressive showing at the Air Force’s toughest training exercise, racking up a 15-to-1 kill ratio against adversaries.

Held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada from Jan. 27 to Feb. 10, Red Flag is considered the Air Force’s premier training event. This year, the F-35A was challenged with the most aggressive training scenarios yet, including simulated surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), communications jamming and air-to-air combat, Lt. Col. George Watkins told Aviation Week Tuesday.

The F-35’s remarkable kill ratio is even more impressive when taking into account the fact it was not designed as an air superiority fighter. One reason for the fighter’s impressive results is due to its ability to target multiple threats at the same time. Additionally, it has a remarkable stealth capability. This combination allows the F-35 to take out threats ahead of other U.S. aircraft.

“Before where we would have one advanced threat and we would put everything we had—F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, missiles, we would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out—now we are seeing three or four of those threats at a time,” said Watkins. “Just between [the F-35] and the [F-22] Raptor we are able to geo-locate them, precision-target them, and then we are able to bring the fourth-generation assets in behind us after those threats are neutralized. It’s a whole different world out there for us now.”

Essentially, with the F-35s in the lead, the already deadly U.S. Air Force becomes even more dominant.

Of course, all the fighter’s capabilities come at a cost. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is the most expensive weapons program in world history. Lockheed-Martin, which manufactures the pricey aircraft, has been able to drop the per unit cost from $279 million to $102 million as of November. Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered a review of the F-35 program Jan. 27 in order to determine if there were any opportunities to reduce the fighter’s cost.

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