This article was first published on September 10, 2013 and that original article follows:
Recently, I was able to travel to see the 33rd Fighter Wing, and the Team F-35 consisting of all three flying elements from the Air Force, Navy and Marines.
Col. Todd Canterbury was a gracious host, and granted access to his entire schoolhouse. As well I was able to connect with Lt. Col Chip Berke, USMC, who turns out to be the sole fighter pilot to become proficient in both the F-22 and the F-35; using a slot that was diverted from AF training sometime ago to diversify the knowledge base for Fifth Generation Fighters.
Many things were illustrated during the visit, which provided an update on the F-35 program as being translated into practice.
I offer some observations below with regard to the F-35 program roll out as seen through the training process.
The Training has Reached Critical Mass
This schoolhouse is in full swing; and ready to expand its throughput to match the needs of the services.
The F-35 pilots realize that the old fighter culture must change due to the battle management capabilities of the F-35.
In teaching fighter characteristics, this must be softly delivered, as the capability for first look, first kill is expected. But the need to be first in and last out of the battlespace will be key to the future fight. All agreed that setting expectations is a leader’s role, and needs to start in proficiency training, and be re-emphasized along the way to a Joint Fighter Exercise.
All is Not Perfect
There is elegance to the planned logistics system; but the set up and continued internal maintenance of the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) can be frustrating at times.
The new maintenance regime is a work in progress.
The 33rd has maintained a great discipline; but desires to see faster response times with regard to corrective actions. That said; the maintainers response was generally positive, but like the internet was put in place slowdowns or downtime is highlighted more than the basic nature of the shift from a pre-internet to a post internet world.
Overperformance and Underperformance
How much is enough to create an IOC squadron?
Clearly the current state of sensor fusion is far superior to that conceived in the fourth generation fighters; and the flight characteristics are easy to learn for an experienced pilot, and sufficient to allow synergistic performance well above a fourth generation battle group.
No doubt all have heard the CSAF call for accelerating the IOC; but it will take Top Leadership to alter the requirements for it matters not that the 33rd believes; they remain a part of the AF system; and have the discipline to try to improve same from the inside.
Top Leadership must alter their system; and then accelerated IOC will be available.
The Marines are Believers
The Marines are moving their F-35 training facility from Eglin to Beaufort, South Carolina. The combined test and operational squadron has been able to feedback to the leadership the state of play for the F-35; and is eager to now interact with active duty F-18’s. They see this as a step stone to IOC; and had the following comment.
The capability of the Fifth Gen Fighter is enhanced by other available platforms in its battlespace; because it is a natural battle manager.
The essence of IOC is not the same anymore. The Marines are about reinventing airborne warfare. The Air Force and Navy are using old processes to replace platforms; and need to rethink the problem. As a service, the previous time for this was the Introduction of Mach Plus Air Frames totally redefining airborne combat. The enemy led the way; but not this time.
The Internationals Are Coming
No they are already here.
Much like Lt. Col Berke, there were slots made available for the Brits in the F-22 test squadron; and they do understand the impact of the fifth generation fighters.
But at Eglin, it is the British, and Dutch that are pressing for instruction; and the 33rd is doing this well. Much like Nato interacting with the WEU, and the EU, the 33rd finds itself teaming with everyone. As said by the secretary general, this can never work in theory; but through good people; it is working in practice.
The Naval Aviators and Maintenance folks assigned are well aware that they are benefiting from the Marines and Air Force encountering problems and then solving them; as they indicated, their own ‘at sea’ facilities were going to be a challenge, and the ALIS system is seen as part of the solution set.
Where are the Dual Qualified?
I was very gratified to see the embedded EOTS (Electro Optical Targeting) system, installed and still stealthy. This will continue the partnership with ground commanders on the Rover system; and was pushed hard by the Air to Ground transition team coming from both F-15 and F-16 fighters.
As mentioned, Lt. Col Berke is the sole F-22 and F-35 proficient pilot in the world.
Where is the USAF?
Cross learning is a must; as all the indicators are positive.
I was pleased to hear that the ACC Commander checked out in fifth gen; but he needs planners to see the impact. Random success is not the way forward; but it will come; as it did in Northern Edge, when the Blue force commander told a Winchestered F-22, ‘stay in the fight’ for your contribution is just beginning but now as a battle manager
Take Advantage of the Integrated Simulators
The Air Force and now the Navy and Marines will have simulators all over the place; combining them into a fully integrated fighting force will allow integration between fifth and fourth generation, among the US and coalition partners and between the two fifth gen available fighters.
This is the future fight. It also both real and virtual; properly used can really make an impact; yet save money.
Security ‘Uber Alles’
Fighter Pilots and their Commanders need cross ticketing; compartments in the sky is not the reality of an integrated force. This is a tough knot; and must be addressed, to allow for full exploitation of the capabilities in the integrated fight.
Whether Fifth or Fourth, th concept of cross targeting, even to RPV Mules, or ground or maritime platforms has been the holy grail of interoperable forces.
Security is good, but not ‘uber alles’ where it inhibits the ‘Unfair Fight’ we have planned.
Salute to the Maintainers
Thanks for the opportunity to interact with both instructors and participants in the maintainer training. They are patriots and smart as can be.
Where the Chief of the USAF says it is about our people, he is right; and this interaction confirmed my beliefs.
Maintenance, both for us and the Joint and international force is key; the interoperability and cross match between models of F-35 means that we return to the origins in WW1 where you can land at any base; and in any language; get repaired and fly on.
For us, the future fight is about fleet, and extracting the most from every fighting position.
The F-35 provides a solid foundation for such an approach.