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F-35A, F-35B integrate at Red Flag

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Travis Jackson, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, marshals an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Travis Jackson, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, marshals an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Mckague, left, and Senior Airman Blake Baker, both 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew members, prepare a GBU-12 to be loaded on an F-35A Lightning II July 18, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jeremy Mckague, left, and Senior Airman Blake Baker, both 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron weapons load crew members, prepare a GBU-12 to be loaded on an F-35A Lightning II July 18, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II pilot awaits permission to taxi July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II pilot awaits permission to taxi July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carol Sims, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, crouches in front of an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Carol Sims, 33rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assistant dedicated crew chief, crouches in front of an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force F-35A and Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs taxi before taking off July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force F-35A and Marine Corps F-35B Lightning IIs taxi before taking off July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II takes off July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II takes off July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Brett Robison, F-35 Lightning II Academic Training Center lead pilot, inspects an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Brett Robison, F-35 Lightning II Academic Training Center lead pilot, inspects an F-35A Lightning II July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II taxis before takeoff July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Attack Squadron 221 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

An F-35A Lightning II taxis before takeoff July 18, 2017, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 from Yuma, Ariz., participated in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine Corps F-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3. The large scale exercise, which was developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations, enabled F-35 pilots to plan and train using the same tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson)

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, wait for pilots to walk to three F-35B Lightning IIs on the first day of Red Flag 17-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 10. Red Flag 17-3 is a realistic combat training exercise involving the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps and this iteration is the first to have both the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II and the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II, which is capable of short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, wait for pilots to walk to three F-35B Lightning IIs on the first day of Red Flag 17-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 10. Red Flag 17-3 is a realistic combat training exercise involving the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps and this iteration is the first to have both the Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II and the Marine Corps’ F-35B Lightning II, which is capable of short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL). (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, salute each other after an F-35B Lightning II pilot landed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 5. A total of 10 aircraft and more than 250 Marines with VMFA-211 will participate in Red Flag 17-3, a realistic combat training exercise hosted by the U.S. Air Force to assess the squadron’s ability to deploy and support contingency operations using the F-35B. Red Flag 17-3 begins July 10 and ends July 28. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)
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Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 “Wake Island Avengers,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, salute each other after an F-35B Lightning II pilot landed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 5. A total of 10 aircraft and more than 250 Marines with VMFA-211 will participate in Red Flag 17-3, a realistic combat training exercise hosted by the U.S. Air Force to assess the squadron’s ability to deploy and support contingency operations using the F-35B. Red Flag 17-3 begins July 10 and ends July 28. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Lillian Stephens/Released)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --

The 33rd Fighter Wing and Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 are participating in the first combat exercise with Air Force F-35As and Marine CorpF-35Bs operating simultaneously during Red Flag 17-3, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States, its allies, and coalition partners. More than 100 aircraft and 3,000 personnel participate in the exercise an average four times each year

The exercise was originally developed to provide pilots with critical experience in combat situations in a manner that can’t be replicated at most home stations. This training in turn improves pilot’s percentage of survivability during real-world combat operations.

“We are trying to create combat realism for these pilots,” said U.S Air Force Col. Ryan Suttlemyre, Red Flag Air Expeditionary Wing vice commander and 33rd Operations Group commander. “Normal missions at home are between six to eight aircraft on both the blue and red sides. Here, we have somewhere between 60 to 80 aircraft on the blue side and 30 to 40 on the red side. They also have 10 to 15 times the number of surface-to-air threat emitters that we have at Eglin Air Force Base.”

During this U.S. only installment of Red Flag, the Air Force and Marine Corps validated F-35 joint Tactics, Training and Procedures, through mission integration with one another.

“It's been an awesome experience integrating with everyone but especially the F-35A in particular,” said Maj. Brett Abbamonte, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 F-35B pilot. “The ability to see the overall situational awareness and capabilities that the F-35 brings to this joint fight with all these assets is eye opening to us as F-35 pilots and pilots of other aircraft platforms.”

From the first combat sortie on, the commonality between each branch’s pilots was clear as they were able to predict one another's actions and movements.

“We are executing the same tactics and we are talking the same language which is a force multiplier between the two services,” Abbamonte said.

"They flowed where we expected them to flow and called kills where we expected them to call kills," said Lt. Col. Matthew Vickers, 58th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. "Everything was going to plan. That was the first validation and it's been more of the same (since then)."

The interoperability between the branches stretches past the battlefield to mission planning.

“With the A to B similarities, I can walk into mission planning, know what they have to offer and they know what I have to offer, so we can build our tactics,” Vickers said. “Even though we may be executing different roles, if I need their help, they can swing immediately without having to explain any aircraft or capability differences.”

In the past, when the branches would fly together in a strike package using different aircraft, communications barriers existed between the services, creating limitations. With these consolidated guidelines, those issues are minimized if not eliminated.

“I flew F-18s prior, so every time we flew with an Air Force unit, the communications and tactics would be a little bit different; we've erased that and it's a really good thing,” Abbamonte said.

Together the Marine Corps and Air Force displayed the F-35’s wide range of abilities through the completion of multiple mission requirements presented to them.

“We've executed a myriad of different roles including suppression of enemy defenses, attack operations and defensive counter air. So we are testing the capabilities of the aircraft in several different mission sets,” Vickers said.

Participation in exercises like Red Flag is important across the enterprise because integration opportunities are limited without them.

“We need to (continue establishing) our commonality and tactics so that we can trust that everyone is bringing to the fight is what we expect,” Vickers said.

"We don't have enough opportunities to integrate which is why it is so important to be a part of exercises like Red Flag,” Suttlemyre said.

That continued integration is crucial as the F-35 enterprise approaches full warfighting capability. Currently, some of the aircraft’s systems only communicate amongst their own variant. As new sustainment blocks are created to upgrade the platform, those restrictions will also be erased.


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