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Hill Air Force Base's F-35 jets deploy in first large combat training exercise

Airmen assigned to the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron perform hot refueling operations on an F-35 Lightning II fighter jet Nov. 8 at Hill Air Force Base.

TODD CROMAR/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MITCH SHAW | Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah | Published: January 24, 2017

HILL AIR FORCE BASE (Tribune News Service) — Thirteen of Hill Air Force Base’s 17 F-35s have left the installation for a massive air-to-air combat training exercise at Nellis Air Force Base.

The next-generation jets deployed to Nevada for the exercise known as “Red Flag” on Jan. 20.

About 235 pilots and maintainers from Hill’s 388th and 419th fighter wings also deployed to Nellis, said 388th spokesman Donovan Potter.

According to a press release from Hill’s 75th Air Base Wing, the deployment constitutes the first large movement of Hill’s F-35 fleet since the Air Force declared the jets combat-ready in August 2016.

Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise that involves the Air Force and select U.S. allies. The three-week exercise takes place on the Nevada Test and Training Range and is one of several advanced training programs run by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center, according to a fact sheet from Nellis.

A typical exercise includes an assortment of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft, the fact sheet says, and participating crews perform specific missions like air attacks on enemy targets, combat search and rescue, close air support and others.

“Red Flag is hands-down the best training (exercise) in the world to ensure our airmen are fully mission ready,” Col. David Smith, 419th commander, said in the release. “It’s as close to combat operations as you can get.”

Hill’s planes will be stationed at Nellis until Feb. 10. The 75th ABW release says the jets will fly with fourth- and fifth-generation planes and provide offensive and defensive air attacks and some close air support.

The F-35 program has faced increased scrutiny since President Donald Trump was elected.

On Twitter, Trump has twice criticized the price of the $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program and has promised to cut costs. He made similar statements on Jan. 11 during his first press conference since being elected president.

While Air Force leaders and members of Utah’s Congressional Delegation have promised resistance if Trump announces plans to cut the program, base officials continue to tout the plane as they take it through its scheduled paces.

“It’s a lethal platform and I’m confident we will prove to be an invaluable asset,” Col. David Lyons, 388th FW commander said in the press release.

Hill received its first F-35 in September 2015 and will continue to get regular shipments of the jet until 2019, when 78 planes will fill three operational fighter squadrons. The base is also the defense department’s main depot maintenance facility for the jet.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mshaw@standard.net.

©2017 the Standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah)
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U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia fly into Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada on Feb. 18, 2017. The aircraft will participate in the three-week Red Flag training exercise.
NATASHA STANNARD/U.S. AIR FORCE