It is cold. It is remote. But with 54 F-35A Lightning II Collective Strike Fighters at a breadth that is afterpiece to Tokyo than it is to Honolulu, and with accessible admission to a 77,000-square-mile training range, Eielson Air Force Abject in Alaska is one of the U.S. military’s best strategically important installations.
And, with advancing apropos about threats from China and Russia, amalgam the aftermost of those F-35As into abject operations, and the Red Flag Alaska 22-3 ample force training exercise about to blanket up, it is additionally at the moment one of the busiest.
“We’ve had absolutely a bit of activity activity on here,” said Air Force Col. David “Ajax” Berkland, administrator of the 354th Fighter Wing, speaking during an Air & Amplitude Armament Association basic chat Wednesday about the bed-down of the F-35As at the base.
The aboriginal brace of Lockheed Martin’s stealth fighters accustomed at Eielson on Apr. 21, 2020, and was cogent on abounding levels. This alien accession is amid 26 afar southeast of Fairbanks in the autogenous of Alaska and about 110 afar south of the Arctic Circle.
In a absolute altercation about the acceptation of accepted abject operations, Berkland and Lt. Col. Ryan “VooDoo” Worrell, administrator of the 356th Fighter Fleet at Eielson, talked about aggregate from alive on new agency to adverse Chinese air defenses to the differences amid aerial the F-16 and F-35 to what it is like to fly aback you accept to band up adjoin the cold.
Together with the F-22 Raptors based at Collective Abject Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), abreast Anchorage, the accession of the aftermost of the F-35s at Eielson in April, Berkland noted, gives Alaska “the bigger absorption of fifth-gen, combat-coded airpower in the world.”
It was one affair to get the abounding accompaniment of 54 low-observable (stealthy) fighters in one place. But now it is time to about-face gears, Berkland said.
“Our antecedence now is to basically about-face ourselves into abounding operational adequacy to be able to do active action application (ACE) operations throughout the Pacific [area of operations] at ascetic locations,” Berkland said. “So that for us that agency that we charge to be able to run hub-and-spoke operations with our abounding accompaniment of fifth-gen action airpower.”
He is apropos to actuality able to arrange the F-35s, which at Eielson are tasked with acknowledging U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), “rapidly to the AOR,” or breadth of responsibility, including ascetic locations with basal acumen in place.
“We can really, in a distinct fighter sortie, ambit to aloof about any AOR in the Northern Hemisphere appealing easily,” he said.
All while still administering avant-garde training at Eielson and continuing to bed-down rotational armament that appear to Alaska.
One of the things that accomplish Eielson so important is its adjacency to the Collective Pacific Alaska Ambit Circuitous (JPARC), a alignment of ample swathes of belted airspace that provides a astute training ambiance and allows commanders to alternation for abounding spectrum engagements, alignment from alone abilities to complex, all-embracing collective engagements.
“You don’t accept to ask me,” said Berkland, about the amount of JPARC. “You can ask any of these Red Flag Alaska participants what they anticipate of the JPARC and they’ll acquaint you this – the best training airspace in the world.”
A Pacific Air Armament (PACAF) -sponsored exercise, Red Flag Alaska 22-3 “is advised to accommodate astute training in a apish action environment,” according to a PACAF release. “A alternation of command-directed acreage training contest will accommodate collective abhorrent counter-air, interdiction, abutting air abutment and ample force application training.”
Red Flag Alaska “is a collective all-embracing above aerial exercise breadth we booty in assorted squadrons from all domains of warfare from all over the apple and we body a book breadth they accept to accommodate and action as a team,” said Lt. Col. James Collins, 353rd Action Training Fleet commander.
Some 2,200 account associates flew, maintained and accurate added than 115 aircraft from 25 units during this abundance of the exercise. Among them were several U.S. Air Force and Navy units as able-bodied as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and Army troops “training calm to barter tactics, techniques and procedures while acceptable the action address of all accommodating forces.”
“In this iteration, it’s the aboriginal time we’ve had Marine Corps F-35s alive with the RAAF’s E-7, while additionally amalgam with Eielson Air Force Base’s own F-35s in accession to Kunsan and Kadena’s F-16s, Navy Growlers and RAAF Super Hornets,” said Collins. “Learning how to accommodate with our allies and ally is one of the abundant things about this exercise.”
But alike with aggregate activity on at JPARC, there is an accomplishment underway to accomplish that ambit alike better, Berkland said.
“We’re actively affianced to try to advancement the JPARC to aggrandize it angular and angular in allocation with our ally actuality in Alaska, as able-bodied as advance to the blackmail archetype adequacy on the apparent as able-bodied as the air,” he said. “So that’s affectionate of what’s been activity on here.”
The accent of JPARC is underscored by an all-embracing affair for the charge to accept ample areas of airspace to alternation fifth-generation fighters.
In July, for instance, The 414th Action Training Fleet and the Federal Aviation Administration collaborated to aggrandize the accessible training breadth during exercise Red Flag at Nellis by about three times the admeasurement as above-mentioned iterations.
“This is the aboriginal Red Flag exercise featuring committed fifth-generation aggressors, who are application longer-range abhorrent and arresting measures to accommodate exercise participants added astute blackmail replication,” the Air Force said in a absolution at the time. “The amplification of the airspace has accustomed for training to added carefully adjust with the National Aegis Strategy’s focus on the pacing challenge.”
JPARC is added than alert the admeasurement of alike the broadcast training breadth that was acclimated during the latest abundance of Red Flag out of Nellis AFB, a aggregate of air amplitude able-bodied accepted at Eielson.
“The bigger affair that we’re starting to see as both squadrons are absolutely fleshed out, we accept the accommodation to run abounding contest with 48 F-35s,” said Worrell, who runs one of Eielson’s two F-35 squadrons. The added is the 356th Fighter Squadron.
“We can calmly accommodate with the Raptors bottomward from the south. So we do affiliation on a annual abject with the Raptors on the JPARC…I mean, we alarm the bros bottomward the artery and …we can alternation with a distinct sortie, so that’s a big advantage of actuality actuality in Alaska.”
The F-35s at Eielson and the F-22s at JBER alternation every day at JPARC with the 18th Aggressor Squadron, additionally based at Eielson.
“JPARC is the admeasurement of the accompaniment of Indiana,” Berkland said. “If anyone on the band is from Texas, I apologize upfront, but if you were to cut Alaska in bisected and accomplish it into two states, Texas would be afresh the third bigger accompaniment afterwards the two Alaskas.”
The all-inclusive amplitude of JPARC, accumulated with the capabilities of the F-35, makes for an accomplished abode to alternation adjoin abeyant Chinese air aegis threats, Berkland said.
“When you attending at what the avant-garde threats are, they’re acceptable added baleful and they’re acceptable added baleful at added and added ranges in agreement of the adeptness of an air aegis adjustment to detect, target, and afresh appoint our collective forces,” he said. “So accepting a ambit like the JPARC and accepting all the altered assets amid us and the 3rd Addition bottomward at Elmendorf, enables us to alternation for the high-end action and it enables us to accept the amplitude to innovate tactics, techniques and procedures to survive and be baleful in that avant-garde blackmail environment. We’re absolutely watching actual carefully all the developments beyond the apple that our competitors are advancing and we are training to that every day.”
In training to those avant-garde threats, Worrell said that “we begin that stealth is not necessarily the ultimate answer, but it is an entry-level requirement. If you’re not bringing your A-game from the beginning, you don’t accept added adaptability to abide to do those things because the threats are continuing to advance on the electromagnetic spectrum.”
The threats, he said, are “not blockage in the X Band. They’re overextension out beyond the accomplished EMS [electromagnetic spectrum] and that still enables us to adjudge and actuate agency to defeat that … and bringing the accomplished force to buck is addition big allotment of what we are continuing to assignment on in the JPARC.”
No best is training bound to aloof a four-ship flight of F-35s, Worrell said.
“It is a four-ship of F-35s. It is four Raptors. It is three [EA-18] Growlers. It is amalgam our Australian ally up actuality with the [Boeing E-7] Wedgetail and bringing in all the added non-kinetic furnishings that we can during those Red Flags…and accept the accommodation of breadth that is activity to be an enabler in the fight.”
The Red Flag Alaska 22-3 exercise, which wraps up on August 12, accent one abeyant vulnerability, Berkland said.
“We accommodate all domains into our Red Flag Alaska exercises,” he said. But amplitude is “something that we’re alive on ramping up, to be absolutely honest, because that is the breadth that is anytime added important and potentially a vulnerability that we charge to bank up and afresh Red Flag Alaska is the absolute abode to do that.”
“The F-16 is still a abundant belvedere and a abundant asset that we get to use and charge in the Air Force,” said Worrell. He acclimated an automotive affinity to analyze the two.
“So you could accept an alarming ‘69 Mustang that is a bang to drive. It goes fast. Makes a lot of abundant noise. It still does the job acutely well. But afresh you can analyze that to a Tesla, which is a newer, modernized, added computer-based adjustment and some of the things you’re accomplishing are beneath about active the car and added about managing the decisions that you’re making.”
The F-35, he said, “brings a lot added sensor [situational awareness] and a lot added automation into how the sensors accommodate advice to the pilot so that I’m no best active the radar. I’m no best aggravating to administer breadth my alarm is attractive to get the actual aspect on something. There’s still some pieces to that, but it’s abundant added about what decisions the pilot authoritative in the cockpit now. That has afflicted how we started to alternation our four-ships and our wingmen.”
Another above aberration amid the F-16 and the fifth-generation F-22s and F-35s is the adeptness to assignment calm while actuality abundant added apart.
Instead of accepting a wingman who is a mile away, “he’s now bristles to 20 afar away,” said Worrell. “He needs to be in position, authoritative the aforementioned accommodation for what the four-ship is intending to do. And the jet absolutely enables that from a sensors bend and the acquaintance that he has about the battlespace.”
Berkland said that aback he came over to the F-35 affairs afterwards aerial F-16s out of Bagram Air Abject in Afghanistan, he anticipation it would be an accessible transition.
“Honestly, I affectionate of scoffed at it and I thought, ‘hey, this will be easy,’” he said. “It’s a Lockheed jet. Single-engine. Side-stick. Got some buttons and switches on the throttle. And eventually, it’ll be easy. “
But Berkland said that what he didn’t absolutely grasp, “was the fundamentals of what makes a fifth-gen airplane, a fifth generation. And those would be two things – stealth and the sensor admixture that VooDoo talked about.”
Though the F-16 “is the adulation of my life,” Berkland said that it “simply can’t go places that the F-35 can go” because it does not accept the aforementioned avant-garde sensor capabilities.
“So aback you attending at altered AORs and the anti-access breadth abnegation adequacy that assertive adversaries are fine-tuning, the F-16s can’t get into some of those places. The systems the F-35s are application …enables a amount of situational acquaintance that you aloof really, absolutely struggled to get in a fourth gen platform.”
While the F-35 was not acclaimed as a “dogfighter” it does accept advantages in air-to-air combat, Berkland said.
“It comes bottomward to the pilot and accepting the acquaintance of abject your advantages while demography advantage of what the brigand is doing, and may be doing,” he said. “It’s a actual able belvedere from that bend and actual fun to fly.”
One advantage, he said, is the adeptness of the F-35 to accept a aerial bend of advance – the bend at which the ambit of an aircraft’s addition meets the about wind.
“Coming from the F-16, aloof to allocution carefully pilot terms, the bend of advance (AOA) adequacy of the F-35 is appealing cool. The adeptness to cull lots of AOA and put your adenoids on something, admitting in the F-16, you weren’t necessarily able to do that because of the AOA limitations on it, so that’s a air-conditioned capability.”
Another advantage is the engine.
“The agent is great,” said Berkland. “At atomic in agreement of thrust, it’s got a lot of thrust. You can go actual quickly. Absolutely to Mach [Mach 1] you’ll get there apparently faster than anybody. And afresh already you get the Mach, you know, the F-22 will apparently canyon you by and accumulate going. But it’s a abundant aeroplane that works actual able-bodied out actuality on the JPARC, I can acquaint you from aerial at low levels, as able-bodied as accomplishing a lot of high-altitude stuff. Beyond the board, it performs great.”
Before ambience bottom in the cockpit, F-35 pilots at Eielson accept to band up, Worrell said.
First pilots don fleeces. Afresh a flight suit. Afresh the G-suit. Afresh a snow jacket. And afresh the Collective Strike Fighter Jacket. And afresh minus-50-degree-rated boots.
“Then at that point, you’re so hot, you aloof appetite to get out of the building,” Worrell said, abacus that pilots adopt to airing out to the planes in temperatures dipping to 30 or 40 degrees beneath aught rather than drive there aloof to accumulate from overheating.
“Then you get in a jet, and the ambition is aloof not to diaphoresis until you get out there and flying,” he said. “So that’s aloof an added claiming of aerial up actuality in Alaska.”
But accustomed the altitude in and about Eielson, there’s acceptable acumen to array up. And it’s a key acumen that afore pilots in Alaska alike get to that point, they accept to go through Arctic training school, conducted at Eielson.
It’s “fantastic training,” he said. “Very sobering. Or chilling, maybe, would be the appropriate word, because you’re out there for a brace of nights and surviving. It’s bare 50. And all you accept is your activity raft, your single-person activity raft, and afresh you body some affectionate of apartment over that. And afresh the additional night, you absolutely body a ‘no-kidding’ apartment that you awning up with snow and you don’t sleep, you survive. That is the goal.”
And it’s like “a lot of innovation,” he said.
“So for example, the F-35 bench kit doesn’t fit the sleeping bag the F-16s could fit, which is a nice balmy sleeping bag. You could absolutely get some beddy-bye in that thing. But we had to be avant-garde and appear up with article that would fit in the F-35 bench kit that would acquiesce you to survive, if not be comfortable.”
That resulted in what Berkland declared as “almost like a full-body capote affectionate of design. It’s actual thin. But it does accumulate you balmy abundant to absolutely survive that analytical 12 hours that we appraise we charge in adjustment to get that HH-60 with [combat accomplishment officers] and [pararescue jumpers] out there to aces us up on the range.”
Berkland said that while he didn’t apperceive what the Eielson’s F-35 mission able amount is at the moment, “I can acquaint you that it is decidedly bigger than annihilation I’ve anytime apparent before.”
Maintenance at the abject “outperforms our expectations. On a circadian basis, ops has a boxy time befitting up with aliment here.”
The cardinal of planes he can put in the air on any accustomed day “comes bottomward to pilot availability…So that has been fantastic. Some of that is the actuality that we accept actual new airplanes. But I anticipate a lot of it has to do with the amazing aggregation that we accept up actuality that takes pride in accomplishing all those things.”
That’s abnormally important in the frigid altitude of Eielson.
“We accept a adage that we’re accessible to go at 50 below,” he said. “It does get to that temperature at assertive times of the year. But our aggregation has a faculty of discipline. Because, frankly, there are no shortcuts. If you don’t chase the tech order, if you don’t do all the little things, if you adjournment aliment actions, you’re activity to pay for it aback it’s 50 beneath and aphotic out all day long.”
While the aircraft itself has accurate to be reliable alike in the acute cold, Berkland said he is anxious about befitting the F-35s, which crave a lot of genitalia to accumulate flying, abiding abnormally over continued distances.
“One of the challenges that we are alive on is believability aback administering broken operations aback you’re not necessarily affiliated to ALIS,” he said, apropos to the Autonomic Acumen Advice System, the F-35’s allegedly universally accessible bloom and aliment abstracts system. “It’s not been a mission stop, but annihilation that we can get from industry, absolutely from Lockheed Martin, to advice us cross that, that’s what we are absolutely attractive to do in the future.”
In January, the F-35 Collective Affairs Office (JPO), in affiliation with Lockheed Martin, took addition footfall in the alteration from ALIS to the avant-garde F-35 Operational Abstracts Integrated Network (ODIN) acumen advice adjustment by fielding the aboriginal 14 sets of new ODIN accouterments to F-35 squadrons, according to a JPO release, which said the move was on schedule, and aural budget.
Berkland said a contempo bearings at Marine Station Iwakuni Japan “shows some of the challenges” of extensive logistics. “And article we’d like to see aesthetic in the future.”
One of his squadrons bare a allotment for an F-35. Though the Marines had it at Iwakuni, the fleet had to go aback to Lockheed, “and through some amount of authority to get approval to antecedent that part.”
“If we could get added adaptability in that adjustment so that we can absolutely antecedent that allotment added flexibly, I anticipate that would be a game-changer for us.”
Worrell said the added acumen claiming “is how continued sometimes it takes to get article to a abode if it’s not there. And advocating for the appropriate antecedence of aback it needs to be there. Actuality in Alaska, we are affectionate of at the end of the acumen alternation for best of our genitalia and supplies.”
Adding to that claiming is a accumulation alternation archetypal breadth the allotment is accessible at the time of need, not necessarily on duke in stock.
He acclimated the archetype of the F-35 pilot’s custom-built helmet to appearance the airiness of the accumulation alternation and what he is accomplishing to advice fix that.
“If I booty abroad a pilot’s helmet, he’s not activity to fly” because it’s custom-built to fit the pilot.
So instead of advance in accepting some added helmets on hand, that pilot has to wait, grounded, for bristles or six canicule for a new helmet.
The application becomes how abundant accessories a fleet brings on an ACE or any added expeditionary event.
“We’re alive through dressmaking those burden endless to accompany aloof that we charge to sustain the antecedent operations beneath the acceptance that we’re activity to accept a follow-on backfill, and we accept to afresh accept reliable communications to acquaint what we charge on that two-week addition that’s advancing in,” said Worrell. “So those are the challenges aback it comes to execution.”
Despite logistical and acclimate challenges, and the accretion threats airish by both China and Russia – affronted by melting Arctic ice that is aperture barter routes, appropriately abacus to all-around antagonism for area and assets – Eielson Air Force Abject and its 54 F-35s will alone become added important to the nation’s aegis as time goes by.
“So aback it comes to us deploying armament throughout the AOR, I don’t appetite to get into specifics,” Berkland said. But the ambition of “dynamic force employment” actuality conducted out of Eielson “is to ensure a chargeless and accessible Indo-Pacific.”
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