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F-35 squadron ramps up ops tempo, tests for combat deployments

The Air Force’s 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, pumped out 150 sorties in the past two weeks, in addition to the unit’s normal flying operations, to test their ability to operate the F-35A Lightning II in a deployed environment.

The Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron and 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit focused on combat operations and tactical scenarios involving aircraft battle damage, downed-pilot recovery and fighting in an environment with limited or no communications.

Hill Air Force Base will eventually be home to three F-35 fighter squadrons with a total of 78 aircraft by the end of 2019, according to a 388th Fighter Wing press release. The active-duty 388th Fighter Wing will fly and maintain the jets in partnership with the Air Force Reserve’s 419th Fighter Wing.

During the latest training operations, pilots flew more sorties with more equipment than normal “home-station” operations, including their side-arms.

“The tempo gives our airmen a taste of deployed operations,” said Lt. Col. Yosef Morris, 4th Fighter Squadron commander. “We want the first time they see these things to be in a training environment, and not when we’re called upon to deploy during a contingency.”

Maintenance personnel practiced loading various munitions over the course of longer shifts and prepared aircraft sorties late into the evening.

The airmen ran their training operations out of a secure, deployable facility that houses mission planning, debrief, intelligence, and the Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS.

ALIS is the F-35′s next-generation software system designed to detail maintenance issues on the jet. Maintainers plug the ALIS into the jet in order to diagnose performance issues and streamline the process of identifying replacement parts. The system has been advertised as a game-changer in aviation maintenance.

“This was a big planning and execution effort for the 4th [Fighter Squadron] and 4th [Aircraft Maintenance Unit],” said 1st Lt. Eric Dolan, officer in charge of the 4th AMU. “It was designed to challenge us and provide our airmen with experience and acclimate our new airmen. They came away more confident in their abilities.”

The F-35A is a single-seat, single-engine, fifth-generation, multi-role fighter that’s able to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense missions with stealth capability.

In September, the Marine Corps became the first U.S. armed service to fly an F-35 joint strike fighter in combat, during a mission in support of ground clearance operations over Afghanistan.

The Israeli air force also confirmed in May that the country’s F-35 “Adir” fighter jets had seen combat in two airstrikes somewhere in the Middle East.

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