F-35 dominated this year’s first Red Flag exercises with a 20-1 kill ratio

Red Flag 19-1 has just come to an end and, based on official reports, once again the F-35 held its own against the Aggressors.

The recent Red Flag drills were held over the span of the past three weeks saw participation from a dozen Air Force F-35As from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron, along with many other types of combat aircraft.

Indeed, while early reports suggested a 15-1 kill ratio recent Air Force testimony by Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris, Vice Commander of Air Combat Command characterized the kill ratio as “20-1” meaning that, for one F-35A “lost” in simulated combat in a high threat environment that the aircraft destroyed 20 simulated enemy aircraft belonging to the “Red Force”.

Two years later, with the subsequent Block 3F software upgrade available that provides 100 per cent of the software required for full warfighting capability, the F-35s have once again put their skills to test as part of the “Blue Force” at the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis AFB: an “exponentially more challenging” Red Flag, according to the airmen from the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron.

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According to the airmen of the 388th FW, during the first week of RF 19-1, the F-35 pilots flew in a larger force of Blue Air in a counter-air mission. More than 60 aggressor aircraft were flying against them, blinding many of the fourth-generation aircraft with “robust” electronic attack capabilities.

Here’s how Col. Joshua Wood recalled the mission, providing a few details about the performance of the stealth aircraft in the latest exercise (that saw the participation of thirteen pilots in the squadron who had never flown the F-35 in Red Flag, including four who had just graduated pilot training):

“I’ve never seen anything like it before. This is not a mission you want a young pilot flying in. My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training. He gets on the radio and tells an experienced, 3,000-hour pilot in a very capable fourth-generation aircraft. ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die. There’s a threat off your nose.’”

The young pilot then “killed” the enemy aircraft and had three more kills in the hour-long mission.

“Even in this extremely challenging environment, the F-35 didn’t have many difficulties doing its job, that’s a testament to the pilot’s training and the capabilities of the jet.”

Therefore, Wood did not provide specific details about the type’s overall kill ratio against the Red Air, but at least we know a young pilot, with just a few missions in the Lightning II, achieved four (simulated) kills in a RF mission: whatever the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) and the role of other aircraft teaming with the F-35s, it’s an interesting result, suggesting the aircraft can be lethal even in the hands of recently graduated pilots.

“With stealth, the F-35 can get closer to threats than many other aircraft can. Combined with the performance of the fused sensors on the F-35, we can significantly contribute to the majority of the missions. As this aircraft matures, we continue to see it be a significant force-multiplier in a threat-dense environment. Red Flag was a success for us and has made our younger pilots more lethal and more confident,” 1st Lt. Landon Morris, a new F-35A pilot said.

Most probably, more details will be made public in the next weeks, so stay tuned for some more analysis and coverage!

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