The 56th Fighter Wing conducted the first F-35 training deployment from Luke AFB, Ariz., from April 4–18, the Air Force said on Friday.
Ten aircraft, half of Luke’s current F-35 fleet, were sent to Nellis AFB, Nev., for two weeks to see how well the team could conduct operations outside Luke.
Testing the ability to operate “on the road” is a milestone in reaching the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the F-35. To complete IOC, a squadron must have 12 or more aircraft and airmen trained and equipped to conduct basic interdiction, close air support, and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses in a contested environment.
“Operating away from Luke has been a huge success for the wing, Team Nellis and the F-35 program in general. We are learning lessons that will be hugely important for our pilots and maintainers across the F-35 program,” Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th Fighter Wing commander, said in a statement.
The 56th Fighter Wing is planned to provide training and the cadre of pilots and maintainers to fill operational bases worldwide.
“The objective of this event was to integrate F-35 pilots from Nellis, Eglin and Luke Air Force Bases and operate on the Nevada Test and Training Range, while executing off-station maintenance operations. The lessons learned by pilots and maintainers will lay the foundation for future training and deployment operations,” Lt. Col. Michael Ebner, 61stFighter Squadron commander, added.
This was the largest deployment of F-35s.
Ebner said, “Until now, the Air Force F-35 program had not moved this many jets and conducted sustained operations at another base. Nellis AFB was the perfect place to test this operation. Our maintainers fixed aircraft and generated sorties without any F-35 deployment templates. The pilots integrated and discussed tactics with not only other F-35 pilots, but also with pilots from other platforms such as the F-22 and F-16.”
The 56th Fighter Wing’s 61st Fighter Squadron flew its 1,000th sortie last month (Defense Daily, April 1). Within 18 months, pilots and maintainers from the unit may be the first airmen to fly operational sorties in combat in the F-35A, the Air Force said.
Two of the assigned 20 F-35s at Luke belong to the Royal Australian Air Force (Defense Daily, March 20). Italy and Norway are expected to join Luke later this year. By 2024, Luke is scheduled to have six F-35 squadrons with 144 aircraft training pilots and maintainers from 11 countries.