F-35s flown by dedicated red-air pilots joined the Air Force’s top aerial combat exercise this month.
Captain Patrick Bowlds, an F-22 pilot, was one of the blue-air pilots who flew against them.
“It definitely adds a level of complexity,” Bowlds said of the red-air F-35s.
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The U.S. Air Force has stepped up the pressure this month in its first air-to-air combat training exercise, adding for the first time F-35 stealth fighters flown by dedicated red-air aggressor pilots – who mimic the tactics of an enemy force – in the mix of threats blue-air pilots face.
Red Flag, which takes place at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, began as an air combat exercise, but has evolved to include not only threats from increasingly advanced aerial aggressors, but also ground-based threats. air, space and information.
“My job is not to give the blue an easy day,” Col. Scott Mills, commander of the 57th Operations Group and F-35 aggressor pilot, said in a recent statement. “My job is to give Blue the hardest day possible. And the way for me to do that is to bring the F-35 into battle.”
Captain Patrick “Smokah” Bowlds, an F-22 instructor pilot at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia who was one of the blue-air pilots at Red Flag, told Insider that the addition of the F-35 attackers definitely made training more difficult. .
“Having them on red waves adds a level of complexity” to a “complex scenario” already involving many threats, he said.
“When you have a stealth platform on red air, it makes our job a lot more difficult in terms of where they are, how we’re going to protect allied forces or protect points on the ground or whatever mission is set to. that time… on time, ”Bowlds said.
“It is difficult, even while piloting the Raptor, to have good [situational awareness] on where the F-35s are, ”he said.
The F-22 is a fifth-generation fighter designed for air superiority, which gives it certain advantages in air-to-air combat, while the F-35 is a newer fifth-generation multi-mission fighter with a wider range of capabilities. .
Bowlds said the inclusion of F-35 aggressors in Red Flag has made things “more difficult because there is a bit of a unknown in terms of what they will be able to do.”
In addition, “red air detections occur at farther distances,” Bowlds explained. “It is inherently a greater threat to Allied air forces than older aggressors,” such as the fourth generation F-16s.
The F-35s “have better detection capabilities against everyone just because of their new radar and the avionics they have,” he said. “It definitely adds a level of complexity.”
Pilot combat training at Red Flag helps U.S. pilots maintain their advantage in the face of high-end emerging threats. For example, China and Russia are developing their own fifth generation stealth fighters: the J-20 and Su-57.
“I’ve seen enemy planes or surface-to-air threats become more and more advanced. It’s a big challenge,” Bowlds told Insider. “Things keep changing, so we need to be constantly aware of that and ready to change with them so that we can be on the cutting edge of technology.”
During Red Flag, blue-air pilots are given a mission, which can range from an offensive strike on an enemy target to defending a critical position. Red-Air pilots are responsible for preventing Blue-Air pilots from successfully completing their mission.
“What aggressors can present to them is a more difficult problem for air assaults,” Lt. Col. Chris Finkenstadt, commander of 64 Aggressor Squadron, said in a recent statement.
“The attackers have a little more knowledge of the replication of the threat, and they have studied the opponent and how the opponent would actually react to a specific situation,” he said. “Based on our focus on high power competition, we have to make sure these guys are ready. “
During training there’s a lot going on, which is one of the reasons the addition of F-35 aggressors makes things really tough for blue-air pilots.
“I’ve flown against Red F-35s locally,” Bowlds said, telling Insider “it’s always a challenge.” This challenge is amplified in a great exercise like Red Flag. “There are a lot of different things that want to hurt you, and this is where you can start to lose sight of stealthy opponents,” he said.
This challenge, however, is welcomed by blue-air pilots like Bowlds, who told Insider that “if you’re complacent for very long, that’s when bad things start to happen.”
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