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15 to 1 Kill Ratio: What Makes the F-35A Stealth Fighter Special

F-35A
An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, prepares to taxi out for a mission during Red Flag 21-1, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Feb. 3, 2021. With its advanced avionics, the F-35A will provide next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness and reduced vulnerability for the United States and allied nations.

The famed Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter is often considered to be the most lethal and versatile combat aircraft of the modern era. And for good reasons.

And in an effort to properly gauge exactly how deadly this plane can be, the F-35A was put through the intense Red Flag exercise back in 2017.

“While the overall goal of a Red Flag exercise is to practice how aircraft can operate with other aircraft in the same battlespace, the F-35 did score a kill-death ratio better than fifteen to one,” Air Force Magazine writes.

The F-35s dropped twenty-seven inert weapons, with twenty-five of them registering direct hits on the enemy.

“(It was) the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016,” it continues, adding that the success now sets the stage for future large-scale exercises and coming deployments.

Rates ‘Enviable for Any Fleet’

Throughout the grueling two-week-long exercise, “F-35s flew at a mission capable rate of more than 90 percent and no specific maintenance issue arose,” according to the magazine, citing First Lt. Devin Ferguson, with the 388th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.

“The F-35s were flying hard, and things are going to break, but maintainers were able to fix issues quickly. For example, maintainers saw a generator on one jet fail. Airmen were able to fix it and the jet was flying again within twenty-four hours,” it added.

“The kind of rates (that) were turned in are enviable for any fleet,” said Col. David Lyons, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing, per Air Force Magazine.

He also mentioned that the high capability of the F-35 is comparable or better than other squadrons that are currently in service.

Enhanced Situational Awareness

Lt. Col. George Watkins, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron, witnessed firsthand that the F-35 pilots were able to increase their situational awareness. During the debriefings, young pilots immediately “talked about how much situational awareness they had” in a threatening environment, which included a “god’s eye view” of the battlespace.

“Situational awareness is king,” Lyons added. “Everybody’s SA is improved when the F-35 is on the battlefield.”

The magazine noted that by tapping into “data links and sensor fusion, the F-35s were able to quarterback legacy aircraft such as F-16s in large-scale missions. The jet’s enhanced radar, and ability to communicate with legacy aircraft via the Link 16 system, proved valuable during the exercise.”

These improvements, along with low observable technology, “makes us exponentially more survivable,” Watkins concluded.

The Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, had the participation of thirteen fighters from the 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing from Hill AFB, Utah. Those jets flew alongside F-22s, B-1Bs, F-15s, F-16s, in addition to international fighter aircraft such as Eurofighters.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Gregg S Pennington

    November 16, 2021 at 1:00 am

    But what will the F35 be able to do when real combat is on the ground, staring pilots in the face ? These numbers appear to be based on drills with friendlies!

  2. Steve

    November 17, 2021 at 8:38 am

    Yeah 90% availability rate? Who are they kidding. Just how much in manpower, parts, etc were directed at this exercise to make it happen? I have been around military “tests” during my 23 years and all to often it is “We have the answer. Now let’s design the test.” Did the test include Chinese and Russian Pilots in Chinese or Russian aircraft? Maybe they can test the F-35 on the Southern Border of Ukraine near Crimea to see how it performs against the S-400 and S-500 Russian Air Defense Systems and repeat that along the Line of Demarcation in Eastern Ukraine in the Donbas. That is real world. Give it a shot. Pun intended.

  3. Legacy Driver

    November 17, 2021 at 10:52 am

    The Joint Strike Failure will never be competitive in the air superiority role against tier 1 threats. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand basic mathematics never mind physics.

  4. Ed Henderson

    November 17, 2021 at 9:51 pm

    If much of your superiority is based upon comms, what happens when the comms go to shite as happens in…wait for it…combat? Jamming, anti-sat missiles or an EMP…what then?

    I saw an interview with a Russian pilot who, while biased, said their emphasis is on ruggedness and survivability in the battlespace. OK, perhaps that was an excuse but perhaps not what the brown stuff hits the oscillator.

  5. mikeyc

    November 18, 2021 at 4:45 am

    Propaganda. Nothing but propaganda. Just a few of the obvious flaws with this article. It portends to compare the F35 to other planes, but then fails to do so. No mention of what ratios would be expected from other air frames, or from some of our more advanced adversary’s capability. Second, it mentions a 15 to 1 kill ratio… i.e. 15 pax on the ground per bomb dropped? What exactly does that mean? The fact that there’s no attempt to further describe how that was determined, what conditions were set prior, nor any reference to how these tests are typically set up and executed and benchmarked, is a strong indicator of propaganda. Third, Near the end of the article, it mentions other fighters like the F-22s, F18s, etc… but the 15-1 ratio doesn’t appear to have anything to do with air to air combat (which is what I first envisioned when I saw the headline), and there’s no benchmark given for those. Then it mentions 90% availability. Those are new planes against old, and they’re prioritizing parts and maintenance for the new stuff. No mention on the pure cost in $ and time to achieve 90% on those compared to what went into whatever availability rates the other platforms achieved.

    I have yet to see anything objective come out about the air force on the F-35. They’re intent on justifying and doubling down on the worst programmatic decision in the history of the DoD for an albatross program that’s let our adversaries catch up to us.

  6. Mike

    November 18, 2021 at 7:32 am

    A 15 to 1 kill ratio against imaginary targets in a controlled war gave does not translate into success in the real world chaos of actual combat! I call this story total BS!

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