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Why the U.S. Air Force Pushed the F-35 to Its Limits in Alaska

F-35 on Tarmac
An F-35A team parks the aircraft for the first time at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, Feb. 8, 2016.

The F-35 is training hard in Alaska: Last month, one of the U.S. Air Force’s frontline fighter wings pushed the F-35A Lighting II stealth fighter jet to its limits in a capability and readiness display in a critical area of operations.

F-35s in the Frontlines

In late May, the U.S. Air Force’s 354th Fighter Wing held a readiness and capability exercise in Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, where it is based. The unit is the largest operator of F-35 stealth fighter jets in the world, with over 50 aircraft. The unit also flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon fourth-generation fighter jet.

“Since our capability demonstration in March 2022, we received our last F-35s and completed our fleet. The 354th FW has the iron and we’re ready to project airpower anytime, anywhere,” Colonel David Berkland, the commanding officer of the 354th Fighter Wing, said in a press release.

The 354th Fighter Wing’s location puts it on the frontlines of the U.S. military homeland defense structure. The location of the airbase in Alaska means that it can reach Russia or defend against Russian bomber incursions as well as reach anywhere in the northern hemisphere within only one fighter sortie.

“Our location is a big asset. We’re able to provide world-class training because of our proximity to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, and we can support the projection of all kinds of aircraft, including our permanently-stationed F-35s and other strategic airpower, all over the world. We are ready to answer the call,” Berkland added.

Alaska, in general, is home to the U.S. military’s most advanced aircraft. Besides the F-35A Lighting II, the F-22 Raptor is based in Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. And the two platforms often work together.

“When you station the F-35 at Eielson and you have the F-22 Raptor at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, continuously working together in the JPARC with our 18th Aggressor Squadron and advanced ground training assets, you have the best training field to advance high-end airpower operations,” Berkland had said back in April when his unit received its last F-35A aircraft.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a fifth-generation stealth multi-role aircraft.

One of the most advanced fighter jets to ever take to the skies, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter can competently conduct six mission sets: Strategic Attack, Close Air Support, Air Superiority, Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), and Suppression Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction Enemy Air Defense (DEAD).

Currently, 16 countries are flying or intend to fly the aircraft (the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, Japan, Israel, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Poland, Singapore, Belgium, South Korea, Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and Germany), while there are others, such as Greece, that are considering the aircraft very carefully.

As of 2022, 13 countries operate more than 700 F-35 stealth aircraft from around 27 bases worldwide. The U.S. military alone is considering buying about 2,500 aircraft of types, with 1,700 F-35As for the Air Force, 350 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps, and 270 F-35Cs and 70 F-35Cs for the Navy and Marine Corps, respectively. However, these numbers are always fluctuating, depending on production costs and mission requirements.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.