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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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Western_Veteran

    June 9, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    — interesting article – but the author never did tell the reader, “Why The U.S. Air Force Pushed The F-35 To Its Limits In Alaska”

    — if the Wing has “over 50 aircraft”, the number of jets generated would’ve been useful here (I’m sure the Russians know)

  2. dave parker

    June 9, 2022 at 12:57 pm

    What an unrealistic defense posture.
    When will there be a dogfight over the Arctic with the Russians?
    We are not that stupid, and these rah-rah articles point out
    that we are.
    And yet we placed the most of our latest and greatest air resources
    there.
    Probably need to spread them out to more potential hot zones
    further South, not withstanding leaving many to do patrol
    over the Alaska – Siberian region.

    • John Crane

      June 9, 2022 at 1:50 pm

      …Look at Alaska’s location on a globe and overlay the effective flight range of the aircraft. You’ll have your answer as to why the base is Alaska is ideal.

  3. LMGuy

    June 9, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    Just a FYI – LM Aero just delivered the 800th F-35 by the end of May 2022.

  4. LMGuy

    June 9, 2022 at 2:30 pm

    The high-end readiness exercise in Alaska in May 2022 was called “Red Flag 22-1″:
    Last week, the U.S. and international forces concluded Red Flag 22-1 (RF-A) out of Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Red Flag exercises provide pilots and maintainers with robust air-to-air and surface-to-air training. The flying units engage in high-end realistic combat training exercises to prepare pilots to face adversary threats in a combat scenario. Over 2,000 service members from three nations came together to support 90+ aircraft from over 25+ units during the exercise. The U.S. Air Force hosted the exercise with participants from the Royal Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, Marine Corps F-35Bs, and various aircraft assigned to units within the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area. “One of our primary focuses this time has been fifth-generation integration,” explained Capt. Will Remien, 353rd Combat Training Squadron weapons flight commander and RF-A 22-1 team chief. “Integration with our joint partners and our international partners is always a priority. A big part of this exercise was also coordination between ground and air forces.”

  5. RepublicansLovePutin&hateAmerica

    June 10, 2022 at 1:50 am

    Exercise Red Flag isn’t reliable because USAF coke head brass has been know to cheat get the unrealistic results they want.

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