2014-10-27 We have travelled to Eglin, MAWTS, Fallon and elsewhere to learn from the operators and maintainers how they are working the introduction of the F-35 into combat operations.
The commander designate of the Beaufort F-35 squadron made a clear statement of the approach being taken during our visit to MAWTS, where he was the XO of the first operational F-35 squadron, Lt. Col. Greg Summa.
Question: How do you externalize your learning outside of the squadron?
Major Summa: One way is working with the USAF at the 422 Test and Evaluation squadron at Nellis.
We tend to busy here, so we send operators from the training department or former patch wearers (MAWTS-1 and TOPGUN) to work with SMEs from the Navy and USAF at conferences or simulator events.
The young senior company grade who are coming off of a tour with a Hornet or a Harrier and now wearing a Green Knights patch go into the room with the aviators at Nellis with F-16 and F-15 pilots and work through the process.
In effect, an F-35 enterprise is emerging built around a group of individuals in the profession of arms who want to make this airplane as lethal as possible.
People come in from different backgrounds – Raptor, Eagle, Viper, Hornet or Harrier – and are focusing on the common airplane and ways to make it work more effectively in a tactical setting.
And talking to the experience of a common plane is a crucial piece of the effort.
When an F-35 pilot sits down regardless of what service he is in, he’s talking with an individual from another service on the same data point.
Let me explain what I mean.
If I sat down as an F-18 pilot, and I wanted to talk about AMRAAM performance, I was talking about it relative to how it integrated with an F-18.
The F-18 is a Boeing product, a McDonald Douglas product, totally different than F-16, which is a Lockheed product.
When I talk AMRAAM with an F-35 pilot from the Air Force, maybe one of the squadrons at Luke.
I am talking about the same exact radar, I’m talking about the same exact software — everything’s the same.
If we differ in training, it doesn’t have to do with hardware, it doesn’t have to do with software; it has to do with service approaches or carry-over from previous doctrinal employment.
When an F-35A pilot talks with an F-35B pilot and they discuss what they would to see with the evolution of the aircraft they are discussing essentially the same airplane and its evolution.
It is two operators of the same airplane focused on what they want to see evolve even though they are in different services.
And the commonality point is really lost in the broader discussion of the F-35.
And when it comes to strategic impact it is the commonality associated with logistics, which will have a really significant operational impact.
The interoperability at the supply level, the logistics level, the procurement level or the maintenance training level is a key foundation for joint and coalition airpower going forward leveraging the F-35.
(Note the 422 USAF squadron has 2 F-16, 1 F-15E, 1 F-15C and 2 A-10 pilots flying the F-35A. This Fall they will get a USMC FA-18 pilot (former MAWTS Instructor) to serve on the staff.)
It is not surprising therefore that the head of the commander of the U.S. Air ForceWarfare Center at Nellis AFB would want to understand on a personal basis what the new aircraft brings to the combat mix.
General Mike Hostage, the ACC Commander, also felt the need to understand much better what the F-22 brought to the party, by learning how to fly the plane and his honesty about learning what he did not know and how that affected his thinking was underscored on our recent interview with him.
I was writing war plans in my previous job as a three star using the F-22s in a manner that was not going to get the most out of them that I could have because I did not truly understand the radical difference that the fifth gen could bring.
A recent story released by the training command at Eglin provided a good sense of the learning curve for Major General Jay Silveria, the commander of the USAF Warfare Center.
The story highlighted both how easy the aircraft is to fly and the maturity of the training process (entry and flight within 7 weeks) and the impact of the aircraft will have on combat and upon Silveria’s thinking about shaping evolving tactics and training for the USAF at Nellis, and through Nellis with Fallon and MAWTS.
The story written by Samuel King, Jr. and published on October 1, 2014 described the events involved.
Silveria, the commander of the U.S. Air ForceWarfare Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada, wrapped up his seven-week training filling approximately five hours of F-35 seat time with back-to-back sorties and a hot pit refuel.
“His qualification training was seamless. He met all his requirements on the ground and in the air to be a newly qualified F-35 pilot,” said Lt. Col. Matt Renbarger, the 58th Fighter Squadron commander and Silveria’s trainer.
The general was chosen to become qualified based on his leadership position at the USAFWC and pilot experience. The center he leads is responsible for current and future F-35A operational testing, tactics development and eventual advanced training exercises and weapons school.
“The Warfare Center is so involved with the development and future of this aircraft that it was important for me to see and experience this new program at the lowest tactical level and bring that knowledge base back to the higher level strategic discussions with groups like F-35 program office and Air Combat Command,” said Silveria, a 29-year veteran and F-15 pilot. “The training provides me insight into the entire spectrum of the F-35 program.”
Based on his interaction with the F-35 integrated training center and the 33rd Fighter Wing, he said the Air Force is on the right path forward.
“It is everything we want it to be as far as training our F-35 pilots and maintainers,” he said. “It’s only the beginning, but it is easy to see the wing and other services are ready to handle the increase in students as this program begins to grow quickly.” The general said while he was surprised at how easy the aircraft was to fly, the most impressive part of the F-35 is the fifth generation fusion features that will ultimately benefit the warfighter.
“The real upgrade is the integration,” said Silveria. “The fusion of all those flight components in sync with each other was the most impressive. The communication and navigation work with the flight controls which connect to the radar. They all come together to make the aircraft that much more capable.”
The data and information passing through those integrated systems is constantly being updated. Many of those updates are built at Eglin in the 513th Electronic Warfare Squadron’s F-35 reprogramming lab. The lab is managed by the 53rd Wing, which reports to the USAFWC.
“The 513th is vital to this program,” he said. “They are not only providing mission data to the Air Force, but for the other services and our allied partners. They are making world-wide impacts in that little building.”
After completing his qualifying flight, Silveria took a moment to reflect on what it was like to fly DoD’s newest fighter aircraft.
“It’s like seeing into the future,” said ACC’s former Inspector General.
“We’re still at the beginning on so many levels with the flight and employment of this aircraft and we’ll continue to improve, but even now what we’re seeing is amazing.
After flying it, I just foresee what a powerful weapon it will be.”
“I’m confident this program will develop to reach and even go beyond our high expectations. There’s an immense capability here that’s going to be amazing.”
As a final note one should reflect on this factoid:
The data and information passing through those integrated systems is constantly being updated.
Many of those updates are built at Eglin in the 513th Electronic Warfare Squadron’s F-35 reprogramming lab.
The lab is managed by the 53rd Wing, which reports to the USAFWC.
In other words, software upgradeability, fusion and the evolution of spectrum warfare are all linked in the standup of the F-35.