2015-02-07 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake
During our visit to the USAF Warfare Center we had a chance to sit down with Lt. Col. Benjamin “Bach” Bishop, the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron director of operations, to discuss his experience with the Operational Testing of the F-35, and the way ahead.
Lt. Col. Bishop is an experienced F-15 pilot with a very strong engineering background. His squadron is assigned to the 53d Test and Evaluation Group, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The squadron performs operational testing of all fighter aircraft and munitions entering and in operational use by Air Combat Command (ACC).
The USAF Fact Sheet highlights the important role with the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group plays in evolving the tactics for the evolving combat air force.
The 53d Test and Evaluation Group is responsible for the overall execution of the 53d Wing’s flying activities at Barksdale, Beale, Creech, Davis Monthan, Edwards, Eglin, Dyess, Nellis, and Whiteman Air Force Bases.
Members of the group execute operational test and evaluation (OT&E), and tactics development projects assigned by Air Combat Command (ACC) for A-10, B-1, B-2, B-52, F-15C/E, F-16, F-22A, Guardian Angel, HH-60G, HC-130J, MQ-1, MQ-9, RQ-4, and U-2 combat aircraft.
The 53 TEG also supports current Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center efforts with the F-35A Lightning II. The unit performs functional management for acquisition, modification, testing and certification for fighter, bomber and combat support aircrew training systems.
The group also conducts foreign military exploitation and special access projects. Beginning July 15, 2012, the group has OT&E responsibility for space control and space range assets.
The 53 TEG is composed of highly trained aircrew and a diverse range of support personnel to execute ACC-directed operational tests as well as Combatant Commander-directed Urgent Operational Needs.
The mission of the TEG is to provide the warfighter with the latest in software, hardware, weapons and tactics techniques and procedures to win America’s wars.
Additionally, the TEG carries out the USAF Nuclear Weapons System Evaluation Program. The group plans, executes and analyzes ACC’s $50 million annual air-delivered reliability data for nuclear capable aircraft and weapons and reports weapon system reliability to USSTRATCOM for inclusion in their annual strategic war plan update.
The results of these tests directly benefit aircrews in Air Combat Command, Air Force Central Command, Pacific Air Forces and United States Air Forces in Europe by providing them with operationally proven hardware and software systems.
Lt. Col. Bishop came to the 422nd in 2012 in anticipation of a focused effort on the F-35 and support for the USAF preparation for their initial operation capability or IOC anticipated in 2016. In early 2013, he became a certified F-35 pilot and based on those experiences and the testing done with the 4 F-35s in their inventory is now preparing to work with the Weapons School with the arrival of their aircraft.
According to Bishop: “We work very closely with the Weapons School and will do so in support of the IOC process. We are part of the 53rd Wing and work and from the git go have worked with the Weapons Schools with the 4 F-35s we have been flying for operational test purposes when those planes first arrived in March 2013. This has been a 53rd and 57th Wing joint working effort. ”
Question: Are there precursor schools to prepare for coming to the 422nd?
Lt. Col. Bishop: No. We have precursor qualifications. To be a member of this division you have to have been an instructor pilot. And we have a number of graduates from the weapons schools as well.
Question: The plane that arrived yesterday is basically an IOC aircraft?
Lt. Col. Bishop: It is a Block 3 aircraft and that is the configuration, which will become the IOC aircraft.
Throughout our interview, Bishop emphasized that as an operational test squadron their role was to look throughout at the performance of the aircraft from the standpoint of its impact on tactics and integration within the combat air force.
And he highlighted that with the F-35, there is a close working relationship with the other services and partners working through the process of introducing the aircraft into service.
“I think it’s important to have tactics development that supports all the entities that the ACC is asked to develop tactics for.
The fact that we’re all executing the same playbook is very important. We know integration is the key to effective airpower.”
And working the joint and coalition integration piece is crucial as well, notably with the coming of a common aircraft, the F-35.
“We are involved in regular and ongoing cross talk with Marines and the Navy and with the coalition partners. I will receive a Marine Corps officer in the 422nd this summer and have a Navy pilot flying the F-22 as well. I also have UK and an Aussie officers as well in the 422nd.”
He emphasized as well the close working relationship with Edwards AFB with regard to operational testing.
And this engagement reinforced the multi-service, and multi-partner working relationship as well.
“The USAF pilots at Edwards are flying with Marines, Brits and Dutch pilots as well.”
Question: How do you approach the tactics development piece?
Lt. Col. Bishop: We do a series of tactics investigations, which means that we evaluate how this platform will conduct a particular mission set.
We have done a search and rescue testing investigations, and close air support tactics investigation as well as a defensive counter air attack investigation.
Looking forward, we have an air-surface tactics investigation coming up and this summer will do a counter-air tactics investigation.
In other words we are working through the mission sets the aircraft will perform when the USAF declares IOC.”
He expressed several times during the interview that from his experience with the aircraft and with the 422nd evaluations, that the F-35 represented the future of airpower.
What did he mean by this?
“The way the system is designed and the way information is fused together, it’s the future of air power.
With the F-15, I have three different scopes and I have to fuse the information.
In the F-35, the data is fused for me, allowing me to focus on the tactics of the mission.
Data fusion is the fundamental distinguisher of the fifth generation aircraft from legacy aircraft.
And as a pilot, I shift from focusing upon sensor management and more on battle management.
The fusion-centered aircraft is the future, and the F-35 represents that future.
And it is here now.”
Bishop described the next phase of introducing the F-35 into service working with the weapons school as working through the integration of the aircraft with the legacy fleet.
The key was to work through the appropriate tactics in shaping air operations going forward as the F-35 joined the F-22 within the combat air force, and the warfare center pushed the envelope on understanding how integration can best proceed.
Last Fall we had the chance to interview the head of the Air Combat Command, General Hostage.
This was his last interview prior to retirement, and he highlighted a key aspect of the way ahead for the combat air force.
Question: How important is the ready room and the pilot learning culture to the evolution of airpower, notably with the new airplanes coming on line?
General Hostage: Any time you put your magic piece of hardware in the hands of a young lieutenant, they’re going to figure out something new that you never thought of.
And they’ll use it in ways that you never considered. And ultimately, we’ll rewrite the tactical manuals.But that’s expected.
You want it to be a disciplined process, which is why we look for them out there at the squadron level to come up with ideas, but we do a very disciplined weapons and tactics review every year where we have the weapons officers from every tactical squadron show up at Nellis for two weeks, we have them hammer out every new thing that the people thought of, but all the experts feed on it, and pull it six ways to Sunday.
If it survives that test, then we document it, and we write it down, and we start training everybody how to do these things.
That’s how we propagate these great ideas across the force.
Because you’re right, the engine is out there in the mind of the lieutenant who has just figured out something new to do with their fancy piece of machinery drives change.
Clearly, General Hostage had the Warfare Center in mind, and key players like Lt. Col. Bishop to bring the “Right Stuff” to the force.
In a story written by Master Sgt. Kelley Stewart at the time of the arrival of the first F-35As at Nellis in March 2013, the expectations of Major General Lofgren, then the Warfare Center Commander were highlighted:
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – In the Thunderbird Hangar filled to capacity, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Lofgren, U.S. Air Force Warfare Center commander, formally accepted delivery of three F-35A Lightning IIs March 19.
The aircraft will be assigned to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron where they will undergo operational testing.
During the ceremony, the general focused on the importance of the F-35 program to the Air Force and the USAF Warfare Center by tying the aircrafts’ arrival to the center’s three priorities.
The first priority of the warfare center is developing capabilities and leaders who can fight in a contested environment. One of the focus areas for the 422nd TES will be operational testing to develop tactics for the aircraft and pilots.
“What lies ahead for the 422nd TES and the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group is no small task,” said Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. “You will forge the F-35 into the fighter of the future and test it to the limits.”
Carvalho went on to say the group’s and squadron’s pilots and maintainers “would take the F-35’s performance to new heights and define the very tactics the F-35 will one day use to defend freedom around the world.”
Lofgren expects to see the same dramatic new tactics development with the F-35A as was seen with the F-22.
“The aircraft has so much more capability than our current aircraft,” he said. “It will be exciting to see our experts develop innovative new ways to use the F-35 that have not been thought of yet.”
The second priority of the warfare center is integrating the capabilities of air, space and cyberspace to achieve greater warfighting effect in the battlespace.
“Integration of the F-35’s incredible sensors, and its ability to operate anywhere in the battlespace, will make the whole of all our forces more survivable and lethal,” Lofgren said.
Using the F-35A in tandem with the F-22 Raptor increases this lethality.
According to Gen. Mike Hostage III, Air Combat Command commander, the Air Force needs the fifth generation of capability it’s leveraging with the F-35A and F-22.
“No amount of fourth-generation capability is going to be able to survive in the environment that will be presented by our adversaries in the next decade without a fifth-generation capability to open up the way, to basically beat down the threat,” he said.
“Having the F-35s at Nellis brings the test and evaluation of the aircraft closer to operational conditions.
I can’t think of a better place to take the F-35 through the steps needed to reach initial operating capability for our Air Force.”
The final warfare center’s priority is to use the triad of live flying, virtual or simulator flying, and the constructive or synthetic threats and battlespace to test and develop tactics and conduct advanced training of future leaders using the F-35A.
This final priority is driven by the fact the aircraft’s capabilities are so advanced that “we cannot develop our warfighting edge with live flying alone,” Lofgren said.
A simulator complex to test and develop tactics and to conduct advanced training is being built at Nellis AFB and will provide F-35A pilots with realistic threat scenarios they could face in real-world combat.
The F-35A will be doing its live-flying training over the Nevada Test and Training Range.
“The F-35, with its advanced electronic warfare and integrated avionics, is able to locate and identify real and fake targets and jam with unmatched precision which will present a challenge for the NTTR to replicate the threat,” Lofgren said.
Combining virtual and live training will allow the Air Force to “link and integrate current and future combat systems,” the general said.
The F-35A Lightning II blends the capabilities of seven legacy aircraft into one. As a stealth aircraft, it can enter areas without being seen by radar and this capability will also allow the pilot to see other aircraft first. The F-35 can also penetrate deeper into enemy territory allowing it to find and destroy ground targets while evading hostile surface-to-air weapons.
“Not only is it deadly in the air, it is easy to work on and sustain,” he said.
“Great improvements have been made in sustaining this aircraft so our world-class maintainers can fix and ready the F-35 faster.”
Nellis is scheduled to receive 36 F-35A Lightning IIs by 2020.