2015-07-18 The F-35 has come to Hill AFB and with it the reactivation of the “Rude Rams.”
In an article by Mitch Shaw and published appropriately on the Hill AFB website:
7/2/2015 – HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Just over five years ago at Hill Air Force Base, budget cuts killed one of the Air Force’s most historic fighter squadrons.
But the commander who witnessed that deactivation is bringing back the “Rude Rams.”
In a ceremony at Hill in mid-June, Col. David Lyons became the new commander of Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing. Lyons took the reins from Col. Lance Landrum, who fulfilled commander duties for the 1,500-person wing for the past two years. Landrum heads to the Pentagon, where he will serve as the director of Colonel Management.
For Lyons, his new position represents a homecoming steeped in tradition.
Lyons was commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron when it was deactivated in the summer of 2010. The squadron’s indefinite shutdown was a result of an Air Force-wide restructuring plan designed to save money. The plan called for the retirement of 259 aircraft, a total that included 112 F-15s, 138 F-16s and nine A-10s.
When the Rude Rams were shut down, Hill was also forced to give up 24 of its F-16s, reducing the base’s number of Fighting Falcons from 72 to 48.
But as the Air Force’s choice for the first operational F-35 wing, Hill’s fighter jet count will again move to 72 planes, which means the 34th is being reactivated as a fighter squadron.
“I was convinced that the 34th would come back as an F-35 squadron,” Lyons said. “Obviously, I have love for all of our fighter squadrons, but there is a special place in my heart for the Rude Rams.”
Lyons said much of that fondness has to do with the squadron’s rich military heritage.
According to a 2010 narrative written by base historian Aaron Clark, the 34th can be traced all the way back to World War II, when it was first activated on Oct. 15, 1944, at Seymour Johnson Field, North Carolina. The squadron flew P-47 Thunderbolts in combat operations over the Western Pacific in the latter days of the war.
The squadron’s next operation didn’t come until more than 20 years later, when it joined the fight in Vietnam in 1966. From 1966 to 1972, while assigned to George Air Force Base, California, the squadron played a critical role in the Vietnam conflict.
According to Clark’s report, the squadron first flew F-5 Thunderchiefs in Vietnam. One of the group’s pilots, Maj. Kenneth Blank, was the first pilot to shoot down a MiG-17, which he did in the north of Hanoi. The Rams then began a strategic bombing campaign that included hitting the Thai Ngyen Iron and Steel Complex, an important American target.
By early 1967, the 34th had logged 10,000 combat hours and hit multiple targets in the Dong Hoi area of North Vietnam. The unit was awarded the distinguished Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in Southeast Asia in 1967.
It was after the Vietnam conflict ended that the Rams were relocated to Hill, which happened in December 1975. Just four years later, the 34th became the first-ever fighter squadron to receive the new F-16 Fighting Falcon, which took the place of the F-4.
When the Gulf War started, the Rams were the first squadron to deploy in support of Operation Southern Watch, enforcing a no-fly zone in Iraq.
The group also played a significant role in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, post Sept. 11, 2001.
And the squadron wasn’t just relegated to military combat operations. It provided security for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and was the first active-duty Air Force squadron to deploy and fly missions into Latin America to stalk suspected narcotics-carrying aircraft.
The group’s final deployment came in May 2010 with a four-month mission at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
While he’s proud to be out front, as a steward of the 34th’s proud history, Lyons says the future weighs heavily on his mind.
When the F-35s begin to arrive at Hill, they’ll be divided among three fighter squadrons and flown and maintained by members of both the 388th and its reserve component 419th Fighter Wing.
The first jet is scheduled to arrive at Hill in September, with the rest of the fleet coming in on a staggered basis, spread through 2019.
The jets will be delivered at a rate of slightly more than one per month until August 2016. By that time, the base hopes to have 15 jets on base and reach a status the Air Force calls “Initial Operational Capability,” which means Hill meets the minimum operational capabilities to use the jet for normal operations.
Lyons said the transition from the F-16 to the F-35 will likely present hurdles.
“It’s a new airplane with new technology and new ways to maintain it,” he said. “That’s going to present challenges.”
An Air Force-wide shortage of maintainers will also offer a test.
The base will transition its 4th Fighter Squadron, along with its 24 F-16s, early, in order to ensure there are enough maintainers for the F-35.
“(The maintainer shortage) is another challenge,” Lyons said. “It’s critical to get the manpower we need to bring on this new technology.”
Without offering an official endorsement, Lyons also spoke of the proposed expansion of the Utah Test and Training Range.
The Air Force is proposing to expand the Utah Test and Training Range by nearly 700,000 acres in the rural areas of Box Elder, Juab and Tooele counties, providing a buffer against encroachment from communities through natural expansion and allowing for more testing space for the F-35.
“I don’t want to get too far out of my lane here,” Lyons said. “But the (F-35) requires a lot of airspace to train for the unique mission sets we’ll be able to do, so that airspace is absolutely critical.”
And a story from KSL.com (Utah) published on July 17, 2015 by Ben Lockhart focused on the reactivation ceremony.
HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The tone of the ceremonies was triumphant Friday as military leaders resurrected a once-defunct U.S. Air Force Squadron to execute what is being called a pioneering role in advancing American combat flying.
The Utah-based 34th Fighter Squadron, which closed in 2010 during a restructuring of the Air Force, returned to service Friday and will be the first unit in the Air Force to fly the military’s new combat-ready F-35A fighter jets.
The 34th Fighter Squadron’s new commander, Lt. Colonel George Watkins, told hundreds of Air Force personnel and visitors at the activation ceremony at Hill Air Force Base that his unit will rise and meet its unique responsibility.
“This is more than just a job,” Watkins said. “This is our passion for America and passion for the Air Force.”
Watkins, who flew 840 hours’ worth of combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya over the course of four deployments, told reporters that the squadron’s reactivation “has got to be one of the proudest days of my career.”
“It’s exciting. It’s going to be an incredible advance (in) our capability,” he said about the F-35A technology. “After flying the plane myself, I have no doubt it’s going to be awesome.”
Watkins touted the track record of the 34th Fighter Squadron, which was created in 1944 and was the first Air Force unit to fly F-16s when they were introduced in 1979.
“The Rams are back,” he said to loud applause, referencing the squadron’s mascot.
Watkins said he needed to use aircraft provided by the 34th Fighter Squadron in Afghanistan in 2010 when the unit he belonged to at the time hadn’t received their own equipment. The individual missions Watkins flew were complicated by bad weather, rugged terrain and heavy ground fighting, he said.
If he knew the history of the squadron when completing those flights, according to Watkins, “I would have had more confidence flying at the time.”
The 34th Fighter Squadron belongs to the Hill Air Force Base’s 388th Fighter Wing, which is commanded by Col. David B. “Brad” Lyons. Lyons commanded the squadron when it was closed in 2010 and said he was grateful to be back on base for its reactivation.
“All I know is somebody somewhere had the good sense to return the Rams to duty,” said Lyons, who later told reporters the decision to close the squadron was the result of a complex policy decision made well above his rank. “Seeing the squadron shuttered at that moment (in 2010) was heartbreaking, but it was comforting to know we were not alone in that sentiment.”
Lyons gave remarks at the reactivation ceremony and offered high praise for Watkins’ leadership abilities.
“He’s an unconditional expert in tactical aviation, but he’s just as good with people,” he said. “He’s not scared to roll up his sleeves with his airmen.”
Lyons also expressed unreserved confidence in the F-35A aircraft line, the latest U.S. military fighter jet to be introduced into service.
“It’s like flying the future,” Lyons said.
The 34th Fighter Squadron will eventually operate about 35 to 40 of the F-35As, with the first wave of the new fighter jets scheduled to arrive in August.
Never underestimate the importance of squadron history when a new aircraft is stood up.
It is not just about the airplane; it is about the squadron, its legacy, its tradition and its competence.
The squadron is where the combat innovation occurs.
As Ed Timperlake has emphasized in several articles on Second Line of Defense that innovation is driven by the squadrons and how they invent the future while operating in real world operations.
And in a discussion with both Mike Skaff, the lead in cockpit integration for the F-35, and Ed Timperlake, that learning process was described, and it is one in which the “Rude Rams” undoubtedly will be at the cutting edge.
We’re old enough, and we can remember when there weren’t cell phones. There was a time when there wasn’t an Internet. We can remember that distinctly.
When these tools show up in the early ’90s, there’s a paradigm shift that we call ‘the information age’, and now it arrives in the airplane. With the F-35 we enter into the information age in a new way and we can connect these airplanes just like nodes of the Internet. I’m not saying we’re connected to the Internet, but it is like that. I like to think of this as information dominance. When a 5th generation fighter arrives in battle space the pilot has information dominance. The F-35 was specifically designed to provide the pilot with information dominance through multi-spectral, multi-sensor, distributed processing and advanced fusion – this is the distinction and the difference from the 4th generation. This is the paradigm shift.
Because this is software-defined plane built around evolution over time, we know the future is going to be different. The threats will evolve and everything else.
But initially, these initial airplanes have all of the hardware in place to last for a couple of software upgrades.
And so, we can redefine the airplane in its missions and how the sensors work and what they detect. Hypersonic cruise missiles, seeing that the horizon maybe with DAS, who knows what is the next evolution, but we know it is coming. And the plane is built to anticipate change.
Recently a Marine Corps general underscored that we are not making this airplane for Harrier pilots.
In fact, most F-35 pilots haven’t been born yet.
You’re making it for the next generation.
And they’re going to jump into the cockpit and they’re going to see a Nintendo or a PlayStation or whatever is the deal at that time.
But they’re not like us old guys that are looking for air speed, altitude, conventional electro-mechanical gauges.
They literally see a video console in front of them, and we’ve got to make the airplane for them.
They can deal with information and they can process it differently than you and I can.
And the link between the past and future at Hill was discussed briefly in an interview with Art Cameron of Lokcheed Martin, the former USAF general discussed his earlier time at Hill and now at Luke.
I spent 33 years in the USAF doing fighter sustainment, from turning wrenches on F-106’s in Northern Michigan in the late 70’s to working the latest fifth generation fighter, the F-22.
While I’ve worked all Air Force fighters, most of my career was with the F-16. I worked F-16’s at the first operational base, Hill AFB, in 1980. I worked F-16 flight test at Edwards AFB.
I deployed with the F-16. And, I led the MRO&U effort on the F-16 at Ogden Air Logistics Center. The F-16 was (still is) a great airplane.
However, it was built like most previous weapons systems, with sustainment not being an integral part of the design.
Aircraft operational capabilities have become evolutionary and revolutionary over the decades but, reliability and maintainability has not kept pace with the increased operational capabilities. The F-35, in many respects, is the first aircraft that has sustainment as an integral part of the aircraft design.
The original fifth generation aircraft, the F-22, was light years ahead in terms of sustainment with some of the integrated sustainment systems, the data management systems and the health management systems that are onboard the airplane.
The next fifth generation iteration, the F-35, is evolutionary and revolutionary ahead of even the F-22.
What we have learned in aircraft development is that the key to operational capability is to ensure aircraft availability.
Therefore, the big difference in the F-35 is that it’s built as an “Air System” which comprises both the aircraft and the sustainment system. Sustainment has been built in from day one in this airplane.
We like to say “sustainment is as integral to the aircraft as the wing”.
In short, the “Rude Rams” at Hill will be a key part of the “re-norming” or airpower.
It is in the hands of the warriors to make it happen; not the cubical commandos.
The first F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter ever to land at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, arrived here the afternoon of Sept. 13, 2013
The multirole, fifth-generation fighter arrived from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nev., and is scheduled to underwent post-production modifications at the Ogden Air Logistics Complex.