An Update on the F-22 and the Evolution of Air Combat: The Perspective from the First Fighter Wing


2017-11-15 By Robbin Laird

I have dealt with the F-22 for many years and first visited the First Fighter Wing in 2007 as the plane was being stood up and introduced to the force.

What was anticipated and hoped for with the introduction of the first fifth generation aircraft is clearly now being realized, although, unfortunately, at much lower numbers than the USAF desired or needed.

With the shift from slo mo to higher intensity operations, the F-22 is providing a key leadership role within the US and allied air combat forces in reshaping of the concepts of operations to ensure that the liberal democracies can prevail against their adversaries.

During a visit to Langley AFB on October 31, 2017, I had a chance to return to the First Fighter Wing and to discuss the F-22 and its key role in shaping a way ahead with the First Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Jason Hinds.

Col. Hinds is a veteran F-15 pilot who transitioned to the F-22 in 2006 and has significant operational and training experience with the aircraft.

Combat aircraft go through a 10-year maturation cycle as they become more mature.

This is certainly true of the F-22 which is now a very busy global asset, which Combatant Commanders wish to have in the Area of Operation as well as allied air forces wish to fly with, to make their own combat aircraft more “lethal and survivable” as an RAF Typhoon pilot described how he looked at flying with the F-22.

Col. Hinds throughout our discussion underscored the maturation of the aircraft and its high in demand situation.

“We’re really starting to use the airplane exactly how we envisioned it.

“We can shoot down the bad guys, kick down the door for the combat force, kill the SAM’s hindering fourth generation aircraft to enter the air combat space, support the insertion of special ops troops, and provide a significant expansion of freedom of maneuver for the air combat force, and really the combat force as a whole.

“For 4th gen aircraft, in particular, their survivability and capabilities both are increased.”

With regard to deployments, he noted that F-22s have operated globally.

U.S. Air Force Col. Jason Hinds (right), 1st Fighter Wing commander, assumes command of the 1st FW during a change of command ceremony at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., June 23, 2017. Hinds is a command pilot with more than 2,100 flying hours earned primarily in the F-22 Raptor and F-15C Eagle aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Derek Seifert)

One demand side is in theater security packages where the F-22 goes to a theater of operation and works with the other air combat elements, as it is doing currently in Europe.

But over the past three years, the F-22s have been operating in the Middle East on a regular basis in conducting combat operations in Operation Inherent Resolve.

“When the F-22s entered the theater, we operated as a very flexible air combat asset.

“We conducted defensive counter air, dropped ground attack ordnance, and interacted with Russian, Iranian and Syrian aircraft.

“It was a pretty big game changer in terms of how adversaries reacted to our force packages.”

We discussed the important shift as the maintainers mastered the plane and support it globally in expeditionary operations.

“They have clearly learned over the past 12 years how to maintain a low observable aircraft in operations.

“They have evolved as well with the computer-generated nature of maintenance, in which the plane can indicate what is wrong with it and needs fixing.

“They are often working software versus hardware fixes and often do not have to swap out a part, where in a legacy aircraft they would be swapping out a part.”

“Clearly, fifth generation maintenance is different from fourth gen.

“The maintainers you were talking to a decade ago are now our senior master sgts and maintenance supervisors.

“They have gained a decade of experience in supporting the plane and it is a key part of what makes our F-22 deployments so effective.”

F-22s in European Training from on Vimeo.

I asked him to compare his experience flying an F-15 with operating an F-22.

“That is a great question.

“The tactics of the F-15 were well evolved as were our understanding of the limitations and capabilities of the airplane.

“You beat your chest and you hung out in the con-trails and said, ‘Here I am. Come get me. We’re going to kill you all.’

“But in the F-22, you have significantly greater flexibility in terms of dealing with the adversary and can focus on your best opportunity to take them down, whether it’s an airplane or a surface to air missile system.”

Put in other terms, a key difference between operating a legacy force compared to a fifth generation enabled one is how you think about the operational combat space.

“You can take this jet, put it in places that you just can’t go with fourth gen airplanes.

“The speed, the super cruise, the integrated avionics, and stealth are the big game changers on tactics and what you can really do with the jet.

“The F-22 is changing the way the nation can fly air combat.”

He described the impact this is having on the USAF leadership and their contribution as well.

General Wolters, the USAFE commander, clearly has emphasized the importance of the F-22 and the F-35 in reshaping deterrent air combat capabilities in the European theater.

“He definitely wants fifth gen in his AOR.

“We were just there with the 94th Fighter Squadron two weeks ago.

“We were flying missions out of England.

“We were over in Germany.

“We were in Poland.”

And the Air Component Commander for US Central Command, Lt. General Harrigian, comes from the F-22 and has recognized the capabilities of the pilots to operate with greater flexibility as well.

“Lt. General Harrigian has expanded the amount of authority and decision making allowed by the pilots, which certainly fifth generation aircraft can deliver.

“Our pilots, once they understood his vision and his commander’s intent, are meeting the challenge.”

From my own travels, it is clear that the F-22 showing up globally has changed allied air force’s thinking about fifth generation capabilities and clearly F-22 has cleared the way for a number of allies considering the F-35 version of fifth gen.

“Our allies have seen in the Middle East, at Red Flag or Trilateral Exercises, how the F-22 expands significantly the room for maneuver for the entire air combat force.

“When you combine the capabilities of a fifth gen plus non-kinetics effects, then it’s pretty impressive.

“I’m not sure how many adversaries are doing that quite yet.”

Col. Hinds concluded by highlighting the importance of high-end readiness to be prepared for the high-end fight.

“If you’re not ready for day one of the war, you won’t make it to day 30.

“It takes years of practice and thinking about how to integrate space and cyber with the kinetic strike force, to get the right time and tempo.

“How do you shape the right force package at the right time and the right place to have the tactical and operational effect, which you need to achieve?”

F-22 Air Refueling over Iraq from on Vimeo.

“I’ll be honest with you.

“Our Airmen, whether the pilots, the maintainers, or the intel professionals and the mission planners who help us get ready for combat, are doing a really good job.

“They’re doing much better than I ever did as a youngster, because we didn’t have some of the tools that they have, didn’t have the thinking skill sets that they have.

I hope you get to come back to do a deep dive on the maintenance part of the 1st Fighter Wing and experience how we actually train for the high-end fight. It’s what we do every day.”


Col Jason Hinds is the Commander of the 1st Fighter Wing, Air Combat Command, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA. He is responsible for the worldwide rapid deployment and employment of F-22 air dominance fighters in support of Combatant Commander taskings. He oversees 1,400 personnel, two airfields, two groups and five squadrons, including two F-22 fighter squadrons and a T-38 Adversary Air detachment.

Col. Hinds received his commission from the Florida State University in 1996. He was a distinguished graduate of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB, Oklahoma in 1997 and a distinguished graduate of F-15 Replacement Training Unit in 1998 at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

He has held a variety of flying positions to include: F-22 fighter squadron commander, F-22 instructor pilot and flight examiner, F-15C instructor pilot and Weapons Officer, and Weapons School Instructor.

Additionally, he was a Legislative Fellow from 2009-2010 and graduated from the National War College in 2013. Col Hinds served as the Senior Air Force Advisor to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development, Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

In his previous assignment, Col Hinds was the Vice Commander, 57th Wing, Nellis AFB Nevada.

He is a command pilot with over 2,200 flying hours to include combat sorties in Operations DESERT FOX and SOUTHERN WATCH.


1996 Bachelors of Science in Criminology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

2002 Squadron Officer School, Maxwell AFB, Alabama

2003 USAF Weapons Instructor Course, Nellis AFB, Nevada

2007 Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama (correspondence)

2008 Masters of Business Administration and Management, Trident University, Los Alamitos, California

2010 Air Force Legislative Fellowship, Washington, DC

2012 Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama (correspondence)

2014 Masters of National Security Strategy, National War College, Washington


May 96 – Sep 97, student, Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, Vance AFB, Oklahoma

Dec 97 – Jun 98, student, F-15C Formal Training Unit, Tyndall AFB, Florida

Jun 98 – May 01, F-15C Instructor Pilot, 60th Fighter Squadron, Eglin AFB, Florida

May 01 – Dec 02, F-15C Instructor Pilot, Academic Instructor, 2nd Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB, Florida

Jan 03 – Jun 03, student, U.S. Air Force F-15C Weapons Instructor Course, Nellis AFB, Nevada

Jun 03 – Jun 04, Chief of Weapons and Tactics, 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB, Florida

Jun 04 – Sep 06, Assistant Director of Operations, Flight Commander, F-15C Instructor Pilot, 433rd Weapons Squadron, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Nellis AFB, Nevada

Sep 06 – Dec 06, student, F-22 Formal Training Unit, 43rd Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB, Florida

Dec 06 – July 09, Assistant Director of Operations, Chief of Wing Weapons and Tactics, F-22 Instructor Pilot, 43rd Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB, Florida

July 09 – Dec 10, Air Force Legislative Fellow, Office of Congressman Allen Boyd, Washington DC

Jan 11 – Mar 11, student, F-22 Formal Training Unit, 43rd Fighter Squadron, Tyndall AFB Florida

Apr 11 – Jan 12, Director of Operations, 27th Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, Virginia

Feb 12 – Jun 13, Commander, 94th Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, Virginia

Jul 13 – Jun 14, student, National War College, Ft McNair, Washington, DC

Jul 14 – Apr 16, Senior Air Force Advisor for Force Development, Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Washington, DC.

May 16 – Jun 17, Vice Commander, 57th Wing, Nellis AFB, Nevada


Rating: Command Pilot Flying hours: 2,200

Aircraft flown: T-37, T-38, AT-38B, F-22, F-15C

(Current as of May 2017)

Editor’s Note: In later stories we will focus on the F-22 maintainers and how they have supported the aircraft in expeditionary operations as well as the very interesting working relationship between the 1st FW and the Air National Guard alluded to in this story published on October 12, 2017 at the time of the return of the Wing from the Middle Eastern AOR.

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. – Over 100 members assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing returned to Langley Air Force Base today after a 6 month deployment to the Middle East. During their deployment, F-22 Raptors participated in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“I can’t be more proud of our Airmen,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Jason T. Hinds, 1st FW Commander. “They did fantastic work operating and maintaining the F-22 for a prolonged period of combat operations. Well done.”

While the 1st FW’s 27th Fighter Squadron was the lead element deployed, they were joined by personnel from the 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit as well as Virginia Air National Guard Airmen assigned to the 192nd Fighter Wing.

“When we go to combat, it is truly a total force effort with our 192nd FW partners,” said Hinds.

The 1st FW homecoming was not quite complete, as some F-22s remained in Europe as part of the European Deterrence Initiative.

“The F-22 is America’s premier air dominance fighter, and our mission to Europe provides us an opportunity to train with our allies and strengthen our partnerships.” said Hinds.

While in the Europe, the F-22s will also forward deploy from the United Kingdom to other NATO bases to maximize training opportunities, demonstrate our steadfast commitment to NATO allies and deter any actions that destabilize regional security.

“Today’s homecoming is great.” said Hinds. “But we won’t really be home until everyone returns from Europe.”

Also, see the following:

Bringing the Future Forward: Accelerating U.S. and Allied Combat Power