The US Air Force’s active duty 388th Fighter Wing and Reserve 419th FW conducted a combat power exercise on January 6, launching 52 F-35A Lightning IIs in rapid succession.
The fighter wings are home to 78 aircraft. As the Air Force’s only combat-capable F-35A units, the wings must be prepared to launch any number of aircraft to support the national defense mission at a moment’s notice. Last year, they began regularly supporting combat operations with the F-35A with consecutive deployments.
From April to October 2019, they deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and conducted combat operations in support of the Central Command mission in the region. In October, they departed on their second combat deployment.
Currently, the wings fly 30-60 sorties per day from Hill’s flight line. During the exercise, Airmen launched roughly the same number of daily sorties, but they took off in quick intervals.
Launching aircraft from multiple squadrons simultaneously presents various challenges and allows the wings to evaluate the capabilities of maintenance professionals, as well as pilots and command and control teams.
The exercise took place a little more than four years after Hill’s fighter wings receiving their first combat-coded F-35A Lightning II aircraft.
In a separate announcement, Hill AFB announced its F-35As achieved full warfighting capability, a designation separate from the F-35A full operational capability.
The term describes a set of focus areas within the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings: fully trained pilots and maintainers, a full complement of 78 aircraft and the mission and support equipment needed to fly.
While the designation of full warfighting capability is an important milestone, the wing has been combat capable since the air force declared initial operational capability in August 2016. Since then, the wings have participated in several large combat exercises, deployed twice to Europe and once to the Pacific and supported two Middle East combat deployments, including one short-notice tasking.
The first F-35As arrived at Hill in September 2015 and the final aircraft arrived in December 2019. Over that four-year period, the wings received roughly two jets every month.