B-2, F-22, F-35A and F-35B in First Red Flag Together

An F-22 Raptor from the 95th Fighter Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., powers up before takeoff at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., during Red Flag 17-3 July 18, 2017. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dustin Mullen/Released

John A. Tirpak

The Air Force’s three stealthy “fifth generation” platforms played together for the first time in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nev., and were successful in the scenarios practiced, wargame participants reported Wednesday. In a press conference and telecon with defense reporters during Red Flag 17-3, Capt. Neil Fournie, Advance Warfighting Chief of the 414th Combat Training Squadron, said the B-2A bomber and F-22 and F-35A fighters were united in “strategic attack scenarios” in a “contested integrated air defense system” environment.

The scenarios required “integrated…lethality” against the mock defenders, he said. The B-2 had been paired with the F-35 in a previous Red Flag last year, but the F-22 was not available at that time, he said. The F-22s performed air escort while the F-35s conducted some air escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, interdiction, and dynamic targeting.

Not only was the Air Force F-35A a player in the wargame, but Marine Corps F-35B aircraft of VMFA-211 were also paired with their Air Force counterparts in the exercise. Lt. Col. Chad Vaughan, Marine Corps VMFA-211 commander, said he and Lt. Col. John Snyder, commander of the USAF 58th fighter squadron, “compared notes for about two seconds” and realized that the tactics, techniques and procedures for the two jets were practically identical, and coordination was seamless.

The 10 F-35Bs that deployed were a mix of aircraft with the 2B and 3i software, Vaughan said. They were “really the same” in the way they operated, and the commonality and software stability was “extremely good,” Vaughan said. Snyder said it was a useful experience in that F-35As at Eglin AFB, Fla., where the 58th is based, have a history coordinating with the Navy’s F-35Cs, also at the base, but this was the first joint exercise with Marine B models, and he reported the same seamlessness of effort.

Both unit commanders reported losing no planned sorties to maintenance issues, but both allowed that spare aircraft had been tapped when avionics anomalies affected the jets intended for some missions. They likely could have flown with their glitches, but wanted full-up jets to take maximum advantage of the opportunities of the exercise, they said.

Two flying days were lost to “monsoons” of rain and lightning storms, but the exercise won’t be extended as a result.

Fournie reported there was a Virtual/Constructive element of the game that posited large numbers of aircraft “fighting” in the space outside the Nellis complex, in order to tax the Air Operations Center and make scenarios larger and more complex. Because the F-22 still cannot transmit data over a secure data link to the F-35 and “fourth gen” aircraft, communications continue to be made over “secure voice,” officials said. The F-22 can receive data from the F-35 via the Link 16 datalink.