Eight F-35s from Hill AFB, Utah, will depart for Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, this week to undergo rigorous operational testing. One hundred and sixty pilots and maintainers from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill will simulate deployed operations when they take their Lightning IIs out of Utah for the first time, according to a 419th FW release. The airmen will practice suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, air interdiction missions, and basic air support during the roughly eight sorties a day expected throughout the training that lasts until June 17. Each of these three mission sets are a requirement of initial operational capability, according to the release. The deployment “marks another significant milestone in validating the F-35A’s capabilities as we pursue IOC,” Lt. Col. George Watkins, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron, said in the release. In May, Hill’s F-35s began flying in routine four-ship formations to ready for IOC, which is expected to be reached by the end of this year. Hill is the Air Force’s first operational F-35 base and will house three F-35 squadrons and 78 jets before 2020. The base’s 4th FS, which is transitioning to the fifth-generation aircraft, flew its last F-16 sortie on May 31, according to a 388th FW release.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.