Brig. Gen. Scott Pleus, 56th Fighter Wing commander, flew the wing’s flagship F-35 strike fighter from Lockheed Martin’s Forth Worth, Texas, facility to Luke AFB, Ariz., on April 28. The aircraft, tail number 5056, with the last two numbers representing the wing, was the base’s 22nd F-35, according to a release. “The flagship’s arrival is significant for Luke because it serves as a sign of our identity in who we are and what we’re here to do,” Pleus said. In May, the wing will “officially change our mission to training the world’s best F-35 and F-16 pilots while deploying mission-ready warfighters,” he added. “This jet represents the fact that we prepare airmen to defend our country around the world wherever we’re called.” Luke will receive a total of 144 F-35s comprising six squadrons by 2024. Of the 22 aircraft already assigned to the base, two are from the Royal Australian Air Force. All are assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron. The 62nd Fighter Squadron, the base’s second F-35 squadron, will stand up in June and begin flying in September. It will host pilots from Norway and Italy.
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.