The sensor fusion capability of the F-35 gives the F-15 an unprecedented situational awareness which allows the Eagle to fight more effectively against high-end threats
On Apr. 15, 2017 eight F-35A stealth fighters and more than 200 Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, deployed at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath where the aircraft are training alongside F-15Cs and F-15Es from the 48th Fighter Wing (FW), as well as the RAF and other NATO allies.
As explained by Micah Garbarino, 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs, in the article F-35A, F-15 train together during Lakenheath deployment, integrating with the F-35 is a new experience for many of the F-15 pilots.
“The sensor fusion capability of the F-35A gives [our F-15s] unprecedented situational awareness which is invaluable when you’re fighting against a high-end threat,” explained Lt. Col. Scott Taylor, a F-15C pilot and the 493rd Fighter Squadron director of operations. “The key is it allows us to make quicker, more accurate decisions on targets.”
As told by Lt. Col. George Watkins, a F-35 pilot and the 34th Fighter Squadron commander, the squadrons started the training deployment by flying simple missions and have then progressed to more complex scenarios.
“We’ve been flying basic fighter maneuvers and air combat maneuvers, as well as air to ground missions. We fight air to air to get to simulated ground targets and once we take them out, we fight air-to-air to get back to our designated ‘safe’ zone,” he explained.
According to the pilots involved in the training the F-35A’s stealth and sensor capabilities increase the survivability of fourth generation aircraft and fourth generation aircraft make the F-35A more lethal.
“The stealth of the aircraft allows us to go where other aircraft cannot and our sensors and communication allow us to identify targets and allow fourth generation aircraft to dominate the airspace,” Watkins said.
F-15Cs had also the chance to fly against the F-35A.
“For me, it’s my first time dogfighting against an F-15,” said Maj. Luke Harris, a 34th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot. “Dogfighting is a test of pilot skill, but it’s also constrained by the aircraft’s capabilities and I’ve been really impressed by the flight control and maneuverability of the F-35.”
However as explained by Harris, F-35 pilots fly undetected to a “visual merge” and engage air targets before enemies have time to react defensively, which is an advantage over the fourth generation tactics he employed when he flew the F-16.
“All the guys we’ve flown with have said that having the F-35 in the fight has been an eye-opening experience and they’re glad that these capabilities are on their side,” Harris said.
However the most important outcome of the drill is that the training scenarios have allowed fourth and fifth generation pilots to compare notes and better prepare for future air combat.
“We fight best when we fight together. We’ve had a lot of synergy in our training. When we come back and talk after missions, we can have that face-to-face interaction and review our tactics. That’s just going to improve the way we fight with the F-35A and has made this an outstanding deployment,” Taylor concluded.
Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Emerson Nuñez / U.S. Air Force