"The F-35 Redefines How You Go to War": How an F-35 Took on 60 'Enemy' Fighters

Kris Osborn

Key Point: What would the U.S. Air Force do without this fighter jet? 

As 60 enemy fighters closed in on a US Air Force 4th Generation fighter aircraft, blinding the jet with electronic warfare attacks, an experienced pilot faced unseen life-threatening attackers closing in -- during an air-combat Red Flag exercise closely replicating actual warfare scenarios.

Yet, in a life-saving flash, the endangered 4th pilot was told to “turn around” by an F-35 operating in the vicinity who radioed an instant warning. The 5th-Gen, multi-role stealth fighter then used its long-range sensors and weapons to “kill” the enemy aircraft, according to an Air Force news report.

Air Force Col. Joshua Wood, 388th Operations Group Commander was part of the exercise.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before. My wingman was a brand new F-35A pilot, seven or eight flights out of training. He gets on the radio and tells an experienced, 3,000 hour pilot in a fourth-generation aircraft. ‘Hey bud, you need to turn around. You’re about to die, There’s a threat off your nose,’” Wood explained in the service report.

The Red Flag exercise, and annual live combat-like training event, drew from an unprecedented amount of advanced threat scenarios, representing "near peer" threats. Red Flag aggressors, according to the Air Force report, included “advanced integrated air-defense systems, an adversary Air Force, cyber-warfare and information operations.”

Red Flag pilots also flew in GPS-denied environments where communications were jammed or rendered inoperable by enemy EW attacks, according to the Air Force report. Taking place at Nellis AFB in Nevada, they exercise included 3,000 personnel from 39 units, including the US Navy, US Air Force, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force.

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