Study This Picture: F-35s Launching en Masse Terrifies North Korea

David Axe

Key point: Elephant Walks are good way for the Air Force to practice launching a ton of planes in a hurry.

On Nov. 19, 2018, two U.S. Air Force wings in Utah launched thirty-five F-35 stealth fighters in a short span of time.

The air force lauded the display as evidence of America's overwhelming military might. At least one critic dismissed it as a publicity stunt.

In fact, there's one region where mass-takeoffs are an important military procedure: the Korean Peninsula. Ironically, that's the one region where the Trump administration is deliberately limiting the flying branch's authority to organize large-scale warplane-launches.

The November group-takeoff, which the air force calls an "elephant walk," involved F-35As from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill Air Force Base. The active-duty 388th and reserve 419th train air force F-35 pilots.

The 388th's 34th Fighter Squadron, whose F-35s have the latest Block 3F software, also has a front-line role. In late 2017, it became the first air force F-35 unit to deploy overseas, to Japan.

At the time of the elephant walk—the first for the F-35—the Utah wings possessed around forty F-35s. The wings are on track to receive a combined seventy-two F-35s by 2019.

The Hill stealth fighters took off one at a time in roughly 30-second intervals. In just a few minutes, the wings launched as many F-35 sorties as they normally do in a full day of routine training.

"Exercising with multiple squadrons of F-35s can demonstrate our ability to defeat potential adversaries wherever they may arise," Maj. Caleb Guthmann, the 34th Fighter Squadron's assistant director of operations, said in a statement.

But Valerie Insinna, a reporter for Defense News, echoed a more cynical sentiment when, on Twitter, she described the elephant walk as "cool" but "very choreographed."

“Call me when they fix all the ALIS problems and then we'll talk,” Insinna added, referring to the F-35's buggy Autonomic Logistics Information System, a computer network for the type's maintainers.

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