The F-35 Scores Impressive 15:1 Kill Ratio at Red Flag War Games

The F-35 Scores Impressive 15:1 Kill Ratio at Red Flag War Games

Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada is considered one of the most realistic and challenging aviation warfare exercises, and pilots from this year's event say the Air Force's F-35A exceeded expectations by dominating the air space and improving the lethality of other legacy aircraft. It's stellar performance is a major victory for a war plane that's been criticized for its high costs and plagued with several development setbacks.

Running from January 23 to February 10, this year's Red Flag involves more threats to pilots than ever before, including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), radar jamming equipment, and an increased number of red air, or mock enemy aircraft. Against the ramped-up threats, the F-35A only lost one aircraft for every 15 aggressors killed, according to Aviation Week.

The F-35 Lightning II's advanced avionics software was the star of the show, as multiple F-35s successfully compiled data into a detailed layout of the battlefield with each individual threat pinpointed. The stealthy aircraft could then slip into weak spots in the defensive layout and take out SAM targets, opening up the space for follow-on forces of legacy fighters. Even when the F-35s ran out of munitions, F-22 and fourth-generation fighter pilots wanted the aircraft to remain in the combat zone, soaking up data and porting target info to the older fighters.

"Before where we would have one advanced threat and we would put everything we had—F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, missiles—we would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out," Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told Aviation Week. "Now we are seeing three or four of those threats at a time."

The F-35 and the F-22 Raptor pair up to make a particularly deadly team, according to the pilots. The Raptor uses its advanced air maneuverability to shield the F-35 from airborne threats while the F-35 relays data to the F-22 to paint a clear picture of the battlefield. Once the duo of fifth-generation fighters take out an initial wave of ground and air targets, F-18s, F-16s, and F-15s bring up the rear to provide support, all receiving target data from the F-35s in the field.

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