PACAF’s agile fifth-gen powerhouse: Eielson F-35s, Hawaiian Raptors

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jose Miguel Tamondong
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Today’s changing threat environment has drastically transformed the way the Air Force operates. Agile combat employment is a key operating concept that requires units to move and operate with allies and partners around the Indo-Pacific region.

U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs from the 356th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and the Hawaiian Raptors’ F-22s have integrated during ACE training at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, since June 15, 2022.

Operating under the 354th Air Expeditionary Wing, the two EFSs combined forces to refine fifth generation integration tactics, techniques and procedures while deployed in the Pacific.

“It is a great opportunity for us to practice fifth-gen operations with our Raptor brethren over the Pacific while we’re doing ACE training,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Worrell, 356th EFS commander. “It’s important to train and integrate with them because they are a critical component of our fifth-gen operations.”

While both airframes incorporate stealth technology, advanced fifth-generation sensors, computing power and secure communications tools, the F-22 and F-35 were designed to complement each other.

The F-22 was optimized for air-to-air dominance, providing cover for the F-35, a multi-role fighter capable of executing air-to-air and air-to-surface missions.

“With the F-22s air-to-air capability combined with the F-35’s air-to-surface capability, it’s really America’s one-two punch against any competitor who would threaten a free and open Indo-Pacific.” said Lt. Col. Kevin Horton, 199th EFS commander.

Moreover, with three U.S. services and 14 international allies currently possessing their own F-35s, continuous training with its fifth-generation counterpart remains vital to maintain air superiority.

“We have over a dozen nations who have ordered the F-35 so we need to perfect the tactics, techniques and procedures that are going to keep our allies and partners safe against a near-peer competitor,” said Horton.

Deploying fifth generation aircraft units in a forward location is no easy feat as it requires a full understanding of the logistics, sustainment and communications limitations at a deployed location. This is where ACE comes into play.

“ACE is important because it’s a proactive and reactive scheme of maneuver that we need to be able to compete against our adversaries,” said Worrell.

ACE shifts the location of airpower from large, centralized bases, to networks of smaller, dispersed locations or cluster bases to increase survivability and present layers of operational unpredictability to an adversary’s strategic decision making.

Learning to integrate with other fifth generation airframes while conducting ACE operations has made the training this summer at MCAS Iwakuni invaluable for the two squadrons.