A few years back, I went on a 365-day deployment and was struck by the international cooperation going into the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan. On a daily basis, I coordinated with folks from the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands and France. On a routine basis, I worked with Canadians and dealt with representatives from all of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. At the time, it seemed like something we do only while deployed.
Here at Luke Air Force Base, there has been an international presence for years. The 21st Fighter Squadron trains F-16 pilots from Taiwan. The 425th FS trains F-16 pilots from Singapore. In fact, a recent Thunderbolt commentary offered a great look at our partnership with Singapore as the squadron celebrated 50 years of training together.
At Luke, however, it has been easy for many of us to say, “International training happens in those squadrons and doesn’t really affect me … why should I go out of my way to better that partnership?”
The 61st FS just achieved a big milestone in the history of the F-35 program. We graduated the first international (partner) F-35 pilot trained at Luke. He is from Australia, and he joins another Australian in the squadron who had gone through training at Eglin AFB, Florida.
In the coming years, we are going to have more Australian students as well as students from Norway, Italy, Turkey, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada. These students will become instructor pilots and stay here in the various fighter squadrons to train future pilots. It is a truly international effort.
As a whole, the F-35 program was built with nine partner countries. For training, the jets and pilots are pooled and completely integrated. When the F-35 goes to war, it will be the same way — integrated together with our international partners.
If you work at Luke and haven’t embraced this fact, it is time to do so. The future of air combat and training is together with our partners and allies. The better we can make that relationship at home, the better and more dominant we will be in war.