The 61st Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., sent seven U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs and three Royal Australian Air Force F-35s to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, for a training capstone, Sept. 6, 2019.
The capstone, which concludes Sept. 20, 2019, is the final phase of training for the student fighter pilots after nine months. This training event is designed to present the students with challenging tactical scenarios that closely resemble large scale, high-end fights against threats.
“In short, we challenge these young officers with the realities they are going to face when they become operational,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Hayes, 61st FS commander. “Each of them will be tasked to deploy somewhere in the world to defend freedom and democracy, and when they do, it won’t be for the first time.”
Eielson AFB was selected to host the capstone due to the vast air space and large availability of fighter aircraft stationed nearby to help this training be successful. Along with the U.S. Australian allies, the training gave the student fighter pilots a variety of adversaries.
“Two Raptor squadrons from Elmendorf AFB have committed to integrate with our F-35s, which ensures the most advanced training for our students,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Curtis, 61st FS director of operations. “We have full support from Eielson AFB’s 18th Aggressor Squadron that are providing F-16 adversary support along with a full complement of surface-to-air threat emitters and airspace to hold a (simulated) large scale war.”
Australian F-35’s joined the ranks with the 61st FS to continue building a strong partnership and understanding of how to operate in a multinational environment.
“When the U.S. goes to war, we go with our allies at our side,” said Curtis. “Australia is one of our strongest allies, and this is just one way that we demonstrate our robust and mutual security commitment.
“The 61st FS is a reflection of this strong partnership. Therefore, the temporary duty assignment to Eielson meant that we would be going with our Aussie partners at our side without question.”
Assembling a large-scale training such as capstone outside the continental U.S. took a team effort to ensure everything went according to plan.
Curtis explained that the capstone is the students’ first experience of an OCONUS deployment in an F-35. He said that it took the outstanding teamwork of the 61st FS to make this event a reality and how this high-end fight would not have happened without the commitment to high-quality training and phenomenal teamwork skills that turned an idea into tangible training.
Training such as capstone ensures Airmen are ready to fight, becoming a more lethal and ready force the Air Force needs.