Ten F-35A Lightning II fighter jets from the 63rd Fighter Squadron “Panthers” participated in a joint capstone training mission with two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers assigned to the 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., Nov. 18, 2020.
The Panther Capstone, an offensive counter air attack mission, enabled F-35 and B-2 pilots to operate their aircraft in a joint combat environment against multiple advanced adversary air and surface-to-air missile threats.
“This was a first-time event for Whiteman’s B-2s integrating with Luke’s F-35s,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Diller, 509th BW program manager and B-2 pilot. “As the number of F-35s increase, the understanding and interoperability between the various platforms must increase. What better way to facilitate this than at the capstone event at the F-35 schoolhouse?”
The F-35 is the U.S. Air Force’s latest fifth-generation fighter designed to provide the pilot with unsurpassed situational awareness, positive target identification, and precision strike in all weather conditions.
“The F-35 was built to be able to escort low observable (LO) assets like the B-2 into highly defended territory in order for them to be able to hold targets at risk,” said Capt. Sean Gossner, 63d FS instructor pilot and flight commander. “We finally got to practice this with real B-2s for the first time at Luke Air Force Base with the Panthers.”
The 63rd FS, known colloquially as the Panthers, trains students to become F-35 pilots. They often use virtual simulations to replicate B-2s for this training, but this mission offered training for students using real-world assets instead.
“Typically, we train for LO escort by using simulated assets that are not actually airborne with us, which leads to various training limitations,” said Gossner. “To be able to bring together everything with 10 F-35s and two B-2s against a robust air threat picture and surface-to-air missile threat picture was incredible training for us.”
The Panthers are a U.S.-only B-course squadron at Luke AFB, which hosts five partner nations for training. This opened the doorway for taking training with a B-2 from a virtual environment to reality.
“We’re really the only ones [here] with the ability to integrate with the B-2 in this capacity,” said Gossner. “One of the biggest benefits to this are the relationships that we’ve built with the B-2 pilots. We had the ability to go out to Whiteman Air Force Base to mission plan with them to understand how they think about threats and the tactical problems and then share with them how we think about the same issues.”
Of the 10 F-35 pilots, six were instructors and four were students who were preparing to graduate. According to Gossner, no students who have graduated from Luke AFB have ever participated in a flight like this prior to arriving at their operational unit.
“Our B-coursers who are graduating are going to graduate as fully mission ready wingmen,” said Gossner. “With this being such a core part of our mission, we really wanted to put the emphasis on such a high-end training to prepare our B-course graduates for the fights that they are going to be in and that could be as soon as they get to their new units.”
Gossner and Dilller said they hope both units can conduct this training more often, ensuring Luke AFB delivers combat-ready Airmen to provide a more lethal force around the globe.