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Top guns: RAAF F-35As debut at US air combat exercise

No. 3 Squadron F-35A Lightning II aircraft from the United States taxi into RAAF Base Williamtown. Photo: CPL Melina Young

Australian F-35A Lightning II all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft will compete for the first time in the renowned international air combat training event, Exercise Red Flag Nellis 24-1.

Australian F-35A Lightning II all-weather stealth multi-role combat aircraft will compete for the first time in the renowned international air combat training event, Exercise Red Flag Nellis 24-1.

The Royal Australian Air Force is sending six F-35A Lightning II aircraft, a tactical command and control team, as well as 150 RAAF aviators to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, for the distinguished air combat training contest in the USA from 15 January to 2 February.

Around 3,000 personnel and 100 aircraft are expected to conduct large force employment missions in a range of scenarios during Exercise Red Flag Nellis 24-1. Other equipment being deployed at the base include F-22 Raptor, B-2 Spirit, and Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft.

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The event also utilises a range of “aggressor” forces with enemy fighter aircraft, ground-based radars, simulated surface-to-air missiles, cyber and space-based elements to simulate threats for each mission.

Wing Commander Adrian Kiely, Commanding Officer of No. 3 Squadron, said it was the first time Australian F-35As had participated in Exercise Red Flag Nellis.

“Since 1980, generations of RAAF aviators have come to this exercise, which continues to evolve and reflect the threats and challenges faced on modern operations,” WGCDR Kiely said.

“Missions are conducted to the nearby Nevada Test and Training Range, and further to the south-west of the United States where we can integrate with maritime units.

“Exercise Red Flag Nellis will test every facet of our F-35A capability, allow us to integrate with our American and British allies, and practise how we project force on combat operations.”

During the event, the Nellis Air Force Base has advised that nearly 100 aircraft are scheduled to depart Nellis twice a day and remain in the air for up to five hours during the large-scale exercise. There are also expected to be night launches to allow for air crew simulate training during night-time combat operations.

Exercise Red Flag Nellis was established in 1975 and recreates the first 10 missions of a modern air campaign within a training environment, providing invaluable experience for participants.

Wing Commander Peter Mole, Commanding Officer of No. 114 Mobile Control and Reporting Unit, will lead the RAAF Tactical Command and Control Team in the exercise.

“There is a large number of aircraft, all fulfilling different roles across each mission at Exercise Red Flag Nellis, but no single aircraft is the ‘silver bullet’ that can do it all alone,” WGCDR Mole said.

“The tactical command and control team’s role is to manage and control all of those aircraft, alongside other elements and units working in the ground, maritime, cyber and space-based domains, to accomplish the mission.

“The scale and complexity of Exercise Red Flag Nellis cannot be replicated elsewhere, which makes it an outstanding place to build experience and reinforce our close working relationship with the United States and United Kingdom.”

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