388th Fighter Wing and RAAF integrate F-35A maintenance at Red Flag 24-1

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Nathan Poblete
  • 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada — As the sights and sounds of Red Flag sorties fill the neon skies around Las Vegas, maintainers from the 388th Fighter Wing, 421st Fighter Generation Squadron, and 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) recently joined forces for bilateral maintenance training centered around the F-35A.

The primary objective was to allow both squadron’s personnel to familiarize themselves with each other's F-35A’s and maintenance procedures. The 421st FGS conducted launch and recovery operations with the Australian F-35’s, enhancing the interoperability of the two partner nations, preparing maintenance personnel for future operational contingencies.

The F-35 was designed for strategic interoperability. As a result, the United States military extensively integrates with their allies and partners. This platform familiarity allows U.S. forces, partners, and allies to quickly integrate operations.

“It was a great experience to see how the Australians conduct their launching procedures,” said SSgt Andrew Sutton, 421st FGS avionics craftsman, participating in the training. “When we’re downrange somewhere and our partners need help, we can step in and help them out.”

Sutton worked hand in hand with the maintainers from 3 Squadron during the first week of Red Flag 24-1, learning from the Australians about their standard operating procedures for pre-mission flights.

“They’re a bit more hands off compared to us, you can tell they really trust their maintainers and pilots prior to departure.”

After becoming familiar with the procedures, Sutton stood at the end of the taxiway, inspecting every F-35A in the 3 Squadron fleet as the jets taxied towards the main runway, differing from traditional USAF taxiing procedures as the crew chief marshals their pilot individually. When the Australian F-35 passes Sutton for inspection and is cleared for departure, he gives a simple thumbs up signifying the jet is cleared to taxi to the runway for takeoff.

“The overall importance of the training allowed us to enable USAF personnel to be able to freely work in our maintenance teams so that we can pursue interoperability and interchangeability in the strategic landscape,” said 3 Squadron Warrant Officer Jason West, the Senior Enlisted Leader for 3 Squadron Engineers.

3 Squadron was one of three F-35 units that attended this iteration of Red Flag, and are headquartered at RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle, New South Wales. The squadron re-equipped with F-35A’s in 2018 from F-18A Hornets, marking a new chapter of fifth generation power in the RAAF.

“It was great to get some of our maintainers in front of their jets, you only get opportunities like this when you're overseas, or during exercises. Capitalizing on this diverse high-end training we undergo here at Red Flag, helps prepare us for any high-end fight in the future" said 1st Lieutenant James Longoria, 421st Sortie Maintenance Flight Commander, and unit project officer for the training.

Red Flag 24-1 is one of the most advanced bilateral training exercises across the Department of Defense, this training opportunity is also extended to our partner nations and allies. Both units seized the opportunity to exchange operational insights, both in the air on the ground. The F-35A was put to the test this iteration of Red Flag, as both nations' F-35 fleets were intertwined into cross platform communication while conducting daily missions, a glimpse into the future of integrated operations.