If you are around the Eglin AFB any part of the day and you look up and you see one of the most state of the art airplanes flying over head, you can only smile with pride. This program not only brings pride to those looking up, it also brings smiles to the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines, U.S Air Force, as well as, a host of international countries who choose to make the F-35 their plane of the future. With this said, we will have all these folks training with these planes, which has never been done before in one place. Not only will we have the pilots training, we will have their maintainers here also. What does this mean? A whole lot of folks learning what Okaloosa County has to offer to the folks around the world.
F-35s take next step
By LAUREN SAGE REINLIE / Daily News
Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at 17:08 PM.
EGLIN AFB — The F-35s soaring through the sky are continuing to ramp up their training operations and have started to simulate some combat-type missions.
For the first time last month, the Joint Strike Fighter was controlled by an air battle management squadron on the ground at Tyndall Air Force Base.
Until then, little F-35 training had involved air battle managers.
“It’s much more realistic. It’s what we would do in the real world,” said Col. Stephen Jost, commander of the 33rd Operations Group at Eglin Air Force Base.
He said the development is a reflection of the maturity of the F-35 program.
As more aircraft have arrived at Eglin in recent months, the training schedule has become more predictable and the group has flown more sorties and put more students through the program, Jost said. The F-35s now are ready to fly missions that more closely simulate what they might see in combat.
The air battle managers are with the 337th Air Control Squadron, which falls under the 33rd Operations Group but is stationed at Tyndall in Panama City.
The 337th trains about 130 students a year to become air battle managers.
Their radar equipment provides a much broader view than the radars inside the F-35 — a “God’s-eye view,” as Jost calls it. The equipment can pick up anything flying over the Gulf of Mexico from Houston to down and around the Florida peninsula and then up the East Coast to Virginia Beach.
The managers’ job is to communicate any information to the pilots that might be needed regarding other aircraft or flight conditions — to paint a picture for the pilots of what is going on in the air. They also are charged with managing various aircraft and deciding where to use them in a combat situation.
From the command post at Tyndall, known as the Doghouse, the air battle managers talk to F-35 pilots over a radio.
“It’s a phenomenal first step for us,” said Lt. Col. Todd Smith, commander of the 337th at Tyndall. “Our instructors were vying over who got to be the first on the Doghouse radio to be able to talk to the F-35. It’s the bright, shiny penny; something they can brag about.”
The partnership also is the beginning of learning how air battle managers in the future can support the F-35.
“It’s a small event in the course of a day, but in the course of what we are trying to do it’s significant,” Smith said. “We are now starting the process of fully understanding what an F-35 brings to the fight and, more than that, what they don’t bring that they are going to be reliant on others for.”
The squadron at Tyndall will work with the group to develop procedures and help put its mark on a program that will be around for decades, he said.
Since they started about two weeks ago, the group has flown three to four formations a week using air battle managers. The formations of usually four aircraft practice loading simulated weapons, calling those weapons up once an aircraft has been targeted and simulating employment of the weapons in a tactical environment, Jost said.
By next year the jets will be able to use data links, which air battle managers will use to send electronic information to the planes, he said.
For now, it’s the fundamentals on both the F-35 side and the air battle management side, but it’s good practice for everyone, Jost said.
Air battle management has a language of its own.
All new F-35 pilots are required to have previous experience with other fighter aircraft, but with little combat practice recently they might have become rusty in their command of the air battle management lingo, which uses few words to convey a lot of meaning.
“We are kind of dusting off the cobwebs of working with air battle managers,” Jost said. “There’s an entire library of terms we use in a tactical environment that requires practice and keeping proficient.”
The air battle management students are all undergraduates who also benefit from the practice.
When they complete training at Tyndall they will be assigned to operational units. Most will fly in E3 planes that provide battle management from the air in a combat zone.
F-35s from Eglin also recently took to the sky to fly in formation with F-22s, which are based at Tyndall and receive air battle management support from the 337th.
Both developments reflect the F-35s movement toward coordinating with other squadrons and other aircraft, Jost said.
“This is where the Air Force is growing toward and where the fifth generation (aircraft) is going,” he said. “Everything that has taken place just in these last few months has been really foundational but absolutely vital to where we are going to be going in the future.”