First F-35A Base Achieves Full Warfighting Capability

 - January 8, 2020, 5:28 AM
On January 6 the 388th/419th Fighter Wings at Hill AFB, Utah, staged a mass “elephant walk” by 52 F-35As during a Combat Power Exercise. (photo: U.S. Air Force)

With the delivery in December of the 78th combat-coded Lockheed Martin F-35A to Hill AFB, Utah, the base became the first in the U.S. Air Force to achieve Full Warfighting Capability (FWC). Hill is home to the 388th (active-duty 12th AF) and 419th (Air Force Reserve Command) Fighter Wings, which jointly operate the F-35 fleet in three squadrons (4th, 34th, 421st Fighter Squadrons).

Each of the squadrons has 24 Primary Assigned Aircraft (PAAs), while the parent 388th Operations Group also has six back-ups. Hill received its first combat-ready F-35A in September 2015 and has built its force up to the full complement to achieve FWC at the rate of around two aircraft per month in a little over four years. FWC also includes the wings having a full roster of trained pilots and maintainers, and a full set of support equipment. The delivery and acceptance process was streamlined by Hill’s technicians to the point that, for recent deliveries, newly-delivered aircraft were available for operations within 24 hours of arrival.

FWC falls short of Full Operational Capability (FOC) for the USAF’s F-35A, which requires additional force-wide requirements to be met, but is a significant milestone on the path to FOC.

“Every training opportunity, exercise, and deployment we’ve completed over the past four years has been a key stepping stone in reaching full warfighting capability,” said Colonel Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “This is just the beginning of sustained F-35A combat operations and we will remain focused on staying ready to deploy whenever, wherever we’re needed.”

The 34th Fighter Squadron was the first to declare an initial operational capability (IOC) in August 2016, following a first overseas deployment by six aircraft to RAF Lakenheath in England. Subsequently, the Hill wing as undertaken two Middle East combat deployments, in which the aircraft saw combat for the first time in U.S. Air Force hands.

During 2019, the active-duty and reservist wings proved that they could successfully support and operate the three squadrons at different deployed bases, carefully balancing the deployment of support equipment to ensure that mission requirements could be met. The 4th FS was on a Middle East operational deployment, the 34th FS spent two months at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, while the 421st FS was in Europe. For one seven-day period in 2019, the wings had F-35s operating from nine countries.

On January 6 the 388th and 419th FWs conducted a Combat Power Exercise that generated 52 mission-ready aircraft. The exercise validated the ability of the wings to dispatch a large force of F-35As and underlined the milestone of achieving FWC.