The U.S. military is working with Australia, Japan, South Korea and other allies to bring them up to speed on the power and potential of fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35 and F-22.
Pacific Air Forces, the Hawaii-based major command whose area of responsibility stretches to the Asian coastline, is leading the effort to integrate the F-35 with allies, according to Col. Art Primas, the command’s international affairs division chief.
American pilots are leveraging their “experiences with our fifth-gen fighters” to help allies better understand the unique capabilities of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and F-22 Raptor.
The Defense Department is constantly evaluating what planes, exercises and intelligence it needs to bolster ties in the region, which contains 60 percent of the world’s population, officials said.
In a few years, the Pentagon may change “the flavors” of annual exercises to include new training with fifth-generation platforms, added Col. Kelly Lawson, PACAF chief of current operations. The training may include replacing old missions sets with new ones and hosting more joint-service operations and multilateral training.
As new and emerging threats appear, “we’re evolving to be as efficient as we can,” he said.
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Upgraded fourth-generation assets such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle “get better and better on integrating with the fifth-gen because it’s new technology,” Lawson said.
With F-22s permanently stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii and Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Alaska, the Raptor “will be part of our calculus forever,” he added.
As the U.S. military continues to shift more troops and equipment to the region as part of the strategic plan known as the “Pacific pivot,” pilots will increasingly fly both fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft in theater to better understand the next realm of fighter training engagements.
“F-35 training is going to be critical, and we’re improving our ranges, especially at the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex to be able to meet the unique training requirements for advanced fourth-gen and fifth-gen fighters,” Primas said.
The Air Force has roughly 65,000 square miles of available airspace for realistic, world-class training at complex, where partner forces will be welcome to experience first-hand the F-35’s power. The service in April announced that Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska will host two squadrons of F-35s by 2020.
In 2014, a B-52 Stratofortress from Guam landed in Australia to train with the Royal Australian Air Force. Its stop was preceded by a November 2011 agreement which stipulated the U.S. could increase its military presence there.
“The idea is – much like we do in Guam – a rotation of tankers and bombers to do training and working with our Australian allies as well as training our pilots and aircrew [about] what it’s like in the region, to understand the vastness of that region,” Gen. Lori Robinson, then the head of Pacific Air Forces, told defense reporters last year.
In March, officials once again began the dialogue to potentially base bombers — likely B-1B Lancers — in Australia.
Lawson said since then, all three long-range bombers — the B-2 Spirit, B-52 and B-1B — have appeared in the Pacific, some stopping in or flying over the far East continent.
A permanent station would be attractive because “the Australians have some really talented folks, and it’s to our benefit to interact with them as well, and we can learn from them just as much as they can learn from us,” Lawson said.
Primas said this has jumpstarted PACAF to work with the Australians on enhanced air cooperation activities “for greater and broader” engagement with the country.
“When you don’t have as many resources, you have to think more deeply,” Lawson said, “and these guys know the region, have good equipment, smart folks, but bring a different perspective … which harmonizes with ours.”
The Aussies are definitely “a leader in the region,” Primas said, which helps the U.S. connect to other nations through them.
“It just makes the whole region stronger,” Lawson said.