Getting the most out of Generation 5 combat aircraft pilots

The first full spectrum US based ‘Red Flag’ exercise involving the new F-35 appears to show that 5th Generation aircraft are lethal against Gen 3 & 4 aircraft. Early results came in from the US Air Force’s realistic, challenging Red Flag air combat exercise — and it looks like the F-35 slaughtered the competition.

Aviation Week reports <>  that the Joint Strike fighter killed 15 aggressors for each F-35 downed. The F-35 achieved this remarkable ratio in a drastically increased threat environment that included radar jamming, increased air threats, and surface-to-air missile batteries.


“In the past, the non-kinetic effects were not fully integrated into the kinetic fight,” Col. Robert Cole, the Air Forces Cyber Forward director, said in a statement <> .

But now F-35s take on cyber threats and electronic warfare in addition to enemy surveillance and conventional, or kinetic, threats. That is all well and good but training the new generation 5 fighter pilots just got a lot more complex and massively expensive.

Training Gen 5 pilots is a real problem however and it costs a LOT of money just keeping them current in using the full spectrum of Gen 5 technology. The hope that Gen 5 pilots would do 95% of their training and operational skill building on simulators seems moot. Both the USAF and IAF have found that the F-35s and F-22s need about 1/3 real flying and 2/3 simulator training. The problem comes with the horrendous cost of that 1/3 REAL flying hours against a realistic battle space opponent air threat.

Gen 4 aircraft can dogfight against 1-3 other Red Force opponents but to be realistic Gen 5 fighters need up to 20 opponents as well as simulated AA missile threats to be realistic in real time flying training. The cost of providing these numbers of Red Flag aircraft is massive. Yet without actual operational flying in real aircraft against actual Red Flag training ‘aggressor squadrons’ the F-35 and F-22 pilots can’t use the full spectrum of assets that these 5th Gen aircraft bring to the fight.

The Israelis and USAF are attempting to integrate more synthetic aircraft, drones and ‘electronic ghost’ AA missile threats into real world Red Flag exercises. They are trying to make the pilots flying Gen 5 aircraft see masses of real threats on their systems while the gen 4  Red Flag ‘enemy’ don’t see the same picture but attempt to actually find and engage the F-35 & F-22s with their actual systems.

All increasingly tricky and costly. Without this type of actual impressive flying the Gen 5 pilots can not really get to grips with the full power of Gen 5 technology.

China and Russia are going to have serious problems in affording to train their Gen 5 aircraft pilots.
“This integration in an exercise environment allows our planners and warfighters to understand how to best integrate these, learn their capabilities and limitations, and become ready to use [these combined resources for maximum] effect against our adversaries,” Cole said.

But the F-35s didn’t just shoot down the enemy, they used their sensor-fusion and datalink abilities to talk to other planes and help them sniff out threats they would never have seen on their own.

“Before where we would have one advanced threat and we would put everything we had — F-16s, F-15s, F-18s, missiles, we would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out — now we are seeing three or four of those threats at a time,” Lt. Col. George Watkins, 34th Fighter Squadron commander, told Aviation Week.

“Just between [the F-35] and the [F-22] Raptor we are able to geo-locate them, precision-target them, and then we are able to bring the fourth-generation assets in behind us after those threats are neutralized. It’s a whole different world out there for us now.”