The media has run wild with reports that 13 F-35As from Hill AFB have made an impressive showing at the USAF’s largest air warfare exercise, Red Flag. Most notably, a kill ratio of 15:1 has been touted, which traditionally means the F-35 has suffered one loss for every 15 enemy aircraft it has killed.
This version of Red Flag, which only includes aircraft from the US, UK and Australia, has supposedly been tailored with more challenging surface-to-air missile and adversary aircraft threat profiles. Layered enemy air defense systems and a higher degree of electronic warfare are said to have been present. Reports state that F-35s have done well taking on these air defenses as part of a massive strike package that included many types of US and coalition aircraft, including F-22s.
The problem is that the limited amount of information we have from an air exercise that produces hoards of data really does not give an accurate picture of what the F-35 contributed, or how their performance compared to that of other platforms. The 15:1 kill ratio in particular is nebulous, because it seems this may be skewed in terms of what data it actually includes.
Kill ratios attributed to a platform naturally make us think of direct engagements with enemy aircraft, but Red Flag is a highly integrated air battle, one that always uses the latest data-link fusing gateways and other force-multipliers. It remains unclear whether the stated kill ratio is strictly attributable to the F-35, or if it includes the actions of other coalition aircraft, particularly F-22s, while the F-35 is merely present.
In other words, did one F-35 die per 15 enemy aircraft killed strictly by the F-35’s own hand, or did those enemy aircraft die while the F-35 was merely involved in the battle? The F-22As from the 27th FS were integrated into this Red Flag, as were APG-63V3 AESA radar toting F-15Cs from the 159th FS. The UK brought their highly capable Typhoon FGR4 to the exercise as well, and these are just the high-end air superiority players; other fighters, including F-16s, were also present.
That’s a lot of counter-air capability in the air at one time, all with various advantages and disadvantages, feeding their data into one common fused data-link picture. In addition, they were assisted by an armada of support aircraft, including the most capable jamming and information, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms in the world. (end of excerpt)
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