RAMSTEIN, Germany --- Military leaders from several European countries joined U.S. Air Forces in Europe for an F-35 Air Chief meeting at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Feb. 12, 2019.
Hosted by U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, USAFE commander, the meeting provided strategic-level updates and a forum for collaborating on the direction of the F-35 European User’s Group.
“Today, the focus was on how we bring this group together to voice our common issues, where we want to go, and how this jet can be a deterrent to any future aggressor,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Leslie Hauck, USAFE’s lead for integrating 5th Generation capabilities. Fifth-Generation Fighters, such as the F-22 and F-35, increase survivability and lethality by incorporating stealth technologies and advanced sensors.
The nine nations present at the meeting are part of a chartered F-35 user’s group, a formal, persistent venue aimed at integrating 5th Generation capabilities, identifying shared challenges, and disseminating enterprise-wide solutions.
Wolters told the group, “It’s been said that one of the biggest mistakes was putting an ‘F’ in front of F-35, leading people to believe it is strictly a fighter. In fact, the F-35 is a system that, in addition to its obvious combat capabilities, acts as a force multiplier by rapidly proliferating data through multi-domain command and control networks up and down the chain of command. Its ability to provide operational-level indications and warnings affords leaders with valuable options to mitigate the risk of miscalculation.”
Members from USAFE also took the opportunity to announce plans to bring F-35s over to the European theater during the summer of 2019 and to use this as a key opportunity for working on international integration.
“During the meeting the air chiefs brought up concerns they had identified as obstacles to interoperability,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. James Schmidt, one of USAFE’s F-35 subject matter experts. “It was refreshing to hear the air chiefs were thinking about the same issues that we at USAFE have been wrestling with, and we believe we can continue to advance our common interoperability goals as we bring US F-35s into theater.”
The U.S. Air Force, alongside our allies and partners, have learned valuable lessons while operationalizing the F-35 over the past few years. The air chiefs discussed ways to leverage these experiences to increase the pace at which European F-35 fleets can achieve higher interoperability levels.
Though the first U.S. F-35 isn’t expected in Europe until late 2021 at RAF Lakenheath, England, the U.S Air Force declared initial operating capability of the F-35 in 2016.
Hauck confirmed significant advancements in the past 18 months to further expand F-35 capabilities and potential.
“The F-35 adds deterrence value, integrates forces across NATO, and strengthens alliances as we work together towards developing common procedures and operational practices,” Hauck said.
Wolters underscored this point, noting that the international aspect of the F-35 system represents a key advancement for NATO. Where previous 5th Generation assets were not a permanent part of European-based forces, organic F-35s provide the Alliance with a potent 5th Generation aircraft at the ready, throughout the European theater.