F-35A Flies Close-Air-Support Missions in First Green Flag

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the first time provided close-air support to ground troops in the Air Force’s Green Flag training exercise – the service’s large-scale air-to-ground mock combat operation in the southwestern U.S., Air Force officials said.

The training was one of the first times the F-35 has participated in close-air support missions, flying alongside F-16s, Army helicopters, Predator drones  and the much-discussed A-10s, said Air Force Lt. Col. Cameron Dadgar, Commander, 549th Combat Training Squadron.

“This was the first time the F-35s were the main airframe. The schedule and the scenarios were built around the fact that there was going to be an F-35,” Dadgar said.

The combat scenarios ranged from close-quarters air support to air-to-air engagements against near-peer adversaries. The exercise involved about 5,000 Army ground troops from Fort Irwin, Calif., and aircraft from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., over vast areas over the western U.S. and Pacific Ocean, Dadgar told Military.com.

He explained the F-35 accomplished the close-air-support mission and integrated well with ground-based Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, or JTACs.

“It did the mission effectively. It was significant that nothing special had to be done because it was an F-35,” he said. “The procedures and techniques that are already established are similar regardless of airframe.”

Ground-based JTACs and airborne F-35 pilots use voice and digital technology to identify and confirm targets, sharing information such as coordinates on a targeting form known as the “nine-line.”

For instance, a JTAC will work with pilots to help interpret the rules of engagement and seek to identify nearby civilians or minimize collateral damage.

“They know if they drop a certain weapon they will know how large the frag pattern is going to be,” Dadgar said.

During the exercise, the F-35 flew established air support for specific ground maneuvers and also responded to fast-changing ground-battle conditions while in the air.

When asked if the stealthy F-35 was survivable in a close-in fight supporting ground troops, Dadgar said the F-35 was more maneuverable at slow speeds than other jets currently performing the close-air support mission, such as the A-10.

These comments bring added significance in light of the ongoing debates about the Air Force plan to phase out and retire the A-10; Air Force officials have said that the F-35 will be among the aircraft able to perform the close-air-support mission once the A-10 is gone, however vocal proponents of the A-10 continue to question this assessment and argue for preservation of the aircraft.

Air Force and Pentagon officials have also been defending the F-35 from recent news reports citing an F-35 test pilot who claimed the new stealth aircraft could not dogfight successfully against its older counterpart, the F-16.

The F-35 seemed to fit seamlessly into established close-air support tactics and procedures, Dadgar explained.  The improvements in coordination for close-air-support toward the end of the 14-day training exercise had more to do with human factors, he said.

“The F-35 accomplished the mission. The mistakes and strengths have a lot more to do with pilots and JTACs and training than they have to do with the hardware,” he added.

The mock-combat scenarios played out during Green Flag included urban, mountainous and maritime conditions, Dadgar said.

“The scenarios ranged from personnel recovery to close-air support and defensive counter-air in a contested environment where you had troops in close contact. The adversary has airborne aircraft as well along with surface-to-air missiles,” he explained.

— Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@military.com

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • Bernard

    Congratulations, you just made the world’s most expensive manned predator drone. Let’s see how it deals with an enemy Airforce.

    • Dan

      I didn’t know Predator’s we’re used as Close-Air Support for boots on the ground in the middle of a gun fight.

      • Fatman

        Thats because they aren’t, and with the errors in targeting no one would want them to be.

        • Sam

          Somehow a hellfire missile is less accurate when fired from a Predator (which has been monitoring the target for 12 hours and uses the same targeting gear every other airframe does)? Really?

      • t1oracle

        How do you think we use them? They aren’t in local parks doing loop-d-loops all day…

    • NathanS

      Green flag includes a hostile air force, although I agree that it’ll be more interesting to see how the F-35 goes in the larger scale Red Flag.

    • Mark18

      Dadgar sounds a lot like the leaders of yesteryear, who gave in to congressional pressures to teach Army pilots how to be AH-64 attack pilots via simulator training primarily! Hmm… for some reason, the first week of the Bosnian war comes to mind! Gone are the days of true military war-fighters with a government’s trust of the inherent leadership. Politicians everywhere and a weaker military comes to bear!

  • Rod

    “When asked if the stealthy F-35 was survivable in a close-in fight supporting ground troops, Dadgar said the F-35 was more maneuverable…”

    Can a pilot explain this to me how this answer is relevant? I doubt anyone was shooting at the aircraft during this exercise. “When asked if he can bench 300 lbs, he said he could eat 300 jelly beans.”

  • Richard

    CAS? The nose is usually pointed toward the ground when the weapon is fired!

  • Jay

    I find it ironic and a little pedantic how the F-35 detrators keep moving the goalpost when presented with any F-35 success story.

    “oh, so the world’s most expensive system ever devised by GOD is now capable of doing what it was made to do?, Well, let’s see how well it’ll do when the situation gets REAL.”

    You know what? This nation has been a world leader in the production of world-beating weapon systems and platforms for more than 150 years. The F-35 will continue to improve, and will more or less perform as well as it’s supposed to when the SHTF, because intelligent, hard-working men and women- AMERICANS, need it to. When people in our aerospace and defense industry actually start to produce inferior systems, then the doubters should really start to worry. Until then, we need to keep working at doing what we as a nation do best- kill stuff, and break things. I’d rather have the fledgling F-35 and all it’s problems, than a military that is dependent upon, and completely relegated to foreign-produced, 4th and 4.5 generation platforms like our less-well heeled allies.

  • Joe Rome

    They said it can be more maneuverable to survive than the A-10. I doubt that. These exercises can be rigged to make something look better than it would be in real combat. The A-10 when it was introduced cost 13 million a pop the F-35 cost 115 million and these planes will be hit in CAS. My belief is the F-35 would not take hits as well as an
    A-10. The F-35 is not cost effective in the CAS Roll comparing a 45,000 dollar missile (cheap one) to a few rounds from the 30mm?
    You get hit in the F-35 you are not coming home, the A-10 has a chance.

  • dabigh

    All planes and ANY type of missile is OBNSOLETE to a Laser

    • blight_

      True. Lasers with enough stopping power could mincemeat things like machineguns did to charging lines of infantry. Can wait until lasers begin to deploy aboard ships before pronouncing doom.

      Aircraft will still be needed to fire these lasers, either at ground installations or at other aircraft advancing ahead of ground units. They will change considerably, but something to fulfill the niche they fulfill now will appear, probably in a different form.

    • Raptor1

      Really?… Exactly what deployed laser are you talking about? And what is the range on said laser? And exactly how does a laser aboard a -sized aircraft negate an incoming salvo of cruise missiles, or prevent them from being fired in the first place? By your metric, your laser is “OBSOLETED” by an H- or e-bomb, so we should skip lasers. Next you’re gunna tell us that drones can replace the F-22!

  • PostwarVandal

    Hmm, absent from the article is the mention of which weapon systems were used. I’m pretty sure that the F-35 will be a capable airplane in 10-15 years, but considering the current software- and weapon-integration status of the F-35, I wonder if it just wiggled its wings in a threatening fashon.

    “Engage Wiggling!”
    “Wiggling Engaged!”

    • oblatt23

      They should drop the Lockheed F-35 sales brochure on the enemy and impress them with all the capabilities that the F-35 could have if only they had more money.

      Never know the enemy might have a whip around in sympathy

    • Raptor1

      Exactly… Well said.

  • retired462

    F-35 in CAS; hmm - how’d the gun do (LOL)?

  • oblatt23

    F-35 CAS means dropping simulated JDAMS from 30,000 feet while the SAM batteries are told to turn off because they arnt supposed to see the aircraft.

    • Ron

      how is that close air support 30.000 feet no wonder why they no losses where an A-10 is with in 500 feet to the ground big difference.

  • mike

    “The F-35 accomplished the mission. The mistakes and strengths have a lot more to do with pilots and JTACs and training than they have to do with the hardware,” he added.”

    Sounds like there were indeed some problems, and they are trying to shift the blame to the pilots and JTACs and training. I guess since this whole CAS thing is so new, and no one in the Air Force knows how to do it, it can’t POSSIBLY be a problem with an overpriced piece of SHIT airplane, can it?

  • droggen

    A meaningless evaluation from an underling probably ordered to write a glowing assessment..How about publishing the details for all to see if you have the nerve?
    This project needs all the sunlight possible to be shined on it. I do not trust these pentagon generals..

  • Big-D

    The F-35 will NOT be more maneuverable at low speed and low altitudes than the A-10 and it is not more survivable-one hot golden BB will take it down and all of those IR manpad missiles will follow it”s huge hot exhaust like a lost puppy

  • d. kellogg

    Best part of this article? Air to ground mode mentioned for F-35 is backed up with picture of air to air mode AIM-120. Or do AMRAAMs have a new air to ground capability?

    No pic of any of the F-35 flights with loaded hardpoints? Or the SDB trial drops?

  • bbabbitt

    Wow! I was impressed with “F-35A Flies” part of the headline. How many did they have to go through to get one that actually flew and where did they find a kamikaze pilot to take cockpit?

  • edancingman

    I’m glad it’s starting to become effective. I still think it’s too many very expensive eggs in one very expensive basket.

  • George Onik

    To say the short stubby wings of the F35 flying “low and slow” can out-fight an A10? That statement brought what credibility this story had into question. The compromises needed for a jack of all trades airplane for all missions guarantees it will be “master of none”. Russian radar can see the 117 stealth and has shot one down. Infrared and acoustic detection modes have come a long way. Newer electronics pods for existing aircraft are now superior to the F35 suite which is now dated and obsolete before deployment. Rebuild the proven A10 design into a new “ground pounder” and keep those precious F35’s up high where they belong. Is a single F35 worth 3 times more than an A10, F16, and an improved F18. I will choose the three airplanes for the one, anytime. The emperor has no clothes.

    • ironV

      The F117 wasn’t shot down because the Serbs’ Russian radar could “see” it. It was shot down because they very cleverly used indicators to predict the 117’s path and fired a volley to intercept. Very smart but also very, very lucky.

  • E j cox

    More maneuverable than the A10. Horse manure!!! Stall speed on the F35 is so
    Much higher and in simulation when flown in that flight arena any maneuvers can easily cause loss of lift and control. Makes me wonder if the whole effort was propaganda.

  • galloglas

    My grandson listened to me and read the reports on the F-35 Lightning II aka the Brewster Buffalo II and he said the name of this thing should be changed to the F-35 LOL bomber.
    He is 14 and the abilities or lack of them are apparent even to him.

  • OldFedVet1941

    Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! More BS from the Pentagon and LocMart! This Pig can’t get out of it’s own way! Fire up the F-22 production line and get a real Bird!

  • WKW2288

    “This was the first time the F-35s were the main airframe. The schedule and the scenarios were built around the fact that there was going to be an F-35,” Dadgar said.

    So instead of the scenarios being built to represent a need for CAS they tweaked them so they could be supported by the F-35?! That’s convenient! You can request a specific platform support a CAS mission but it doesn’t mean you’ll actually get it. The F-35 propaganda continues…

  • ironV

    “Dadgar said the F-35 was more maneuverable at slow speeds than… …the A-10.” I challenge Dadger on this. Though I stand ready to be corrected, I believe he is DEAD WRONG on that assertion.

    Can anyone with more knowledge inform on that specific question?