F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Executes 1st Alert Status Drill in the Middle East

F-15C Eagles and F-35A Lightning IIs fly behind a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker
A formation of U.S. Air Forces Central Command F-15C Eagles and F-35A Lightning IIs fly behind a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker during air refueling over Southwest Asia, July 25, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Larry E. Reid Jr.)

The Air Force's 421st Fighter Squadron recently became the first F-35A Joint Strike Fighter unit to go on alert status.

Alert status exercises took place at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, in early July, according to a news release from the 380th Fighter Wing. The goal was to provide data points to mission planners with the U.S. Air Force Central Command Air Operations Center, the release added.

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Alert status refers to aircraft being prepared to scramble or launch airborne in response to a threat or other requirement -- in as little as five minutes from getting an order. Alert status can also specify windows of 15 or 30 minutes, or even several hours. It's not clear what the alert status window was in the recent drill, or how long the alert status exercises lasted.

"This hasn't been done before with F-35s and operational control or at ADAB with F-35s," Lt. Col. Stephen Redmond, 421st FS commander, said in a statement. "It effectively adds another capability or tool in leadership's toolkit for how to deter, defend, or respond to events in the region."

The F-35A, the conventional takeoff-and-landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, entered service with the U.S. Air Force in August 2016. The Marine Corps operates the F-35B, a short takeoff/vertical landing variant, while the Navy has the carrier-capable F-35C variant.

The F-35A arrived at Al Dhafra for its first deployment within the Middle East last April.

"Our commitment to deterrence was proven during this exercise," Col. Kristen Thompson, 380th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, said in the release. "The F-35 was an integral part of a base-wide effort to further demonstrate our agility and our resolve. I am continually proud of the 421st FS and their ability to set new standards and leverage our ability to project power."

The United States' deployment of fifth-generation fighter aircraft helps provide regional stability to its allies and partners, the release adds.

"Our hope is to be a valuable contributor to the stability of this region and be prepared to defend it, if necessary," Redmond said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed.

-- Bing Xiao can be reached at bingxiao2020@u.northwestern.edu.

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