HomeNewsArticle Display

388th Fighter Wing focuses on F-35A operational capabilities, mission readiness

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cody Albert, 421st Fighter Squadron crew chief, marshals an F-35A Lightning II during Operation Rapid Forge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, July 18, 2019. Rapid Forge aircraft are forward deploying to the territory of NATO allies to improve interoperability. The goal of the operation is to increase the readiness and responsiveness of U.S. forces in Europe and assist allies to increase regional security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Cody Albert, 421st Fighter Squadron crew chief, marshals an F-35A Lightning II during Operation Rapid Forge at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, July 18, 2019. Rapid Forge aircraft are forward deploying to the territory of NATO allies to improve interoperability. The goal of the operation is to increase the readiness and responsiveness of U.S. forces in Europe and assist allies to increase regional security. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Seelye)

Crew Chiefs with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit work on an F35A Lightning II returning to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, July 31, 2019, after a two-month European deployment. The 421st Fighter Squadron participated in several combat exercises with allied and partner nations while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Crew Chiefs with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit work on an F35A Lightning II returning to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, July 31, 2019, after a two-month European deployment. The 421st Fighter Squadron participated in several combat exercises with allied and partner nations while deployed. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Airmen in the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates this week to support the Air Force Central Command mission. (United States Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings brief at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, prior to launching on the F-35As first deployment to the Middle East. Airmen in the 388th and 419th FWs arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates this week to support the Air Force Central Command mission. (United States Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

Senior Airman Cheyenne Rust, an F-35A crew chief with the 388th Fighter Wing's 34th Fighter Squadron, currently deployed to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, marshals a jet prior to the first sorties of the day July 10. (U.S. Air Force photo by Micah Garbarino)

Senior Airman Cheyenne Rust, an F-35A crew chief with the 388th Fighter Wing's 34th Fighter Squadron, currently deployed to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, marshals a jet prior to the first sorties of the day July 10. (U.S. Air Force photo by Micah Garbarino)

A maintainer performs pre-flight checks on an F-35A prior to take off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the evening of Aug. 20, 2019, as the active duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted local night flying operations. The wings are required to train at night to maintain their readiness and all-weather capabilities. Increased flying also provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate aircraft maintenance resiliency and operational agility. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

A maintainer performs pre-flight checks on an F-35A prior to take off from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, the evening of Aug. 20, 2019, as the active duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted local night flying operations. The wings are required to train at night to maintain their readiness and all-weather capabilities. Increased flying also provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate aircraft maintenance resiliency and operational agility. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

A pilot from 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot gestures to the crew chief into an April 26, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

A pilot from 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II pilot gestures to the crew chief into an April 26, 2019, at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The squadron has its own unique culture of putting their fists in the air to show their pride. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Thornbury)

A photo of an F-35A Lightning II.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxis down the flightline before taking off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019. The F-35A is deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in the Air Force’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of an F-35A Lightning II refueling.

A U.S. Air Force KC-10 Extender refuels an F-35A Lightning II above an undisclosed location, April 30, 2019. The KC-10 and its crew were tasked to support aerial refueling operations for the F-35A's first air interdiction during its inaugural deployment to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command's area of responsibility. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

A photo of an F-35A Lighting II.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron takes off from Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, April 24, 2019. The F-35A is deployed to the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility for the first time in the Air Force’s history. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Chris Drzazgowski)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

As the Air Force continues to sharpen its competitive edge to become a more lethal and ready force, the first combat-coded F-35A Lightning II wing has been a key contributor to the force’s overall readiness.

Over the summer, all three squadrons — nearly 70 F-35A aircraft — were operating away from home station. They conducted operations in nine different countries on three separate continents, supporting multiple combatant commanders. One squadron supported a European Theater Support Package, another squadron conducted off-station operations at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, while Hill’s runway was under construction, and one squadron is currently conducting the first F-35A combat deployment.

But the wing successfully supported all of these requirements. “It was a team effort, and I’m proud of our folks,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “We’re focused on maintaining and improving every aspect of readiness – training, manning, and developing our people and tactics to meet current threats. Our maintainers are doing a great job providing the sorties we need to do just that.

Those successes can be attributed to several factors, from the accelerating experience levels of the maintainers, to rebounds in the supply process. And not everything has been a recent fix. The numbers are catching up to past process improvements.

“A lot of the time people’s perceptions and expectations of the program are influenced by stale data, old, inaccurate information,” said Chief Master Sgt. Trey Munn, 388th MXG chief enlisted manager. “A really good example is the (Autonomic Logistics Information System). There are definitely applications within ALIS that still need to be addressed, but the prognostic health management system and joint technical data are great examples of where ALIS, on the whole, has improved and we’ve improved.”

Col. Michael Miles, 388th Maintenance Group commander, said the jet’s prognostics health management system can detect problems before they fail and allow maintainers to prioritize workload. Making prudent maintenance decisions in coordination with the operations group’s flying schedule is a key process enabled by these systems.

The newest batch of jets from Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, production facility are also reflected in the improvements. “We’re not seeing the same problem parts and issues that we did in the past,” Miles said. “Problems sent in from the field are being addressed and solutions are woven into the production line. I like the trajectory we’re currently on. There have been some valleys, but our overall experience shows we’re on a readiness incline.”

Last fall, former Defense Secretary James Mattis directed Air Force and Navy fighter squadrons to improve material readiness by achieving a mission capable rate of 80 percent – something many believed to be a lofty goal given the operations tempo, manning and resource constraints faced by all of the services.

Twelve months later, materiel readiness at the 388th FW, to include one squadron currently deployed, has seen remarkable improvements. This was highlighted when 388 FW units hit a single day high in September with two units above 90 percent mission capable and the third unit above 80 percent. This is a huge testament to the level of effort the Airmen maintaining and sustaining the F-35 have put in over this year.

Col. Miles believes “this is a reflection of processes that are on the right track. It took hard work and there will be a lot of naysayers, and many people don’t understand the trajectory the program is on.”

Mission capable rates are just one component assessed at the unit level to determine readiness. In a recent interview, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein described five aspects of overall readiness, which include training Airmen, sustainable budgets and funding, mission preparation, reliable logistics supply chain of available parts, and flying hours so pilots have more time in the air.

Parts and systems are not the only thing required to maintain aircraft. So are people.

“Experience levels are often overlooked in the maintenance equation,” Miles said. “We had a really robust talent pool when we stood up our first operational aircraft maintenance unit in 2015. Over time, that experience level became diluted as we stood up two other AMUs, lost people to PCS and retirement, and we had a lot of brand new F-35A maintainers. It takes time to build that experience level back up.”

 “MC rates are important, but don’t represent a complete measure of overall readiness,” Goldfein said. “You’ve got to have trained and ready airmen to get the job done. What really matters is that I’ve got trained and ready crews…and we’ve been able to meet those timelines and actually exceed them. That’s what counts.”