F-35’s kill ratio with Aggressors stands at 15:1 during Red Flag 17-1 (most probably thanks to the supporting F-22…)

An F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

It looks like the controversial F-35 is holding its own at Red Flag exercise underway at Nellis AFB.

As of Feb. 3 the F-35A had achieved a quite impressive score during Red Flag 17-1, the U.S. Air Force’s premier air combat exercise underway at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, that pits “Blue Air” (friendly forces) against “Red Air” (enemy) in an all-out air war featuring air-to-air, air-to-ground, search and rescue, and special forces elements.

According to the pilots from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill AFB, Utah, who deployed the F-35A Lightning II to the airbase off Las Vegas on Jan. 20 and began flying in the exercise Jan. 23, the type, at its debut in the world’s most realistic and challenging exercise, has achieved a 15:1 kill ratio against the Aggressors, F-16s that replicate the paint schemes, markings and insignia of their near peer adversaries and whose role is to threaten strike packages in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war.

F-35A Lightning IIs piloted by the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings prepare to depart Hill AFB, Utah, Jan. 20 for Nellis AFB, Nev., to participate in a Red Flag exercise. Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise. This is the first deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

Well, after eight days “at war”, in spite of being “just” IOC (Initial Operational Capable – the FOC is expected next year with Block 3F) the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be an “invaluable asset” during Red Flag 17-01, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada: its ability to gather, fuse, and distribute more information than any other fighter in history provide the pilot with vital situational awareness that can be exploited to escape (and engage?) highly sophisticated and lethal enemy ground threats and interceptors.

Actually, the extent of the F-22 Raptors contribution to the above mentioned kill ratio is not clear: the F-35s are flying alongside Raptors and, as one might expect, the F-22s take care of the aggressors whilst the F-35s slip undetected through the surface-to-air defenses until it reaches the position to drop munitions at the target.

Considered that the F-22s are providing air cover to the Lightning IIs, is the 15:1 score a team result or the actual kill ratio of the F-35A?

There’s been much debate about the kill ratio of the F-35 made public after air-to-air engagements against other aircraft (namely the F-15E during a similated deployment last year).

“The first day we were here, we flew defensive counter-air and we didn’t lose a single friendly aircraft,” Lt. Col George Watkins, an F-35 pilot and 34th Fighter Squadron commander, said in a release. “That’s unheard of,” he added.

With the F-35A, pilots can gather and fuse data from a multitude of sources and use the jet’s advanced sensors to precisely pinpoint a threat. Then they can take it out with one 2,000 pounds bomb. It would be impossible for a fourth-generation aircraft to survive such a mission, according to Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, F-35 pilot and commander of the 419 Operations Group, Detachment 1.

As of last Thursday, Hill’s Airmen have generated 110 sorties (with 13 aircraft), including their first 10-jet F-35A sortie Jan. 30 and turned around and launched eight jets that afternoon. They have not lost a single sortie to a maintenance issue and have a 92 percent mission-capable rate, said 1st Lt. Devin Ferguson, assistant officer in charge of the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Legacy aircraft average 70 to 85 percent mission-capable, according to the U.S. Air Force.

An F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off from Nellis AFB, Nev., Feb. 2, during Red Flag 17-01. This is the first F-35A deployment to Red Flag since the Air Force declared the jet combat ready in August 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Regardless of the airplane, I always look at the kill ratios skeptically because the ROE is never published so we don’t know if there were handicaps or under what conditions. We know that NATO loves to script war games to have an outcome so whether it’s an F-22, an F-15, or an F-35 I remain skeptical of the kill ratios.

    • Good point, alas this is all pure conjecture until “real” missiles start flying . The same doubt was cast over the F-15 until Bekaa Valley and we all know how that turned out for the Migs

    • There was the US Navy Admiral who sunk the “enemy navy” in a Red Flag type exercise much to the annoyance of his bosses so much so that they change the rules so he could only lose. No reason to doubt that the boys in blue would not do the same. The money-pit must always be made to look like you are getting value for your Trillions and a Half Dollars. Almost Half a Trillion Dollars spent so far and the software still hasn’t been finished. It will take 3 more years before the United Kingdom purchased ones will be able to fire a missile. Can’t get the kill ratio up if you can’t send a warm welcome to attacking pilot(s).

      • Making cr*p up again Joe? If you bother to do your research….even Block 2B F35Bs can fire off missiles (AMRAAM currently) for real. Oh…..what’s that…..is that a YouTube video of a F35B firing off an AMRAAM (you can get off your lazy arse and search for that video yourself….it’s there)….wow!!! RAF F35Bs can definitely fire AMRAAMs for real RIGHT NOW.

        Just stop….your lameness is really showing

      • Yes it was Millennium Challenge 2002 where the marine general leading the OPFOR LTG Paul Van Ripper adopted an asymmetric warfare strategy similar to what AQ and the Taliban would adopt and mauled blue forces. It could have been an excellent learning experience for the DoD but instead politics won – as it always does – and egos were left unbruised.

  2. Even if the F-35 had a kill ratio of 100:1 there will still be nut jobs out there that will find a way to talk down this incredible fighter.

    • That’s because you can’t convince idiots of the truth these days even when you put the facts in their face.

      • 10 years of GAO and DOT&E reports documenting a now massive list of serious issues that have hampered the development of the F-35 indicates to me that a health dose of skepticism is always required when separating BS from reality.

        Calling people idiots and nut jobs who have a dissenting view from your own calls into question your true motives and integrity in this discussion.

        • an auditors idea of massive problems and a pilots are usually not the same thing. If function x is not available a pilot will adapt their tactics until it is, and auditors job is to look at all the promised features and judge them all until they are delivered and function by contract definitions. A pilot would most likely happily take an F-35 at 85% capability then a Gen 4 at 100%.

          • The DOT&E are engineers not auditors and its important to remember that their primary job is testing weapons systems without bias to insure that they actually work in combat.

            At this point it’s debatable that we’ll ever see an F-35 at 85%.

      • only if it’s in a good mood. Which, I fear, will not be the case in actual combat situations.

    • Its the future future, bra. It wouldn’t be next gen if it was not overly complex and expensive. Lulz…. Star Wars, where is my death star to protect us from scary people. Screw freedom, get us safe like a cocoon. Why do they hate us, why???

  3. Actually, some media outlets have reported the 15:1 kill ratio as the F-35’s one whereas the official release does not mention it. Both are linked in the story. By reading the interview given by the pilot it seems to me that the kill ratio is the team’s one and it’s pretty reasonable.
    Anyway, it’s somehow boring that each time we post something about the F-35 it’s either pro or against the aircraft.
    Last time we posted a story about the F-15E unable to kill the F-35 in simulated dogfights we were blamed for being F-35 fanboys. This time we have posted an article that tries to shed some light on a kill ratio that is probably something different than that other media outlets have reported, we are F-35 haters….

    • Defense News link- “The F-35A’s kill ratio stands at 15 aggressors to 1 F-35 killed in action”
      Las Vegas Review-Journal link- “As of Thursday the F-35’s kill ratio with aggressor jets stood at 15-1, even though the F-35’s primary mission isn’t air-to-air combat, which typically is left up to the Raptor.”

      Both quotes clearly state “F-35 kill ratio” so I think it’s clear that this is not a Blue vs Red overall ratio. The Red air (up to 24 jets airborne) re-generates 3-4 times per RF vulnerability period, giving Blue a chance to kill 60-90+ Red fighters per event. Thus, the overall force on force A-A kill ratio is likely to be skewed much higher in Blue’s favor once F-22 kills are balanced against other Blue losses, unless Blue 4th gen (F-15/F-16/F-18/A-10) are dying like flies (unlikely).

      • Don’t read the quote, please watch the debrief posted on Youtube.
        The F-35 pilot first says that the F-35A’s kill ratio stands 15:1. Then, it says that kill ratio should not be surprising, as the F-35 is flying alongside the F-22. Don’t you think it’s at least contradictory or not clear enough?

        • Red Flag 17-1 is ongoing. It ends on Feb.10. I am sure more information will come out.

          It would be nice if the U.S. Air Force put out an official statement on the results rather than having to rely on outside sources. I can’t imagine that they won’t toot their own F-35 horn just like they did at Mt. Home. Only for security reasons we shouldn’t expect a detailed debrief (naturally).

          We will get a better idea of how the plane performed over the entirety of the exercise. We just have to wait. Three more Flags are scheduled this year. Hopefully F-35 will participate in all of them.


          Don’t forget Green Flag. It is as important an exercise. F-35B excelled at it when the USMC took part last year. Green Flag is an air-to-ground exercise for those of you who don’t know.

    • “15:1 kill ratio as the F-35’s one whereas the official release does not mention it”
      A lie by omission is still just an alternative fact, period!

  4. No one is constrained in “Red Flag” exercises. “Red Flag” is as close to actual combat as you can get including all the dangers like mid-air collisions.

    As a former Aggressor (retired), I am a believer in DACT/ ACM (WVR dogfight) skills. However, if the reliability is there in achieving a kill at BVR (beyond visual range) that is a big advantage.

    The F-35 is still in developmental stage. There were many bad press reports regarding the F-22. So the jury is still out on the F-35. Let’s see how it all shakes out before forming a conclusion.

    The last people I would believe are the media. Data on the F-35 is classified. So all these “fake news” articles by the media on the F-35 should be taken with a grain of salt.

  5. The F-35’s performance in Red Flag and other exercises is consistently good, as was the F-22 when it reached IOC. That tells me that the squadrons operating the 5th gen birds have them figured out (with or without certain features active). One of my favorite parts is hearing how the F-35 system is filtering out simulations of SAM radars because it can tell they’re not legit.

    If you believe the old poorly reported negative reports and discount the ongoing positive reports coming through USAF and partner air forces, you might want to reexamine your biases.

    • I have no doubt about F-35 technological advance concept and design basis from cockpit, radar, situation awareness and so on and so on .. and potential tech upgrade in the future are wide open.. I’m very confident that all next gen plane will be design like F35 standard fusion technology.. all tech glimpse add to this frame are most pilot can dream. You have all battle station and picture in your hand with all your friend-foe assets and can determine what is the priority and re-arrange your tactic to deal with environment and all your RED-team (opponents).

      As engineer I just very doubt with single engine selection, like F16 its fly great .. but, in long run battle concept in hostile air environment in think this bird will have big handicap. Red Flag environment maybe the best scenario practice will get, But in Syria when hectic with complex air-ground handling or RUS always knocking on your door and not only complex SAM (S300,S400 battery) but RUS drone/ELINT/AWACS plane flying or ground asset (Agent) monitoring your ground handling/Tanker/supporting team .. single engine plane cannot do so much because its not flexible enough to stay on air long enough to copes with plan-B, C, or D regarding changing of game-field. With single engine you always put stress on that single engine, for double you have more option since you have big tank and not stressing just one engine.

      Single engine fits perfect with aggressor style go-hit-and run tactics like Israel F-16 but with long monitoring in hostile environment watch-and-see tactics it’s very hard for me to see how you can step-up the game.

      • Only problem is most of the time when one engine goes it takes the second with it, this happens a lot. Also two engines use more fuel since some already complain it has short legs two engines would only be worse, the F-22 already has worse range than the 35. I dunno I just dont see it as a major issue since engines tend to be so reliable anymore, now if we start seeing some drop due to non catastrophic failures then maybe I could buy the argument.

    • Now that the cost issue has been solved in two weeks by President Trump we should be happy about the F-35 and consider enything else as fake news… … …

      • He did nothing.

        The drop in cost was long announced by Lockheed, to chill everybody down.

        The technical problems are not solved.

        276 problems, adding 20 more per month is a serious problem.

        • You know nothing. Trump saved the F35. Ivanka will soon be qual’d to fly one.

    • The pre-rollout of the -35, simulation-training for flight crew, prolonged testing, thorough documentation for the multi-national / joint operators – it is all miles and leagues better than the -22’s slow trickling into service, and somewhat neccessary “hands on” work that took place before IOC.

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