“Red Flag confirmed F-35 dominance with a 20:1 kill ratio” U.S. Air Force says

Looks like the F-35 achieved an impressive 20:1 kill ratio at Nellis Air Force Base’s Red Flag 17-1

Every aviation enthusiast knows about Red Flag, the large-scale aerial combat training exercises held four times per year at Nevada’s Nellis AFB just north of Las Vegas.

The historical highlight of the recent Red Flag 17-1 was the very first inclusion of the U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II in the exercise. F-35As of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah, launched large multi-aircraft sorties during Red Flag 17-1.

Three words summarize the role of the F-35A during this Red Flag exercise; stealth, integration and flexibility. To a greater degree than any previous aircraft in U.S. Air Force history the F-35A Lightning IIs from Hill AFB acted as sensors, guidance platforms and strike assets almost simultaneously, and they did so in a threat environment that would have been previously impenetrable without significantly greater loses. They also performed in an air-to-air role: although we don’t know the ROE (Rules of Engagement) in place for the drills nor the exact role played by the F-22 Raptors that teamed up with the Lightning II throughout the exercise, the results achieved by the F-35, appear to be impressive, especially considering the 5th Gen. aircraft’s additional tasking during RF.

Indeed, while early reports suggested a 15-1 kill ratio recent Air Force testimony by Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris, Vice Commander of Air Combat Command characterized the kill ratio as “20-1” meaning that, for one F-35A “lost” in simulated combat in a high threat environment that the aircraft destroyed 20 simulated enemy aircraft.

During the same testimony, U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. Jon M. Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, related a 24-0 kill ratio for U.S. Marine F-35B aircraft during a different exercise.

Whereas the air superiority scenario has not been disclosed (therefore, the above mentioned kill ratio should be taken with a grain of salt, as always when it deals with mock air-to-air engagements…), other details of the F-35As specific missions during the exercise are beginning to emerge from Red Flag 17-1.

The recently revealed reports suggest that large-scale F-35A strikes were conducted in a highly contested/denied aerial environment. Air Force F-35As penetrated denied airspace and directed standoff weapons from B-1B heavy bombers flying outside the denied airspace. Those strikes destroyed simulated surface to air weapons systems. This suggests some of the exercises were an example of a “first day of war” scenario where Air Force F-35As spearheaded an attack on a heavily defended target set both in the air and on the ground. The F-35As entered the denied airspace and engaged both aerial and ground targets, not only with weapons they carried but also with weapons launched from other platforms such as the B-1Bs as they loitered just outside the threat environment acting as “bomb trucks.”

USAF Capt. Tim Six, and F-35A pilots of the 388th Fighter Wing from Hill AFB, alluded to the “Sensor fusion both on-board, and off-board the aircraft” when he discussed the F-35A’s expanding envelope of strike and inter-operable capabilities.

This demonstration of F-35A capabilities counters an ongoing trend in the development of air defense networks for potential western adversaries. To a much greater degree than the F-117A Nighthawk defined the opening hours of the first Gulf War by penetrating Iraqi Air defenses and striking strategic targets with precision and stealth the F-35A expanded on that strike capability during this Red Flag according to the flying branch’s post-exercise statements.

At Red Flag 17-1 the F-35A also included additional roles previously reserved for air superiority aircraft like the F-15C Eagle and heavy strike capability from large bombers while even performing “light AWACS” duties.

“I flew a mission where our four-ship formation of F-35A’s destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” Major James Schmidt, an F-35A pilot for the 388th Fighter Wing from Hill AFB told the Air Force Times.

“After almost every mission, we shake our heads and smile, saying ‘We can’t believe we just did that’ Schmidt told reporters.

Major Schmidt went on to highlight the multirole capability of the F-35A in a non-permissive environment when he recalled, “After taking out the ground threats the multirole F-35A is able to pitch back into the fight with air-to-air missiles, taking out aircraft that don’t even know we’re there.”

Another addition to media coming from Red Flag 17-1 is this beautifully done extended video from our friends at Airshow Stuff shows a remarkable array of combat aircraft arriving and departing for air combat exercises. There are B-1B Lancers, F-22 Raptors, EA-18G Growlers, F-16 Aggressors based at Nellis, RAF Typhoons, Australian E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft, an Aussie C-130J Hercules transport.

At the 18:51 point in the video we get a ride in a KC-135 tanker for an approach straight into Nellis and a look at what flying into the busy base is like.

Another interesting political implication of Red Flag 17-1 is the inclusion of the Royal Australian Air Force. Although RAAF takes part to RF exercises every now and then, this may suggest an increased tempo of integrating new U.S. assets with other air forces in the Pacific region, possibly as a pro-active response to increased North Korean threats in that region.


About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on TheAviationist.com, TACAIRNET.com, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.


  1. While you are correct in saying the US is seeking to integrate 5Gen assests with the RAAF, as evidenced by the Enhanced Air Cooperation initiative that is taking place at RAAF Tindal at the moment, the RAAF attending Red Flag is nothing new or unusual, we’ve been going there since 1980.

  2. Told ya! Knew I was right. The plane’s is able to defeat any air or SAM threat deployed anywhere in the world. The fighter’s detractors were fools, many of whom are still living in their air combat-cloistered world of denial. Still denying this plane’s overwhelming superiority. Time to wake up boys and girls. Eat the crow and get off the Internet. You made absolute fools of yourselves. GAME OVER! F-35 is the most dangerous fighter in the skies. Will be for decades – especially with upcoming block upgrades.

    • Hmmm, where’s the never-F-35 people? Oh, they’ll jump in at the next Huffer Post article calling it a piece of junk.

      Let me guess, they’re saying that every pilot and crewman was in on a grand conspiracy to rig this wargame, including all of the foreign countries. (Yeah right, you would NOT stop them from crying foul if something were amiss.)

    • im assuming yove never attended a red flag, thats fairly obvious. The author has expressly said that the air superiority factor of this aircraft at red flag is dubious at best. Red flag at its hardest is a petri dish, its war in a vaccum, a tightly controlled and measured vaccum. No red flag ever has its seperate ROE’s announced so its impossible to make claims like tyou have above, this is a fact and has to be maintained for OPSEC. For the F35, its reinforced by massive contractor support, an established logistics tail wiith the entire counrty’s supply depots on alert, with C130, C22 and C17 aircraft literally at the ready to transport logistics to a point thats twisted beyond normal.
      To make this work, the F35 is literally rapt in a blanket of cotton wool. Even a 10 year old knows the Lightning is not the most dangerous fighter in the skies, not today and not ever while the Raptor exists, when the raptor is retired there will be an aircraft so more deadly to other aircraft that it will will eat the lightnng for breakfast, again this is fact. One on one, the raptor will always beat the lightning.
      Please check your facts upon entering because your comment is a giant mess of hyperbole.

      A realistic supported of the F35

  3. Of note, these planes were flying with 3i software. They were limited to 7g’s. When 3f is loaded, and it is already in flight testing, the plane will be capable of performing within its full 9g design envelope. That, and the software load will enable the jets to deploy critical weapons such as the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb, the GBU-31/32 Joint Direct Attack Munition, the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile and the main gun system. Then comes Block 4 with SDB-II, Kongsberg NJSM, new ESM/ECM, improved EOTS, new software to enable any weapon to be automatically integrated. Guess what? If you think pilots love it now, just wait ’till they fly it later. Russia and China will have NOTHING that can compete with it. Nothing! Isn’t that just too bad. Let them cry, let them moan and bluster – let them eat cake!

    • You’re so exited that missed the logic, China, Russia and USA will never come to a direct war! period!, that will never happens with nuclear states! with offensive ballistic missiles and multiple reentry ojives based in submarines along the globe!. Do you want to keep expending trillions in war toys? ok, it’s good to sell to the non nuclear states, but nothing else.

  4. But, but, but, it was all the F-22’s doing. The F-35 had absolutely nothing to do with it. /sarc.

  5. In his speech to Congress President Trump mentioned only one U.S. defense program. No, it wasn’t the Virginia-class sub. No it wasn’t the LCS. Nada on the new Ford-class aircraft carrier. No, he mentioned only one new piece of military equipment, that being the F-35. He called it; “A fantastic plane”. Need I say anymore?

    I am LAUGHING at a number of you. You all know who you are.

    • you and Mr Trump share the same approach to communication… not trying to be intentionally narky here but have you ever considered toning it down and acting more adult like?

    • I put faith in the F-35 because it is a good aircraft that will change the way we fight future air battles. I put faith in the JSF JPO because they have a good man leading and managing it as well as all the other experienced hard working professionals making it happen. Not because of what some F-tard in office says.
      This is the same man who tweeted (*sarcastic* real professional and grown up by the way) that the JSF Program is out of control. This is the same F-tard who takes credit for driving down the cost of the F-35A when the price per unit was dropping anyways. This is the same F-tard who then calls for further competition with the Super Hornet that could potentially drive up costs or slow down production and procurement.

      • Well, we don’t always have to agree. For the most part we are on the same page.

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