“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. 20:1 ratio, those USAF generals must be farting those missiles out because the F-35 does not hold that much armament. One of the problems with simulated war games when you have a gun that never runs out of bullets..

    • A given F-35 does not have to directly attack a bogey he can pass the target off to another fighter thru their links.
      In effect he becomes a air intercept control platform like a awacs only far better.
      In fact this is one of the capabilities they tested at red flag with resounding success.
      Winchester F-35’s loitering at feob and using their sensor fusion to direct/protect and support all the linked AC in the area.
      This is a capability that truly defines the F-35’s dominance and its still got more in the bank as the software matures and the war fighters learn how to use it to max potential.
      Nothing else even comes close and we have not seen the whole of it yet….

  2. The F-35 uses several techniques to avoid detection from its electromagnetic emissions, and it’s pretty interesting reading.

    MADL, it’s communications system is uni-directional (i.e. line of sight only). So in order to intercept it, you would have to get between the F-35 and the asset it’s communicating with (and you could only do this if you knew where the F-35 was anyway). The F-35 communications are a web; so if you destroy a satellite the F-35 is communicating with, it can still communicate by relaying the message through other planes, drones and friendly assets in the area.

    The F-35, F-22, and F/A-18E/F all use “Low Probability of Interception Radars” (LPIR). You might have seen in the movies the older radars which transmit at a certain frequency (and so the enemy can ‘hear’ the tone lock when they’ve been targeted). How LPIR radars work, is in the air there’s a lot of radar white noise that’s naturally occurring in the environment, and they transmit using the same white noise frequencies. They transmit using an algorithm that only they know. So as far as the enemy is concerned (not knowing the transmitting algorithm), it can only ‘hear’ the what sounds like normal white noise. Where-as reflections sent back to the sender can be distinguished from the surrounding white noise as they will match the transmitted algorithm. There are a few other tricks – such as passive modes where they’re merely listen, and triangulate and identify enemy radar emissions (as many enemy nations still use older radar technologies).

  3. Dave I appreciate that you belive freedom in commenting and all that but you really need to take into account the effect that one particular poster is having on your readership. Ive given up on coming here often, and loath to comment. This is something that other potential readers have noted in the comments of websites like WIb, TWZ and NI. Having enthusiasm is one thing but the constant over the top machinations of this commenter are affecting you negatively with regard to overall readership. this is a good site but that commenter is slowly killing many peoples enjoyment of it.

  4. Tim,

    it’s difficult to moderate hundreds of comments each day. Moderation is a secondary task to maintaining the blog. Unfortunately, it may take a few days for me to read and moderate, especially when I’m travelling and particularly busy. I’ve tried to explain this several times but maybe not everyone has gotten this.

    Dealing with the rest, I don’t know which online forum you mean, since I don’t visit any forum. Feel free to write to anyone you want: this site is free, it’s ran on my spare time, it is basically a one-man show. Nevertheless some million people continue to love it and read it every month….

    • This is a fine website where all POVs are obviously welcome. Someone doesn’t like the content of the site or any commenter? I suggest they go elsewhere or use the “Block” function. What do they think it’s there for? As for censorship, well, glad you have never gone there. Nor should you. Keep up the unparalleled great work!

  5. too bad the DOTE doesnt reflect the performance…. someones wrong. and the flyboys have no alternative but to praise the bottomless pit of money known as the F-35.

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