Military Aviation

F-35s From Italy, U.S. And The Netherlands Train Together During ‘Falcon Strike 2022’

The large-scale exercise focuses on fifth and fourth-generation integration, with F-35s flying both as Blue and Red Air.

From November 15 to 28, 2022, F-35s from Italy, United States and the Netherlands are training together at Amendola Air Base, in southeastern Italy. The exercise, currently in full swing, is focused on the integration between fifth and fourth-generation aircraft and integration between different allied F-35 operators which, as you may already know, are two increasingly recurring topics since the entry into service of the Lightning II.

Most of the Italian Air Force’s assets are involved in the exercise, each operating from their home bases as the reserved areas cover a large chunk of the airspace over the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A returns from a morning mission at Amendola Air Base.

Here below is a list of all the confirmed assets which are taking part in the flight activities.

Blue Air:

  • ItAF F-35 (both A and B variants of the 32° Stormo and 6° Stormo);
  • RNLAF F-35A (322nd Squadron);
  • USAFE F-35A (495th Fighter Squadron “Valkyries”);
  • USAFE F-16CM (555th Fighter Squadron “Triple Nickel”);

Support:

  • ItAF E550 CAEW;
  • ItAF C-27J;
  • ItAF C-130J;
  • ItAF HH-101;
  • ItAF KC-767A;
  • USAFE KC-135;

Red Air:

  • ItAF F-2000;
  • ItAF Tornado IDS;
  • ItAF F-35 (both A and B variants, 32° Stormo only);
  • Italian Navy F-35B;
  • ItAF MQ-9A;
  • ItAF HH-101;
  • ItAF HH-139.
A U.S. Air Force F-16CM goes around in the traffic pattern before landing at the end of a training mission.

As you can see in this list, the F-35 is not only playing as a Blue Air asset, but also as Red Air. This means that the F-35 pilots are practicing on how to operate with allied 5th gen. aircraft and on how to counter adversary 5th gen combat aircraft. The latter is an objective shared also by the better known Red Flag exercise, which integrated for the first time adversary F-35 assigned to the 65th Aggressor Squadron during the 22-3 edition.

A U.S. Air Force 4-ship formation of F-35As executes the overhead break before landing.

U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa is again supporting the exercise, which this year involves for the first time the F-35s from the 495th Fighter Squadron “Valkyries”, the first permanently deployed fifth-generation assets within U.S. European Command’s area of responsibility, based at RAF Lakenheath, UK, since December 2021. F-16s from the 555th Fighter Squadron “Triple Nickel” based at Aviano AB are also deployed to Amendola, together with the US and Dutch F-35s.

“Falcon Strike 2022 provides our Airmen and Allies critical opportunities to train how we fight – together,” said Gen. James Hecker, USAFE-AFAFRICA commander.  “Any opportunity to train and operate as a coalition force strengthens the Alliance as we face more dynamic threats in highly contested environments.”

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM pulls-up for a left closed traffic after a training mission.

During the exercise, the F-35 European Air Chiefs Meeting will also take place, bringing together fifth-generation European 5th-gen operators to discuss F-35 interoperability, opportunities, and challenges in a dynamic theater. Falcon Strike is, in fact, rapidly becoming a reference point for this kind of exercises, thanks also to the large spaces available for the flight activities, which are among the largest approved during any exercise in Europe.

According to some insiders, the USAF F-22 Raptor fighters currently deployed in Poland were also expected to move to Amendola and take part in exercise, however the deployment was cancelled. The F-22 are in fact deployed at Łask air base since August for the NATO Air Shielding mission. The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier, which is currently on station in the Adriatic Sea few miles from Amendola, is also not involved in the exercise.

A U.S. Air Force F-35A takes off during the mass launch for the main wave.

We had the chance to attend the Spotters Day planned on November 17, where we captured the photos you can see here in this article. As during most exercises, the aircraft typically fly two waves each day. The morning wave is usually dedicated to the individual training needs of squadrons and pilots, while the main wave is dedicated to the exercise’s main objectives. Night activities are also included throughout the exercise.

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM takes off for a training mission.

Both experienced instructors and new pilots have been deployed to Amendola for Falcon Strike, maximizing the training return by sharing knowledge and lessons learned between different air forces. This level of cooperation is already a well-established practice, as Italian, US and Dutch pilots also train together at Luke Air Force Base, where the international Formal Training Units are based and pilots go through their B-Courses and learn how to fly the F-35.

An Italian Air Force F-35B of the 32° Stormo (Wing) returns to Amendola after flying as Red Air during the main wave.
About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.
Stefano D'Urso

Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

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