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First F-35C flight at Eglin
The first F-35C Lightning II sortie takes off from the U.S. Navy F-35 Strike Fighter Squadron VFA 101 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Aug. 14. Sailors have been on station for two years ready for the day they would launch a carrier variant of the military's joint strike fighter. The Navy's first pilot training course at Eglin was concluded in January and the second course began June with seven pilots soon to begin training flight operations in two of the squadron's F-35Cs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)
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Air battle managers provide battlefield awareness for 5th generation air dominance

Posted 9/23/2013   Updated 9/23/2013 Email story   Print story


by 2nd Lt. Christopher Bowyer-Meeder
325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

9/23/2013 - TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla.  -- Air battle managers from the 337th Air Control Squadron here recently became eyes in the skies for the Air Force's newest 5th generation fighter.

The F-35 Lightning II, based at Eglin Air Force Base with the 33rd Fighter Wing, requires a different set of operating rules than other fighters, and this new set of rules is being written by air battle manager instructors which have had the opportunity to control the F-35.

"Starting to control the F-35s in the sense of the day is not a significant event." said Lt. Col. Gary Smith, 337th ACS commander. "What is significant is we have the next generation of air dominance."

Colonel Smith explained that air battle managers provide pilots with information they may not have. This information could include vectors to the nearest refueling tanker or simply an update of how many enemies are in a particular area. The information a pilot may need varies from aircraft to aircraft. Air battle managers are responsible for knowing the different capabilities of each aircraft, and making sure the information they pass is relevant to the pilot.

Air battle managers go through a nine month training course at the 337th ACS here at Tyndall, which is home to the Air Force's other 5th generation fighter, The F-22 Raptor. Instructors at the ACS have learned that what is required by an F-22 pilot may not be required by an F-35 pilot, Colonel Smith said. As they learn exactly what an F-35 pilot needs, they are able to instruct students on what has to be communicated. This helps every instructor become more efficient at training future air battle managers.

"We teach initial skills training," Colonel Smith said. "We teach air to air, air to ground, large force employment and aviation principles. More than that, we teach fundamentals of command and control."

Until recently, air battle managers teamed with the 325th Fighter Wing to learn how to control fighters like the F-22, but the F-35 has remained out of reach. As F-35 training and testing progresses, Team Tyndall air battle manager instructors are having more of a role.

"The relationship we have with the 33rd is becoming as important as our relationship has, and continues to be, with the 325th," said Colonel Smith.

Other air battle managers are also taking notice of the capabilities the aircraft has to offer.

"I have been very impressed with the F-35 so far," Capt. Gary Foshee, 337th ACS instructor said. "It has been eye-opening to tactically control America's latest 5th generation fighter."

While the F-35 may be one step closer to being guided by air battle managers on a regular basis, Colonel Smith said it is not intended to be a replacement to fourth and 5th generation fighters currently in use. If anything, the F-35 will work in tandem with other fourth and 5th generation fighters to accomplish the mission.

"The F-35 is going to compliment the F-22," Colonel Smith said. "It's the shiny new penny."
Every aircraft an air battle manager controls provides different benefits for different situations.

As the F-35 inches closer to being fully operational in the Combat Air Force, air battle mangers are looking forward to the possibilities that come with it, said Captain Foshee.

"As an instructor air battle manager, I look forward to the operational fielding of the F-35, not only across the Combat Air Force, but also our sister services and partner nations," Captain Foshee said. "The F-35 has big shoes to fill, but she is up to the task."

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