'Not a fair fight - and that's how we like it'

US pilots explain how it feels to fly the new F-35 stealth fighter - which Israel is set to get in December.

Rachel Kaplan ,

Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in the cockpit of an F-35
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in the cockpit of an F-35
Lockheed Martin

Speaking to DVIDS, pilots flying the new F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft comment on how it feels to ride the most superior stealth fighters in the world.

Israel is the first foreign country to purchase the new F-35A. Its fleet, which is currently being built by Lockheed Martin, will be completed and flown in by December 2016.

During the annual Northern Lightning exercise, which runs from August 22- September 2, the US Air Force is putting the F-35A through its paces - and outpacing every other fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.

"It’s not a fair fight, and that’s exactly what we want for our adversaries,” Lieutenant Colonel Brad Bashore, 58th Fighter Squadron commander, explained.

“To be on the offensive side this time and getting a chance to employ (those capabilities), I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s like fighting somebody with their hands tied behind their back. It’s not a fair fight and that’s how we like it.”

During the ongoing exercise, Bashore and his wingmen at the 58th FS have been scoring as many as 27 kills in a single sortie.

“I remember the first time I flew against (fifth-generation aircraft),” Bashore said. “It’s a change in mind set because you can’t target anything on your radar - because it’s not there - and by the time you do potentially find something it’s too late and they have already shot you." The F-35A has a radar range which outdistances any known aircraft, making it almost impossible to be shot down.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time understanding that it’s our asset is invigorating and gives you a lot of hope for the future as far as how successful this platform is going to be.”

While sharing many similarities with the F-22, the F-35A’s highly advanced range of sensors and communications equipment allow fighters to coordinate at lightning speed - and eliminate any safe space for the enemy to hide.

“We took off out of Madison [to join the fight],” said Lt. Col. Bart Van Roo, 176th FS commander, who was flying a "red air" enemy F-16 opposite an F-35A. “We went to our simulated air field out in the far part of the air space...We turned hot, drove for about 30 seconds and we were dead, just like that.

"We never even saw [the F-35A].”

Van Roo has been flying the F-16 since 2001 and as red air during Northern Lightning for 13 years.

“For us, as a capable fourth-generation fighter, we are used to being able to see and counter most adversaries that we have out there when we are playing red air,” Van Roo said. “Versus the F-35 it’s completely different. The most difficult thing is we just can’t see them like they can see us. It can feel like you are out there with a blindfold on trying to find someone in a huge space.

“We have been reliant on visual pickups of the aircraft only, which is extremely difficult to do, and at those ranges we are already dead before we could shoot back.”

The red air pilots have one comfort: When the games are done, the F-35A is on their side.

“The significant increase in situational awareness that it gives us on the battle field, the information sharing between jets, radar capability and of course the capability that we will have with our opponents not being able to see us will be a game changer,” Van Roo said.