Dim Jones, MS&T Europe Editor and Marty Kauchak, Halldale Media Group Editor attended the 1 December Lockheed Martin F-35 Training Update Media Roundtable and filed this report.

Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightning II prime contractor, revealed its short-term plans to expand its Distributed Mission Training system to a number of F-35 training sites. The OEM developed the Distributed Mission Training system, in partnership with the F-35 Joint Program Office and the US Air Force. The system allows pilots of several different aircraft types to train for rehearse of missions together in separate simulators.

This July, for the first time, the Air Force successfully linked flight simulators for the 5th generation F-35 and F-22 and 4th generation F-16CM as well as the Boeing E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, in a virtual combat training test at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The system is also designed to integrate the F-15C in training events.

Todd Canterbury, senior manager for Lockheed Martin global sustainment, told media roundtable participants, the Air Force now plans aims to deploy and connect more Full Mission Simulators (FMS). In 2021, Lockheed Martin plans to add the Distributed Mission Training system capability to F-35 simulators at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, US Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California and in the UK (Lakenheath).

Canterbury, a retired US Air Force brigadier general and in that capacity, a former Air Force wing commander, spoke to the importance of simulation in the F-35 pilot training continuum. The corporate training leader first noted that by training for about 30 hours on the FMS, aspiring pilots are now able to get airborne on their first sortie in the F-35 (there is no 2-seater) and added, “The services are also looking at innovative solutions to get initial qualifications in the jet without using the jet.” He further pointed out that during his military service, about 60% of pilot flight hours were done in real F-35 aircraft and 40% were done in simulators, and, as significant, revealed, “They’re seriously looking at tilting that model on its head and performing more in the simulator than in the live-fly environment.”

The corporate executive summarized the compelling reasons F-35 operators are eying more simulation – issues familiar to MS&T readers. In one instance, the F-35 has simply outgrown available 4th-generation ranges. He observed, “We no longer have the airspace or the detection ranges available to us. We no longer have the ability to fly supersonic at will, as much as we need to with this airplane, these tactics,” and emphasized, “Additionally, there’s just certain things that we don’t want to fly in the open-air environment, because we’re always under the watchful eye of our adversaries.”

Moreover, the Air Force’s F-35A is incredibly expensive to operate – about $44,000 per flight hour – so, any time that a pilot can spend in a simulator, instead of the actual aircraft, saves money.

MS&T looks forward to reporting on the F-35 training systems’ continued evolution and growth in 2021.