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Cal Air Guard F-15 Pilots Train with Marine Corps F-35 Pilots

  • Published
  • By Maj. Jason Sanchez,
  • 144th Fighter Wing

FRESNO, Calif. - California Air National Guard’s 144th Fighter Wing and its 194th Fighter Squadron teamed up with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 out of Yuma, Arizona, June 7-9 to conduct fighter integration training.

The U.S. Marine Corps unit brought four F-35B Lightning II fighter jets to the Fresno Air National Guard Base to train with the 144th Fighter Wing’s F-15C Eagle fighter jets over their regularly scheduled drill weekend, which enabled more ANG pilots to participate.

One advantage for both units is integrating the fourth-generation capabilities of the F-15C and the fifth-generation capabilities of the F-35B. The pilots worked together in teams to execute offensive and defensive counterair maneuvers.

“Training with the Marine F-35s is invaluable,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. James Hastings, a 194 FS pilot. ”Fourth- and fifth-generation multiservice joint tactics will absolutely be executed in any large-scale conflict and practicing them is essential.”

They maximized their training over the weekend with five mission sets totaling 40 sorties, taking off from the Fresno Yosemite International Airport to conduct training over the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California.

“The teams performed extremely well, and, in most cases, accomplished their missions, but not without mistakes,” said Hastings. “Training opportunities like these give us the ability to practice and test new tactics that we would use in joint air operations.”

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (or VMFA 211) often plans training missions with different aircraft platforms. They usually have one or two cross-country trainings per month, sometimes with units outside their local area.

“Fighter integration is what we strive to train for,” said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Johnson, a VMFA 211 pilot. “Spending the weekend flying with the Guard is not just a good way to build our flight hours; it’s a chance to practice and validate our tactics and learn about other platforms.”

Most Marine Corps squadrons that fly F-35s do not usually train with F-15s outside of Red Flag exercises, so this training opportunity is valuable.

“This is a fairly unique opportunity and it’s good training,” said Johnson. “F-15s carry a lot of weapons. They’re a very capable platform, and they integrate well with F-35s when we are all talking the same tactics.”

F-35s are known for their advanced avionics, versatility, and, as fifth-generation fighters, their stealth capabilities, while fourth-generation F-15s are known for their payload, range and superior maneuverability.

“F-15s and F-35s have complementary strengths and weaknesses, so flying with them allows us to sharpen our interoperability skills,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Daniel Behrens, a 194 FS pilot. “And training with them allows us to realistically replicate our role in modern air warfare.”

Multiple agencies came together across the wing to host the F-35s in Fresno.

“None of this training occurs without the support of our maintenance squadron and numerous other agencies on base. This includes fuels, repairs, airfield management, maintenance, security forces, and many others,” said Hastings. 

The 144th Maintenance Group provided the F-35 pilots with all the required maintenance actions to operate away from their home unit.

“Chief Dlugonski and a team of crew chiefs were instrumental in hosting the F-35s. They marshaled, chalked, fueled and launched F-35s,” Behrens said. “Without their support, we would not have been able to get all the training that we did.”

This is the second time VMFA 211 pilots have trained in Fresno with 194 FS pilots. When training schedules align, the 194 FS will collaborate with the VMFA 211 for future training missions.

“The Marines are very capable pilots, and it was great to have them join us in Fresno,” said Behrens.