MELBOURNE, Australia — Australian F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are taking part in an exercise in Indonesia, on the last leg of a deployment that has seen the jets visit the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia for the first time.
The six Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters from 75 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force, or RAAF, are currently taking part in Exercise Elang Ausindo with Indonesian Air Force Lockheed-Martin F-16 fighter jets at Manado on Indonesia’s North Sulawesi Island from Sept. 18 to Sept. 28.
The exercise will see Australian and Indonesian personnel and aircraft conduct air combat missions including offensive and defensive counter air missions; basic fighter maneuvers and air combat maneuvers and air-to-air refueling with an RAAF KC-30A multi-role tanker transport.
Squadron Leader Paul Anderton, an instructor-pilot with 75 Sqn, told Defense News that the exercise took a building-block approach to training, starting with one-versus-one air combat engagements before moving on to two-versus-one or two-versus-two training.
The engagements will then become more complex, with larger formations such as four-versus-four training dogfights.
However, Anderton said that the exercise was not just Australian jets going head-to-head with their Indonesian counterparts, but its aim also includes interoperability training with the Indonesian F-16s, flying in mixed formations and air-to-air refueling.
“There’s a heavy focus on the bilateral side of the aviator level engagement and that is us integrating with the Indonesian F-16s and providing joint training to each other,” he said.
The Australian F-35s had come to Indonesia from Komatsu, Japan, where they participated in Exercise Bushido Guardian with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force, or JASDF, Sept. 4-15.
According to Wing Commander Tony Parker, the commanding officer of 75 Sqn, Bushido Guardian was conducted roughly along the same lines as Elang Ausindo with the Indonesians. However, he noted that there were several key differences, with a key one being that the JASDF was also an F-35As operator.
The drill in Japan involved both services using the F-35-specific Multifunction Advanced Data Link, or MADL, to share information. “This was a first for us, for both nations, and was a was a really successful activity,” said Parker. “We were able to operate on data links across both platforms to achieve mutual effects within their operating airspace.”
The JASDF also participated at Bushido Guardian with its Mitsubishi F-2 multirole fighters and F-16 interceptors, and the larger number of aircraft enabled the participants to organize the missions into larger aircraft packages, deepening interoperability between the RAAF and the JASDF.
Komatsu is also the home of the JASDF’s Tactical Fighter Training Group, which flies F-15s in the dedicated role of adversary aircraft. These played the role of enemy forces Air during Bushido Guardian, with other JASDF or RAAF participants taking turns fighting alongside them as adversary aircraft.
“It was pretty common practice to have Australian F-35s on both Blue and Red Air,” Parker said referring to friendly and enemy formations. “It was the same for Japanese F-35s and their F-15s. The aggressors were playing their aggressor role, and being particularly well trained to being aggressors, they often did fill that function,” Parker added.
Parker also spoke about the reliability of his jets throughout the deployment, noting that there was only one instance of a jet not being able to fulfill a mission due to maintenance problems.
“The deployment was very successful from a maintenance perspective and very reliable as a platform. We will be walking away having operated this highly technical platform on the road in Asia with limited support for five weeks, and that has given us a great sense of confidence in our ability to do that.”
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.