Senior Airman Christopher Kuhn, 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief, salutes Lt. Col. Max Cover, 421st Fighter Squadron F-35A Lightning II fighter pilot, during "Astral Knight 2019" multinational exercises at Aviano Air Base, Italy, on June 3, 2019. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jim Araos/U.S. Air Force/UPI
June 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. Air Force announced the completion of a large air-and-missile defense exercise, involving F-35A fighter planes, in Europe.
"Astral Knight 2019" was the first involvement of the planes in a large-scale multinational exercise. It focused on simulated defense of several key areas of terrain from cruise-missile and aircraft strikes. U.S. military forces worked closely with NATO coalition forces of Croatia, Italy and Slovenia at various locations across Europe, conducting operational and cyber scenarios.
The fifth-generation F-35A Lightning IIs and personnel were brought from Hill AFB, Utah, to Aviano Air Base, Italy, in May for exercises and to train with other Europe-based aircraft. The squadron includes the 388th and Reserve 419th and 421st Fighter Wings of the U.S. Air Force.
In a four-day exercise ending on Thursday, the Air Force flew eight sorties per day. For the first time, U.S. Air Force F-35As integrated operationally with Italian air force F-35As. They communicated with each other over the Multifunction Advanced Data Link, a system unique to the plane's platform.
"It's truly rewarding to see that we can leverage all the capabilities of the F-35A, which we have all been working toward," said Lt. Col. Brad Klemesrud, 421st Fighter Wing Squadron deputy commander. "In an exercise this large and complex, you get the opportunity to see how theory meets reality and put into practice what's only been on paper."
The exercise, deemed a success, also tested the capabilities of maintenance teams.
"This is the first overseas location that the 421st AMU's [Aircraft Mantenance Unit] F-35As has gone to," said MSgt. John Ott, 421st AMU F-35A expediter. "Our duties include daily servicing and inspections, as well as logistics and coordination control to receive support on our aircraft and maintainers 24/7."