I Went to War Against Stealth Fighters—And Lost Badly

    Dave Majumdar

    Security,

    Flying with the bad guys into a mock air-to-air battle.

    While the Raptor would be the most formidable fighter in the world due to its raw performance even without stealth, it’s now clear to me that even the F-35 with its mediocre kinematic performance will be an extremely dangerous foe in the air due to its low radar cross-section and sensors. “If the pilots of both could carry a 9mm and open the canopy inflight, they would have 15 more kills per sortie,” the senior Air Force official told me. “It’s like fighting Mr. Invisible.”

    (This first appeared in 2016.)

    This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to fly on a training sortie during the U.S. Air Force’s Atlantic Trident 17 exercise at Joint Base Langley Eustis in Virginia.

    The war game brings together the three premier NATO air forces and the best operational fighters in the alliance’s arsenal including the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor—flown by hosts, the 1st Fighter Wing—the Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the British Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoons and the French Armée de l’Air’s Dassault Rafales. U.S. Air Force Boeing F-15E Strike Eagles from the 391st Fighter Squadron and Northrop Grumman T-38 Talon jet trainers from the 1st Fighter Wing’s own 71st Fighter Training Squadron provided “Red Air” support playing the bad guys.

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    Having had a long association with the Raptor community, Col. Peter “Coach” Fesler, commander of the elite 1st Fighter Wing, wanted me to see first hand how the F-22, F-35, Typhoon and the Rafale operate together from the air. To that end, the Air Force arranged for me to fly onboard a 71st FTS Northrop T-38A on an operational training sortie during the third week of Atlantic Trident 17—when the exercise is at its peak intensity.

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