Army Rangers training with F-35 and testing close air support capabilities

An Army Ranger from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 3rd Ranger Battalion, signals an aircraft to his team’s position at Hurlburt Field, Fla., Feb. 11, 2016. During this exercise, Rangers radioed coordinates to F-35A Lightning II pilots to simulate close air support. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrea Posey)

Two F-35 Lightning IIs joined up with elements of the 75th Ranger Regiment to provide close air support against simulated targets during a joint exercise last month.

Maj. Christopher Collins, a pilot with the 33rd Operations Support Squadron said that it “was the first time these guys have worked with the F-35A. It was a great opportunity to share tactics and showcase some of the unique capabilities we have with this jet.”

In the exercise, Rangers guided the F-35s to their targets, often within close proximity to the ground units.

Some of the troops feel the exercise was beneficial, as it provided good insight on what it will be like to work with the new aircraft.

“It’s important for a special operations task force to understand the capabilities of assets available and how they can be employed prior to arriving in theater,” said one Ranger. “This will maximize the effectiveness of the aircraft and our task force when it goes into active service. Additionally it allows us to provide intelligent feedback to senior leadership on what will make the plane more effective in CAS mission set.”

The F-35, nicknamed “the plane that ate the Pentagon”, has come under fire for the lack of performance it displays in glaring contrast to its rising price tag, which currently sits at $98-116 million per plane.

An Army Ranger from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 3rd Ranger Battalion, carries a signal to identify their position to friendly aircraft on Santa Rosa Island, Fla., Feb. 11, 2016. The regiment exercised close air support with the F-35A Lightning II on Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrea Posey)
An Army Ranger from the 75th Ranger Regiment, 3rd Ranger Battalion, carries a signal to identify their position to friendly aircraft on Santa Rosa Island, Fla., Feb. 11, 2016. The regiment exercised close air support with the F-35A Lightning II on Eglin Air Force Base and Hurlburt Field. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Andrea Posey)

Many individuals -including servicemembers and lawmakers- have criticized the F-35, particularly as it is slated to replace the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II in a Close Air Support role, something it has allegedly had trouble doing effectively.

“It really shouldn’t matter which aircraft [or] branch of service is acting as the controlling party,” said Collins. “The common guidelines of the joint doctrine allow us to operate seamlessly across a broad spectrum of different scenarios in the safest, most efficient manner.”

The soldiers said the exercise was useful because it allowed them to test both the unique abilities and limitations of the jet as a part of their mission set.

“The F-35 was designed to fight in a different environment, specifically an environment we could face if hostilities broke out in another portion of the world. Assuming we would be among the first there, this would be critical information,” said a Ranger. “Along with that, we learned what other assets and capabilities we would need to augment the F-35 on our current missions to meet our commander’s intent.”

The F-35 program will continue to develop, testing aircraft in different roles with all branches of the military.

A spokesperson for the 75th Ranger Regiment declined to offer more information about future exercises with the F-35 but assured Popular Military that the Air Force was cleared to release information about current joint training.

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Author

  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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