Nellis AFB, Nevada, is arguably one of the most important installations when it comes to the US Air Force fighter community. Spearheading the tactics and capabilities charge here is the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, which boasts a mightily impressive inventory that arguably eclipses many complete air forces, writes Jake Melampy in Combat Aircraft’s November issue, on sale now.
Raptors, Eagles, Lightning IIs, Fighting Falcons and Thunderbolt IIs — all in one squadron! Most air forces would be envious of this roll call, but for the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) this dream team represents a cross section of the USAF fighter community and the staple of its daily work. It’s an inventory that allows the squadron to be the center of capabilities and tactics development for these types in the continual journey of maintaining the cutting edge.
With multiple types (Mission Design Series, MDS) on its books — all six combat-coded fast jet types of the USAF — the various flight lines at Nellis can be found with a smattering of A-10Cs, F-15C/Ds, F-15Es, F-16C/Ds, F-22As and F-35As sporting ‘OT’ (operational test) tail codes and green and black checkered fin stripes.
It is no secret that the USAF is under pressure to up its game in order to meet near-peer threats. The 422 is now flying F-35As in Block 3F configuration. Current commander Lt Col Brad ‘Split’ Darling comments: ‘This is the F-35 that the USAF wanted, bought, and paid for. This jet is like the one in the brochure.’ The 422 is working on building the tactics for Block 3F. ‘As the F-35 continues to field new weapons capabilities and non-kinetic capabilities, we are working out how to best integrate that into the fleet and how does that support other players, such as fourth-generation fighters like the F-15E?’
Despite the fact that the squadron has different stovepipes, it strives to avoid compartmentalizing the various groups. Whenever possible, missions are planned and flown together to fully integrate the squadron. ‘Yesterday I went out in a Raptor and flew against F-15Cs and their new AESA radars,’ says Darling.
As the commander, staying abreast of all that the 422 touches is a huge task for Darling and his team. ‘It is a super challenge, but the phenomenal people here are what make it easy and possible to manage. The squadron director of operations and the division commanders own the scheduling, they own the interaction between the maintenance and the operations side and making that magic happen. We have very seasoned guys that have been around for multiple assignments and understand the organizational charts and they’ve got it mapped. Staying in tune with these people is what makes my job easy. It makes it easy to sit back and watch the magic happen.’
As the USAF looks to the future, the threat will continue to advance. With that threat, the role of the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron will increase. Lt Col Darling sums up: ‘If we can take the time to think about our role and the future, or where it looks like it’s going to go, it is just awesome to do get to do this job.’
Read the full story and see exclusive images in our November issue, on sale now.