Air Force F-35A over Alaska
Two F-35As en route to their new home with the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, April 21, 2020.US Air National Guard/Tech. Sgt. Adam Keele
  • The last of Eielson Air Force Base's F35s arrived in April.

  • Alaska has a heavy concentration of fifth- generation weaponry with the F-35 and F-22s.

  • Alaskan terrain is being used for advanced and wide-ranging training by the jets.

Eielson Air Force Base became home to the world's largest concentration of fifth- generation fighter jets when the 54th F-35 arrived in April.

The 354th Fighter Wing built two squadrons of F-35s at Eielson in central Alaska after two years. There are two squadrons of F-22s at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Two officers with the 354th Wing said this month that working in Alaska is a constant test for pilots and crews and that it is ideal for exercises.

During an Air Force Association event on August 10, the Wing commander said that they have a motto that "we're ready to go at 50 below."

If you come back in February, you'll see that it's a fairly ominous environment to maintain and support airplanes.

F-35A fighter jets at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska
A formation of 42 F-35As from 354th Fighter Wing during an exercise at Eielson Air Force Base, March 25, 2022.US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Sean Martin

As climate change makes the region more accessible, the Air Force and other service branches have begun expanding their footprints in the area.

The climate in the northern part of the planet can still be inhospitable. In order to get to your plane, you need to bundle up, according to the commander of the 354th Wing.

You will be wearing silk weight thermals. "You're going to wear fleece thermals, that's what I'm telling you." "Then you're going to put your flight suit on, and then your G suit, and then you're going to put a snow jacket on, and then you're done."

You just want to leave the building at that point. It's easier to stay cool in the jets than it is in the step-van. The goal is not to sweat until you get in the plane and fly.

An F-35A crew chief marshals an F-35 out of a hangar at Eielson Air Force Base, January 12, 2022.US Air Force/Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Schoubroek

Berkland said that other airmen deal with those conditions as well. "All of our mission- important people that are out there on the flightline, clearing the snow and ice around the clock, they have to operate in those environments." It's a challenge because they have to maintain vehicles in that environment.

The Cool School has trained airmen to survive long enough to be saved.

Berkland said that before pilots can fly in the winter, they have to go through a survival school.

The region has had some F-35 specific adaptions. Airmen tested a new survival kit for the F-35 before it was deployed.

Berkland said that the F-35 seat kit doesn't fit the sleeping bag that the F-16s can fit and that the replacement was made thinner to fit.

Berkland said that it keeps you warm enough to survive a 12 hour rescue.

An Arctic Survival School instructor simulates signaling for rescue with red smoke at Eielson Air Force Base, March 17, 2022.US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Beaux Hebert

The pilots at Eielson have adapted. The F-35 has touchscreens in place of many buttons and switches that other jets have in their cockpits, so pilots will fly with gloves that are cut off on the thumb and the two fingers.

Airmen in Alaska are at the end of the logistical train for most of our parts and supplies.

At time of need, parts may be ready, but not necessarily as a bench stock. It can take up to six days to get a new helmet.

Flight equipment is one of the initiatives we're working on to make sure we have a bench stock.

Airmen in Alaska have to think ahead and be conscientious when on the ground and in the air.

Berkland said that the team has a sense of discipline and a culture of discipline. If you don't follow the tech order, if you don't do all the little things right, if you delay maintenance actions, you will pay for it when it's 50 below and dark all day.

'Our night-one team'

Royal Australian Air Force airmen put on gear during Red Flag-Alaska 22-3 at Eielson Air Force Base, August 4, 2022.US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Timothy Moore

Airmen at Eielson have been taking advantage of Alaska's unique training environment. The Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex is larger than Indiana and is being upgraded.

After weeks of drills focused on air-to-air combat, the Red Flag Alaska exercise ended on August 12. Berkland said that any of the Red Flag Alaska participants would tell you that the JPARC is the best training airspace in the world.

The JPARC is used for quarterly training with F-22s. "We call the bros down the street and say, 'Hey, let's get the team together that's going to be our night-one team,'"

The advantage of being here is that the jets can train together.

Berkland said that the 354th Wing exercises across the Pacific, training for agility combat employment and on related skill sets around the region.

US airmen and Marines refuel an F-35A in Palau during Valiant Shield 22, June 12, 2022.US Air Force/Senior Airman Jose Miguel T. Tamondong

The F-35's ability to marshal and distribute information among other aircraft is tested during training. Logistical capabilities are tested in combat employment drills.

Berkland said that the priority is to shift ourselves into full operational capability to conduct combat deployment operations. We have to be able to run hub-and-spoke operations with our full complement of fifth-gen combat airpower.

Berkland said that fourth- generation jets don't have a degree of situational awareness that the fifth- generation F-35 does.

Berkland said that those adversaries are improving their weaponry. One of the biggest challenges that I see is the ability to rapidly evolve the F-35 capabilities to stay in front of what competitors are doing.

Business Insider has an article on it.