FS21 strengthens aircraft integration and alliances

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder
  • Airman 1st Class Brooke Moeder

One of the only noises to be heard at Amendola Air Base, Italy, is the thundering sound of three different nations’ fourth-and-fifth-generation fighter aircraft starting up and taking off to participate in Falcon Strike 2021 (FS21), June 7-15.

FS21 is an Italian air force-led multinational military training exercise providing participants the opportunity for developing capabilities in planning and conducting complex air operations in a multinational joint forces environment. FS21 provides an advanced level of training for all participants. 

Aircraft participating in the exercise include the U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-35A Lightning II, U.S. Marine Corps F-35, Italian air force F-35 and supporting aircraft, Israeli air force F-35, and the United Kingdom’s Royal air force F-35.

Six F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 555th Fighter Squadron participated in FS21 as well as four U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 4th Fighter Squadron. 

“During Falcon Strike 21 we integrated with our Italian, Israeli and United Kingdom allies, and really improved our interoperability between F-35 units from different countries,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Mac Onorato, 4th FS F-35 pilot. “We also integrated with our fourth-generation F-16s from the U.S. to test our ability to get together and fight on a common warfront and integrate with our tactics.”

Exercise FS21 provided the opportunity for partner nations to train alongside one another, some for the first time.

“This is the first time I’m taking part in an international exercise beyond Israel’s borders and it’s very exciting,” said Israeli air force Capt. ‘B’, 166th Squadron, Nevatim Airbase F-35 pilot. “Cooperation between F-35 jets from the United States, Italy and the United Kingdom in this exercise is a great opportunity for us to learn, improve and strengthen operational capabilities.”

The fourth-and-fifth-generation conducted joint operations and air defense training to include air-to-air and air-to-ground strike missions and close air support near Italy’s west coast. The training maintains combined readiness with partner and allied nations.

“We each take our tactics that are slightly different between all of our units in our countries and learn to talk a common language,” said Onorato. “If we had to really go into a bigger conflict where we had to team up and work together, we're not confused about what the other person is saying, or how they handle things.” 

Approximately 600 personnel are participating in FS21, training and integrating with each nations’ fourth-and-fifth-generation aircraft to strengthen fighting capabilities and communication.

“The fifth-generation aircraft’s capabilities are intense,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Timothy Joubert, 555th FS F-16 pilot. “They're extremely valuable partners to the mission sets that we're used to flying and operating in. I would say for most of the F-16 pilots this is probably the first time they've integrated with fifth-generation aircraft on this scale.”

Italian air force F-35 crew chiefs had the opportunity to perform cross-servicing actions on a U.S. Air Force F-35, showcasing forward deployable capabilities out of different bases.

“I think it's important that we can cooperate with each other to get our jets back up and going, and not have to rely on having to get back to my maintainers if something were to happen to my F-35 while in-flight,” said Onorato. “It kind of gives a little bit more options, and forward deployability out of each base.”

Participation in multinational exercises like FS21 enhances professional relationships and improves overall coordination with allies and partner militaries during times of crisis.

“We maintain tight cooperation with the United States Air Force, one of Israel’s closest and most important allies,” said Capt. ‘B’. “I see this exercise as a platform to strengthen mutual learning, enhance international cooperation, and look forward to future collaborations of this kind in the future.”