NATO Air Chief Sees Rising Demand for Virtual F-35 Training

Sgt. 1st Class Terry Van Rooij, a maintainer with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, takes a picture of the Dutch F-35A Lightning II prior to its first flight Dec. 18 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Maj. Laurens Vijge became the first RNLAF pilot to fly the joint strike fighter and the flight marks the first sortie for the RNLAF here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)Sgt. 1st Class Terry Van Rooij, a maintainer with the Royal Netherlands Air Force, takes a picture of the Dutch F-35A Lightning II prior to its first flight Dec. 18 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Maj. Laurens Vijge became the first RNLAF pilot to fly the joint strike fighter and the flight marks the first sortie for the RNLAF here. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

Increasingly congested airspace in Europe may force NATO allies to rely more on virtual trainers as international armed forces begin to adopt the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, an air chief said.

“This new platform offers a lot of possibilities but, on the training side, a lot of requirements to be able to really present it with a training environment where you can fully train on the missions,” said Lt. Gen. Dennis Luyt, commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

“That’s really quite a challenge because it’s about being able to employ live weapons, which I think should be part of the training for F-35, and probably the bigger piece of that is you need to be able to do threat simulation and create an environment with threats that you can work into a scenario which really makes you trained as you fight,” he added.

“To be totally honest, we do have a challenge there in Europe because our military use of airspace is being more and more [congested] by our civilian counterparts who want to go to a single European sky, and there’s a lot of competition for the same piece of airspace,” Luyt said.

His comments came this week at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference held near Washington, D.C. Luyt appeared on a panel alongside Gen. Tod Wolters, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, and Maj. Gen. Max Nielsen, chief of staff of Denmark’s defense command.

The U.S. Defense Department plans to buy a total of 2,357 Joint Strike Fighters, a stealthy, single-engine, fifth-generation fighter, from Lockheed Martin Corp. International allies expect to purchase hundreds more. The Netherlands, in particular, plans to buy a total of 37 F-35s, down from a previous figure of 85.

“Looking at my own air force and the way I think that we will be employing this new weapon system, I think we will need to use virtual means of training a lot more than we have until now with the F-16,” Luyt said. “And I know for the average fighter pilot, and I think both of my neighbors will probably acknowledge this, this is usually not the most fun thing to do — stepping into a simulator to fly a mission.”

“But I think it will be much more part of our future and also working together in a virtual environment and combining that in a live environment, and then I think we are able to create an environment where we can actually do a lot of training,” he said.

“I also see us deploying quite a bit to the States, so I hope that we will be welcome there in the future — as we are now with the F-16 — because I think we will need them because the U.S. has a lot of very beneficial training environments that we will have to use,” Luyt said.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.