In a show of military might, the US Air Force conducted a massive “elephant walk” exercise involving the launch of 52 F-35A Lightning II fighter jets in Utah, officials said.
The state-of-the-art jets took off from Hill Air Force Base over a 10-minute period Monday morning in a combat exercise conducted by the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings.
“Today’s exercise marks the accomplishment of over four years of work — a little over four years ago, we received our first F-35,” Col. Michael Ebner, the 388th vice commander, told the Deseret News.
“We now have our full complement of aircraft and locally, we turn this into a goal of full war-fighting capability,” he added.
An “elephant walk” refers to the close formation of military planes before takeoff.
While the effort was meant to demonstrate the ability to conduct a large-scale combat deployment, it was not in direct response to the escalating situation with Iran after the drone-strike death of top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, Ebner said.
“That’s completely coincidental,” Ebner said, though he acknowledged that the impressive exercise was designed to send a message.
“The message is not just to potential adversaries, but it’s also to our nation’s leadership that they can count on the 388th Fighter Wing to support the combat power that they plan and require us to provide,” Ebner told the Deseret News.
On Saturday, President Trump said the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites that it could strike if Iran attacks any Americans or any US assets in response to Friday’s drone strike.
The number of sites — and the fighter jets that took part in the exercise — matched the number of US hostages held captive by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini starting in 1979.
The primary mission of the 388th Fighter Wing is to maintain combat readiness to deploy, employ and sustain the F-35s around the globe in support of the national defense, Ebner told Deseret News.
There are over 2,000 airmen and civilian workers assigned to the active-duty 388th and reserve 419th Fighter Wings.
Hill is home to three F-35 fighter squadrons with a total of 78 aircraft, Ebner added.
With Post wires
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