Expanded training enables combat success

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing is taxied prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Expanded. Expanded LiTOC provides a capstone training opportunity for F-35A pilots entering the Combat Air Force by providing pilots who participate in the exercise with experience to prepare them to enter the fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing is taxied prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Expanded. Expanded LiTOC provides a capstone training opportunity for F-35A pilots entering the Combat Air Force by providing pilots who participate in the exercise with experience to prepare them to enter the fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Bradley Turner, 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron F-35 lead evaluator, sits in an F-35A Lightning II prior to take off Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 33rd Fighter Wing conducted the first of its kind expanded Lightning Top Off Course designed to ensure F-35A pilots are prepared to enter the Combat Air Forces. The exercise is an opportunistic enhancement of LiTOC to shorten the training timeline while improving the quality of mission qualifications training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Bradley Turner, 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron F-35 lead evaluator, sits in an F-35A Lightning II prior to take off Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 33rd Fighter Wing conducted the first of its kind expanded Lightning Top Off Course designed to ensure F-35A pilots are prepared to enter the Combat Air Forces. The exercise is an opportunistic enhancement of LiTOC to shorten the training timeline while improving the quality of mission qualifications training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Bradley Turner, 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron F-35 lead evaluator, sits in an F-35A Lightning II prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The expanded LiTOC is a first of its kind joint interagency exercise created to ensure student F-35A pilots are prepared to meet the demands of the Combat Air Forces. It shortens the timeline of getting pilots mission qualified without sacrificing quality training during a time when pilot shortages are being felt across the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Bradley Turner, 86th Fighter Weapons Squadron F-35 lead evaluator, sits in an F-35A Lightning II prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The expanded LiTOC is a first of its kind joint interagency exercise created to ensure student F-35A pilots are prepared to meet the demands of the Combat Air Forces. It shortens the timeline of getting pilots mission qualified without sacrificing quality training during a time when pilot shortages are being felt across the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

Two F-35As Lightning II taxi prior to taking off for an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The two week expanded LiTOC included combat aircraft from the U.S. Navy and Air Force in a large force exercise aimed at providing F-35A pilots with experience before entering the Combat Air Force. During the expanded LiTOC, pilots receive half of the flights required to complete mission qualification training, drastically reducing their training timeline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Emily Smallwood/Released)

Two F-35As Lightning II taxi prior to taking off for an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The two week expanded LiTOC included combat aircraft from the U.S. Navy and Air Force in a large force exercise aimed at providing F-35A pilots with experience before entering the Combat Air Force. During the expanded LiTOC, pilots receive half of the flights required to complete mission qualification training, drastically reducing their training timeline. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Emily Smallwood/Released)

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing taxis prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. During the expanded LiTOC 10 U.S. Navy and Air Force active duty and reserve units will conduct over 500 sorties throughout the two week exercise. Expanding LiTOC from its typical academic and simulator training to actual live-fly missions enables the 33 FW to better meet the needs of the operational squadrons student pilots will be assigned to. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing taxis prior to participating in an expanded Lightning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. During the expanded LiTOC 10 U.S. Navy and Air Force active duty and reserve units will conduct over 500 sorties throughout the two week exercise. Expanding LiTOC from its typical academic and simulator training to actual live-fly missions enables the 33 FW to better meet the needs of the operational squadrons student pilots will be assigned to. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the takes off during the expanded Lighning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Expanded. Expanded LiTOC provides a capstone training opportunity for F-35A pilots entering the Combat Air Force by providing pilots who participate in the exercise with experience to prepare them to enter the fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

An F-35A Lightning II assigned to the takes off during the expanded Lighning Top Off Course Jan. 29, 2018, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Expanded. Expanded LiTOC provides a capstone training opportunity for F-35A pilots entering the Combat Air Force by providing pilots who participate in the exercise with experience to prepare them to enter the fight. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Peter Thompson/Released)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The 33rd Fighter Wing is hosting a large force exercise here Jan. 29 through Feb. 9, 2018.

The exercise is an opportunistic expansion of the wing's Lightning Top-Off Course, a program for new F-35A pilots to hone their skills ahead of reporting to their operational unit. This expanded course shortens the timeline to get pilots mission qualified (MQ) without sacrificing quality training during a time when pilot shortages are being felt across the Air Force.

"There are inherent challenges when our fighter pilot manning is stretched thin and we attempt to strike a perfect equilibrium between pilot production and pilot absorption," said Colonel Paul Moga, 33 FW commander. "Because the operational F-35 community is still relatively small, yet growing rapidly, when we forecast this getting out of balance we need to move rapidly and take steps to minimize the impacts on the warfighters." 

"Expanding LiTOC from its typical academic and simulator training to actual live-fly missions enables us to better meet the needs of our customer-the CAF. This exercise utilizes extra sorties that were carved out months ago and gives pilots more realistic, high-end combat training before they arrive to their squadrons," Moga said.  And, because this was planned so far in advance, there is no impact to the wing's more routine program flying training production timelines.

The exercise was developed specifically for pilots reporting to Hill AFB, the nation's only operational F-35A unit.

"Historically, after pilots finished their formal training unit syllabus they still needed mission qualification training after reporting to their operational squadron, which could take up to three months and 12 flights," said Major Brian Burgoon, 33nd Wing weapons officer. "Through this expanded LiTOC, the pilots are getting six of those 12 flights, easing the burden of MQ training and taking some of the pressure off of our only operational F-35 wing."

This two-week exercise will include aircraft from 10 units throughout the Southeast from U.S. Navy and Air Force active and reserve components.