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Luke AFB hosts first official F-35 PIFTU course

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Noah Damon Coger
  • 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Five allied nation military personnel successfully graduated from the first official F-35 Partner Intelligence Formal Training Unit class, Nov. 10, 2022, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

The first of its kind, the F-35 PIFTU course is meant to expedite and improve intelligence training and collaboration between the U.S. and foreign partner nation intelligence organizations, specifically regarding F-35 Lightning II systems and capabilities. It was conceptualized in 2019 by Maj. Joy Lomheim Nguyen, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa Fifth Generation Interoperability Branch engagements officer, who recognized a need for such a course after becoming a part of the F-35 program at USAFE.

“I began attending various engagements with F-35 counterparts and operators in the European theater,” said Lomheim Nguyen. “After several events, I noticed that not all issues, specifically regarding intelligence, were being fully accounted for and actioned.”

Lomheim Nguyen encountered multiple obstacles along her three-year journey while attempting to assemble the F-35 PIFTU course. Just when all hope felt lost, she found Maj. Kevin Hawkins, Joint Force Command Naples deputy theater collection manager, who immediately jumped on board to bring Lomheim Nguyen’s vision to life.

At the time, Hawkins was the 56th Operations Support Squadron wing intelligence chief at the 56th Fighter Wing, Luke AFB, Arizona. The 56th FW is the largest fighter pilot training base in the U.S. Air Force with a robust international training mission.

“When Joy [Lomheim Nguyen] first reached out about creating a shared training course, we were all about it,” said Hawkins. “Our team and leadership saw it as an amazing opportunity to help the United States and our allies operate better together in the future.”

Hawkins was already a part of intelligence training for personnel supporting F-16 Fighting Falcons. Which meant, he understood the impact a course like this could have on partner nations and the overall benefits that come with it.

“For a fighter unit to operate effectively, it’s a lot more than just flying the planes,” said Hawkins. “One of the most important background elements is intelligence support. In a fight, if our allies have learned about enemy capabilities or weaknesses, we’d want to be able to share that knowledge with them, and vice-versa.”

The course emphasizes and familiarizes intelligence personnel on radar, electronic warfare, infrared spectrum, low-observable principles, F-35 systems and capabilities, F-35 air-to-air missions, F-35 air-to-ground missions, and mission planning to F-35 considerations.

Before seeing the first class attend the course he helped bring to fruition, Hawkins received orders for a new assignment and had to pass the torch to a new instructor. He passed it into the capable hands of Maj. Daniel Diamond, 56th OSS wing intelligence chief, and a team of individuals who are equally passionate about seeing this course and its students succeed.

“If we’re going to fight together, and we’re flying the same planes, in the same air space, with the same objectives, then we need to be able to plan, coordinate, and debrief together,” said Diamond. “That’s been a huge impetus to better develop our processes and collaboration.”

Pulling this off was no small feat, however. It was the drive and dedication of the small team of instructors as well as a much larger network of individuals at Luke AFB that made the F-35 PIFTU course come to life.

“Without Lt. Col. Jim Farrell [944th Operations Support Flight wing intelligence chief], Tech. Sgt. John Hemmerich [56th OSS F-16 Intelligence Formal Training Unit instructor], and Staff Sgts. Cortney Haralson and Aubrey Smith [56th OSS intelligence analysts], this course would truly not exist,” said Diamond. “They took all of this on as a secondary duty, working with the Advanced Programs Office, the 56th Communications Squadron, foreign partner nations and foreign disclosure officers at Luke AFB and elsewhere, to make it possible for us to secure and set up a facility, build a syllabus and academics, refine coursework, build training scenarios, teach students, and so much more, all while performing their primary responsibilities for the 56th and 944th Operations Groups.”

The first class saw five students from Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway work together to graduate and forge lasting relationships for future endeavors. The students noted how the course could increase effectiveness within their air forces by creating more intelligence personnel who can support F-35 operations, as well as the benefit of meeting their counterparts in partner militaries.

Early exposure to multinational collaboration in the intelligence community can lead to more robust and faster interoperability. The ability to rapidly share information between ally nations is critical in a dynamic warfare environment. Establishing a baseline for intelligence sharing is a step towards seamless future integration, which is exactly what the F-35 PIFTU team at Luke AFB is aiming to achieve.

Although the course was hosted at Luke AFB and led by U.S. Air Force instructors, each student was able to share their unique, country-specific training with everyone involved. Lomheim Nguyen has high hopes for the future of the course.

“I hope PIFTU continues to be made available for F-35 partner nations,” said Lomheim Nguyen. “And that F-35 intelligence training will be expanded to other interested F-35 nations worldwide, whether at Luke or elsewhere, to further provide this paramount training across the F-35 allied global consortium.”