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F-35 IFTU prepares Intel Airmen for operational success

F-35 IFTU courtesy photo

F-35 Intelligence Formal Training Unit course courtesy photo

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

There are many components that make up an operational wing. Some wings are larger than others, encompassing different missions and day-to-day operations, but one career field that has a hand in operations on almost every base is the Intelligence career field.

“Intel is a huge thing. It’s one of the great things about it; it’s different everywhere,” said Capt. Katherine Dillon, F-35 Intelligence Formal Training Unit (IFTU) course instructor at the 33rd Fighter Wing. “Generally speaking it is providing information on the adversary so that the operators, whoever they are, can complete the mission, and there are a bunch of components that go into that.”

There are Intel Airmen at the 33rd Fighter Wing who work to keep the flying operations successful daily, but just as important is a team of Air Force Intel personnel whose job is to conduct and teach the only F-35 course in the military.

“You go through your six months at Goodfellow Air Force Base to get trained as an Intel analyst,” said Dillon. “Once you’re done with your training, you get an assignment for qualification training. Depending on what type of unit you go to dictates the type of training you would get, so anybody who gets assigned to an F-35 unit comes to our course to get their initial training.”

There is hope in the future the IFTU might become a joint course which would enable other branches to provide personnel to work alongside the current Air Force instructors. This would provide a dynamic learning environment that allows both the instructors and trainees an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the missions and focus of their sister service counterparts.

“We are actually working to make it a joint course...and what we’ll get out of it will be an official joint course which means the other branches would also provide support,” said Dillon. “It’ll be good because we don’t speak the same language... and their focus and their missions are different, so it will provide more perspectives.”

Since the F-35 IFTU course began there have been a total of 204 students who completed the course. Of those, there have been 29 Marines, 14 sailors and 161 Airmen. The course itself spans 26 days with six courses being conducted over the fiscal year.

“There are five blocks to the course; theory, F-35 systems, air-to-air, air-to-ground, and mission planning,” said Dillon.

The course itself is very demanding, requiring students to be constantly tested on material they may have never seen before. The goal is not only to memorize the new topics, but to learn critical thinking skills that will help them think about and solve problems in the future.

“Initial training for Intel is a whole concept, you cover a variety of topics and very shallowly, you’re talking about all of these different aspects of Intel,” said Dillon. “When you come to our course, you’re getting deep into the weeds.”

Despite the course’s difficulty the success rate has always been close to perfect thanks to the commitment of the instructors to work with each individual and help them overcome areas where they struggle.

“We have only ever had to send home one person,” said Dillon. “It is a really difficult course and our success rate does not reflect that. We want people to learn, so we spend a lot of one-on-one time with students if they’re struggling or if they’ve failed a test.”

Graduated students can expect to be a key part of F-35 operations at their respective bases. Without the knowledge and input of these Intel personnel, the flying missions wouldn’t be possible.

“We have to solve problems that are really hard to think about,” said Dillon. “If our pilots are going to run a specific mission, we have to know everything about that mission, the jet, and we have to make sure that those two things meet.”

Like every career field in the Air Force, Intel plays an integral part to each base’s mission capability. Their hard work is something that reflects directly in the success of the wing and is something they can see every day.

“You get to see the results of your work pretty quickly,” said Dillon. “With Intel you see how you benefit the mission immediately, you know that you briefed them well and that’s critical to mission success.”