SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 – After a 19-year hiatus, the William Tell air-to-air competition is underway in Savannah, Georgia, where U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Nahom gave a keynote address to more than 100 competitors Sept. 12.
The weeklong competition tests aircrew performance in air superiority, while evaluating weapons use and the tactics used. It also includes weapons loading, maintenance, and weapons’ director competitions.
“It’s an absolute honor to be here – looking at this flight line from above was unbelievable – and I just could not believe that we got this competition back,” Nahom said. “For the older generation like me, there were two things you thought about [as] a young fighter pilot, about how you wanted to be the best and be somebody. Number one was weapons school, and number two was getting on a Willy tell team and winning.”
Before he spoke, Nahom had the opportunity to meet one of the competition’s first-ever winners, retired Air Force Col. James Harvey, and acknowledged him in his speech before addressing the rest of the hangar.
“This competition, and others like it, is why our Air Force is who the world looks at for dominance,” Nahom said. “We are the best for a reason. We’re the best because of who we are, how we train and how we prepare.”
While the Air Force works to employ airframes through the Next Generation Air Dominance program like the next upgrade to the F-35 Lightning II and E-7 Airborne Early Warning and Control platform, as well as advanced munitions technology, it’s imperative that its personnel hone their skills in its current airframes through events like William Tell.
“We look across the landscape… at competitors who are starting to build machines that are approaching the capabilities of our machines,” Nahom continued. “While we continue to fly Block 3 F-35s, F-22 [Raptors], and F-15 [Eagles], we have got to figure out a way to keep that edge, and competitions like [this] actually enable us to do that.”
Through William Tell and Red Flag, both in Alaska and at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, aviators, maintainers, weapons specialists, and intelligence personnel also have the opportunity to make history.
“You’re here to find and explore the limits of your machines, and it’s an opportunity to influence tactics, techniques and procedures in the future,” Nahom added. “It’s even an opportunity to drive some technology because as we develop the technology, and what we go after, what we invest in, we need to learn about right here on this flight line.”
While at the Air Force Association Air and Space Conference, Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, explained that over the last 25 years, improvements and modernizations have been made on both weapons systems and airframes.
“Our unwavering commitment to air dominance remains steadfast, as we pursue and push the boundaries of innovation and excellence. As we participate in the long-awaited return of the William Tell competition, we reiterate our steadfast dedication to maintaining control of the skies in support of our Joint Force and multi-national partners,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command.
Nahom echoed Kelly’s sentiments, explaining how, at the end of the day, everyone is on the same team in the face of America’s competition.
“Fifth generation is really neat, but it becomes really impressive when you show me how you can operationalize it,” Nahom added. “No one has operationalized 5th gen like Air Force maintainers, and [aviators] know how to operate 5th gen, and we know how to bring it to the fight. And no one else in the world has proven they can do that.”
Finally, Nahom encouraged allies and partners to continue to join Air Force competitions and closed with this.
“What you learn here will reenforce and bolster the Air Force and DoD’s ability to protect and defend this absolutely exceptional nation that we have a pleasure to live in every week. Train hard, fight hard, absolutely enjoy yourself, and fly, fight, and win.”
Story by Tech. Sgt. Hailey Staker
Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Public Affairs