Red Flag 11-2

Frank Grealish reports on Exercise Red Flag 11-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

Spangdahlem based Wild Weasel F-16C pulls away from a KC-135 tanker

Spangdahlem based Wild Weasel F-16C pulls away from a KC-135 tanker.

Red Flag is a military training exercise that is held 3 or 4 times every year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Nellis Air Force Base, situated on the northern outskirts of Las Vegas and within sight of the famous Las Vegas Strip, becomes home to dozens of US and foreign ally aircraft whenever a Red Flag exercise is held.

Established in 1975, the main purpose of Red Flag is to send pilots into a simulated combat environment designed to give aircrew members the skills needed to survive in war.

Vietnam War statistics indicated that if a pilot survived their first ten combat missions their chances of survival increased dramatically, so Red Flag simulates the first ten missions that a pilot flies in combat.

"The mission of every Red Flag is to expose our combat aircrew to realistic training," said Col. S. Clinton Hinote, Red Flag 11-2 Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The idea is that if you give them very realistic combat-like training early in their careers then they will make the mistakes that most people are going to make in the training environment."

Red Flag exercises allow pilots to fly in a very realistic combat environment without them actually being shot at. All flying takes place in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Boeing KC-135T Stratotanker lands at Nellis after another Red Flag mission

Boeing KC-135T Stratotanker lands at Nellis after another Red Flag mission.

This range is the largest of its kind in the US, and is 4,687 square miles (12,140 km2) in area. The range complex has a complete set of targets that a pilot can expect to encounter in the real world including convoys, military bases, even entire airfields are present. Live ordnance can be dropped on only some of these targets though.

Various threats are simulated including radar and Surface to Air Missiles (SAM’s). The radar units simulate not only US equipment but also various Russian and European radars. “Smokey SAMs” are used to simulate the launch of a missile.

Although the combat missions are the main reason for Red Flag exercises the event has more than one goal.

"Some of the main goals of Red Flag 11-2 are large force integration, strengthening coalition partnerships with the United Arab Emirates and Belgium, and bettering coalition interoperability," said Lt. Col. Dewey Smith, Red Flag 11-2 team chief. "The biggest challenge we will have is creating a coherent fighting team in the space of just a few days" Colonel Hinote said. "Otherwise the enemy aircraft and the enemy surface to air missiles are going to hand us our lunch."

For Red Flag 11-2, Blue Team aircraft consisted of US Air Force A-10 and F-16 attack aircraft, B-1 and B-52 bombers, C-130 Hercules transports, KC-135 tankers and E-3 AWACS aircraft.

Coalition partner aircraft were UAE Air Force F-16’s fighters and Belgian Air Component C-130 Hercules transports. The Red Team was provided by units of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group, which is home based at Nellis. The task of the Red Team is to try and stop the Blue Team from accomplishing their mission.

An A-10C from the 303rd FS based at Whiteman Air Force base departs on another Red Flag mission

An A-10C from the 303rd FS based at Whiteman AFB departs on another Red Flag mission.

As well as allowing fighter and bomber crews to notch up their first 10 combat missions by flying various missions and dropping or firing various munitions at an array of targets on the ground, transport aircraft also played their part. For example, the Belgian Air Component (BAC) deployed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft to Red Flag and they used the exercise to gain experience integrating with a large force exercise and integrating with the other assets, they also gain experience dealing with real air threats.

"Instead of just playing that there is a threat on the ground or there is a threat in the air, the threat is actually there in Red Flag," Commandant Peter Wijffels, 20 Squadron (BAC) executive officer, said. "They have two aggressor squadrons which are playing enemy fighters and the whole Red Flag Team is providing ground threats."

Red Flag scenarios are designed in such a way that they resemble “real world” situations, and can be tailored to meet certain mission profiles or to meet the specific requirements of visiting units.

During Red Flag exercises the operational tempo and arrangements closely resemble what crews can expect in a war situation. Aircrews receive pre-flight briefings that replicate the briefings they would receive if they were at war, including intelligence and satellite imagery of their targets.

Two missions are flown per day, generally speaking one day mission and one night mission, with up to 100 aircraft participating in each mission. This high tempo of operations, as well as giving air crews battle experience, also allows ground crews to fine tune their ability to turn aircraft around between missions, ensuring that any snags that occur on a previous mission are rectified before the next one.

Red Flag also gives crews the experience of operating from a deployed location that doesn’t have the support facilities or spare parts supply that their home base would have.

As the air war plays out in the Nevada Test and Training Range the “players” are tracked and monitored using the Cubic Corp. supplied Nellis Air Combat Training System (NACTS).

The system can track up to 100 aircraft at a time and each combat aircraft is fitted with a NACTS pod that relays speed, altitude, position and attitude back to Nellis. This system is then used to debrief air crew after a mission has been flown.

It helps to identify mistakes that were made, how things could be done better next time, and it also helps to determine who was or wasn’t “shot down”.

At the end of the exercise crews return to their home base having notched up their first 10 combat missions, where everything but live missiles and bullets were thrown at them, and any mistakes that were to be made were made in the forgiving environment of an exercise and not in a real war situation where lives are at stake.

The crew of 'Baja 26'

The crew of 'Baja 26'.

I would like to thank Senior Airman Michael Charles, Public Affairs Specialist with the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office at Nellis and all his staff as well as Staff Sgt. Benjamin Wilson of the 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at Spangdahlem, Germany, who was attached to the Red Flag Public Affairs Office for the duration of the exercise.

A special word of thanks must go to Lieutenant Colonel Fred Kennel, Captain Bill Davison and Tech. Sgt. Jared “Beef” Morgan from the 134th ARW, Tennessee Air National Guard, who were the crew of “Baja 26”, the KC-135 tanker that I was given permission to fly on for the air to air mission. Thanks Guys!


Picture Gallery

Smokin! B-52 touches down after another mission.

Smokin! B-52 touches down after another mission

 
E-3 AWACS aircraft are the first aircraft to depart and last to recover in any Red Flag mission B-52 during it's take off run with the distinctive Las Vegas skyline dominating the background USAF C-130 Hercules begins it's take off run United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16E fitted with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT)

E-3 AWACS aircraft are the first aircraft to depart and last to recover in any Red Flag mission

B-52 during it's take off run with the distinctive Las Vegas skyline dominating the background

USAF C-130 Hercules begins it's take off run

United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16E fitted with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT)

 
Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16 loaded with HARM missiles departs Aggressor F-16 Fighting Falcon departs B-1 blasts into the sky Aggressor F-16 lifts off with 4 F-15's waiting to depart in the background

Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16 loaded with HARM missiles departs

Aggressor F-16 Fighting Falcon departs

B-1 blasts into the sky

Aggressor F-16 lifts off with 4 F-15's waiting to depart in the background

 
F-15C from the 65th Aggressor Squadron pulls up to the tanker. This aircraft, 83-0026, has yet to be painted in the familiar aggressor colour scheme

F-15C from the 65th Aggressor Squadron pulls up to the tanker. This aircraft, 83-0026, has yet to be painted in the familiar aggressor colour scheme

 
Locally based aggressor F-16 in it's distinctive camoflague scheme touches down Aggressor F-15C pulls away from the tanker Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16C returns to Nellis Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16C moves into place behing the tanker

Locally based aggressor F-16 in it's distinctive camoflague scheme touches down

Aggressor F-15C pulls away from the tanker

Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16C returns to Nellis

Spangdahlem Wild Weasel F-16C moves into place behing the tanker

 
United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16E touches down Belgian Air Component C-130 Hercules, CH-07, returns to Nellis KC-135T, callsign "Baja 26", returns to base B-1B turns over the Las Vegas Speedway on finals to Nellis

United Arab Emirates Air Force F-16E touches down

Belgian Air Component C-130 Hercules, CH-07, returns to Nellis

KC-135T, callsign "Baja 26", returns to base

B-1B turns over the Las Vegas Speedway on finals to Nellis

 
An F-15C waits for off the wing of the KC-135 after refueling

An F-15C waits off the wing of the KC-135 after refueling

 
 

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