July 17, 2009 (by SSgt. Brian Ferguson) - Airmen from Osan Air Base joined military members from across the world this week to participate in what is considered the most intense training opportunity available to combat flying units- RED FLAG-Alaska 09-03, scheduled for July 23 - Aug. 7.
USAF F-16C block 40s #89-2043 & #88-0536 from the 36th FS fly alongside two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs over the Republic of Korea on June 11th, 2009. [USAF photo by Lt. Col. Judd Fancher]
This Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and coalition forces provides joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, combat search and rescue, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment.
"Red Flag Alaska provides a high intensity training opportunity that is not available on the Korean Peninsula," said Col. Mark D. Mattison, Red Flag Alaska deployed forces commander. "It is the culmination of a six month training plan for combat flying units. You can only get that training at a Red Flag."
What makes the training so intense is the presence of a dedicated aggressor unit. In addition to focusing on air combat at the tactical and operational levels, the aggressor role expands training opportunities across the board, to include ground, space and cyberspace. This provides the most realistic simulated combat environment possible.
"Outside of combat, Red Flag is the only training opportunity where you can pull all the different building blocks of training together," said Colonel Mattison, who is also the vice commander of the 51st Fighter Wing. "In addition, the Red Flag Alaska airspace and range complex offer an area the size of South Korea
Airmen from Osan's two fighter squadrons, the 25th and the 36th, as well as their maintenance squadrons and support personnel, will participate in the 10-day exercise. Support squadrons from across Osan will also help to get almost 300 people to and from Alaska.
The fighter squadrons, however, are not the only squadrons that have been working for the last three months to prepare.
In early May, wing leadership approached the Maintenance Group with a challenge: "fly dual external tanks on our A-10s to Red Flag."
"Dual tanks had not been used since at least 2002 here in Korea," said Capt. Donald Hutchison 25th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, officer in charge. "The challenges to ready the aircraft have been a huge undertaking that required a team effort by our ops sisters, the logistics readiness squadron and maintenance squadrons to accomplish."
"Despite the long hours, to include weekends in preparation, our commitment is high," said Captain Hutchison."The maintainers have truly worked tirelessly and are excited about the flying opportunity going to Red Flag brings."
Originally named Cope Thunder, the exercise was moved to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, from Clark Air Base, Philippines, in 1992, after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo forced the curtailment of operations, June 15, 1991. Cope Thunder was re-designated Red Flag-Alaska in 2006.
The Alaska exercises take place over Alaskan and Western Canadian airspace. The entire airspace is made up of 17 permanent military operations areas and high altitude training areas, plus two restricted areas, for a total airspace of more than 67,000 square miles.
"Our pilots plan, brief and fly missions against very capable, professional aggressors in the air and on the ground," said Colonel Mattison. "The opportunity to debrief with the aggressors and learn from our mistakes makes us the best Air Force in the world."