July 29, 2009 (by SSgt. Christopher Boitz) - RED FLAG-Alaska is one of the most realistic training exercises in the world, utilizing a massive a training ground that is over 67,000 square miles in size and an environment unmatched by anything in the Asia Pacific region.
A formation of 18 AS F-16C block 30s #86-0290, #86-0308 & #86-0335 fly over the Joint Pacific Alaskan Range Complex during Red Flag-Alaska 09-3 on July 28th, 2009. [USAF photo by SSgt. Christopher Boitz]
The exercise is designed to provide aircrews their first 10 flights in combat; but an opponent is needed to make the exercise come alive.
The 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Force Base, who acts as the enemy during the exercise, gives exercise participants an opportunity to get a feel for flying against adversaries; they also bestow the knowledge of what the adversary is capable of.
"Our guys are subject matter experts on enemy aircraft and systems," said Maj. Jeremy Jenness, 18th AGRS
assistant director of operations. "It's our job to know, teach, and replicate the adversary's threats and pass on that knowledge to U.S. and coalition forces."
Prior to Operation Desert Storm, less than one-fifth of the U.S. Air Force's primary fighter pilots had seen actual combat. Analysis indicates most combat losses occurred during an aircrew's first eight to 10 missions. Therefore, the goal of RF-A is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat environments.
"The Aggressors provide tactical problems for blue forces to solve," said Major Jenness. "The complexity of the tactical problem can be varied by different tactics or threats. This, coupled with the dynamic nature of air combat, will continually vary the challenge provided to blue forces."
The Pacific Air Forces-directed field training exercise spans two weeks, during which the Aggressors, known as red forces, evolve their tactics each day, making the exercise more challenging and intense for U.S. and coalition forces, also known as blue forces.
"Blue forces need to train and be prepared for conflicts," said Major Jenness. "The Aggressors are here to provide training and instill confidence in the participants, and give them the data and tools necessary to learn lessons to improve their tactics and capabilities."
Some of the things that happen on a typical exercise day consist of: mass briefs, squadron briefs, air-to-air combat, review footage from flights, and debriefs. From beginning to end, it's about a 12 hour day.
The Aggressors also reconstruct the air to air fight during the debrief and help the blue forces mission commander determine what parts of the mission were successful and where improvements can be made.
"The most important part of the day is the learning that goes on in during the debrief," said Major David Brodeur, 18th AGRS chief of academics. "If we taught the blue forces at least one thing that day and someone learned something new, we've done our job."
The opportunity to learn at RF-A isn't just for the visiting units; the Aggressors learn as well.
"We're immersed in red force tactics," said Major Jenness. "The blue force tactics can change, it gives us a chance to see what blue forces are doing differently and help them improve based on that."
"I love being an Aggressor pilot," said Major Brodeur. "I get the opportunity to train with and against such a diverse number of airframes from different nations and services. We take a lot of pride in what we do here at the 18th AGRS."