November 2, 2009 (by Capt. Shannon Collins) - While the pilots strategize during intelligence briefings and planning meetings, maintainers and munitions Airmen safely load "live" bombs and make sure the jets are ready for combat.
Eielson's first snow fall collects on a row of F-16s deployed from Kunsan AB on September 23rd, 2009. The F-16s are deployed to Eielson for RED FLAG-Alaska, which ran from October 1st to 16th. [USAF photo by SSgt. Christopher Boitz]
The pilots step to their aircraft and take off into the cold mountain range. F-15 Eagles fly high and sweep for the F-16s, paving the way with their air-to-air skills. The F-16CJ
Fighting Falcons suppress surface-to-air threats, giving the F-16CGs the chance to drive in low and undetected to bomb the airfields.
The routing of the F-16CGs takes the pilots up valleys and rivers and along mountains, masking their jets from surface-to-air radar missile threats. They reach their target and employ weapons - a direct hit. On the way back, the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, command and control in the air, lets the F-16s know that there's a threat to the F-15s, off the nose for 20 miles.
An F-16 pilot beats his flight lead to targeting the aggressor on the radar, receives the "hostile" declaration from the AWACS, and calls, "FOX 3," getting his first Red Flag air-to-air kill.
This simulated combat mission was the first Red Flag air-to-air kill for 1st Lt. Jason Kiggins, one of many pilots with the 35th Fighter Squadron "Pantons" here at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, who deployed to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to train with multiple platforms, such as B-52s, KC-135s, A-10s and more.
"During the mass debrief, we watch the entire fight on the big screen, a bird's eye view. I called out my missile shot against the Red Air Agressor. They said it was valid for a kill; what a great feeling," said Lieutenant Kiggins of his first "kill." "Plus, more importantly, none of my flight was shot at by the aggressors. Overall, our blue air forces bombed all our targets and achieved the objectives laid forth by the mission commander."
A scenario like this at Red Flag Alaska gives pilots their "First 10 Missions" combat preparation and a chance to work with multi-asset large force employments. An Air Force analysis of operations during the Vietnam War showed that a pilot's chances of survival in combat dramatically increased after he had completed 10 combat missions. Red Flag was created in 1975 to offer U.S. pilots the opportunity to fly 10 realistically-simulated combat missions in a safe training environment with measurable results.
"This ideally increases the kill to death ratio, should we ever face a capable threat, and increases the pilot's chance of survival exponentially," Lieutenant Kiggins said. "For a brand new combat mission ready wingman who has really only seen Air Education and Training Command's training environment, getting your first ten missions less than a month out of mission qualification training was priceless."
Lt. Col. Dan Czupka, 35th FS
commander, who's been with the Air Force more than 20 years and flown in combat in multiple deployments, supports the invaluable training his team receives at Red Flag.
"Red Flag was created to help pilots experience the pace and stress of combat in realistic training scenarios to learn what it's like to be in combat," he said. "It also tests the maintainers, ammunitions Airmen and logisticians in generating sorties and getting us to and from the fight."
From pilots to maintainers to logistics support, approximately 180 Airmen with the 8th Fighter Wing pushed for mission success and capable sorties for the 35th FS.
For air-to-air weapons, the pilots shot 75 simulated missiles, registering 47 "kills." Enemy air and ground threats shot the pilots down 31 times. For air-to-ground weapons, they dropped 55 BDU-50s, 56 Mk-82s, 11 BDU-56s, 14 Mk-84s, 16 inert GBU-12s, 17 live GBU-12s, seven inert GBU-38s, two inert GBU-31s and two live GBU-31s. Out of 190 scheduled sorties, only three were lost for maintenance problems. The 35th FS had the highest sortie rate out of all of the participants during the exercise and 17 members recognized for above and beyond performance.
"The results from Red Flag are a validation of tactics we practice, reasons we utilize certain defenses and good lessons learned on how to survive. Everyone from Kunsan represented the Wolf Pack with pride and professionalism," said Colonel Czupka.
Exercises like Red Flag give Wolf Pack pilots a chance to prepare to take the fight north. While some of the more tenured pilots have flown combat missions already in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of the newer pilots stepped up to train for their first real-world combat sorties.
1st Lt. Mike Mickus, an F-16 wingman with the 35th FS, deployed for his first time to Red Flag. He's been flying the F-16 since 2008. He was only one of two officers from the 35th to be recognized as an outstanding performer for the overall exercise.
"It was a huge honor to humbly accept the award; there were many deserving individuals of such recognition because a lot of hard work went into making this deployment such a huge success," he said.
Flying from Korea to Alaska was the longest mission so far for this performer. Training like this was invaluable for future combats, he said.
"While training with my squadron on a day-to-day basis is a great way to build the fundamentals, it's hard for a single squadron to replicate the training required to be proficient in a large scale air conflict," he said. "Red Flag training is so important because it's able to create the many intricacies of an air war, including working with dissimilar airframes and pilots from countries with weapons systems some may only have book knowledge of before they arrive."
It also gives maintainers valuable experience. Deploying at a moment's notice is just one of the reasons why these Airmen trained at Red Flag Alaska. For Senior Master Sgt. Richard Wood, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, this exercise gave his Airmen the chance to showcase their weapons loading skills.
"We loaded a variety of munitions to validate what munitions were needed during each mission to enhance the pilots' combat capabilities," he said.
Sergeant Wood's been in the Air Force for more than 23 years, with eight of those years focused on the F-16. He deployed to Red Flag in Nellis 10 times throughout his career and deployed previously with the Wolf Pack in 1998. He said the importance of continuing training in Alaska remains because "of the short distance between the U.S. and potential adversaries" in today's global capabilities.
"It sharpens our warfighting capabilities and requires a constant flow of communication by all of the Air Force specialties," he said. This leads to productivity.
"The 35th AMU was by far the most productive maintenance unit in Red Flag 10-1," said Colonel Czupka.
"Keeping our jets flying in cold temperatures at a deployed location provided a lot of challenges that the maintainers did an exceptional job handling," said Lieutenant Mickus. "From having the bombs built to having flight crew equipment ready, to putting bombs on target, the 35th FS did a great job."
Colonel Czupka is proud of his team and how they performed.
"I could not be more proud of how everyone from Kunsan worked together and supported one another on and off duty," he said. "It is very satisfying to see the team work together to produce excellent results. Training like this is vital. Every sortie flown and each simulated or actual weapons release benefits the pilots who will be on the leading edge of military power in any theater. To fly these missions with allies and other units allows us to practice planning and flying the most complex missions expected for our pilots."
The mission's complete; a validated kill and none of the flight was shot by the aggressors. The blue air forces bombed all of their targets and achieved the objectives laid forth by the mission commander. It's time to hit the sack and get ready for the next day's mission. Maintainers will be prepping the jets throughout the night while the pilots meet and plan the next attack. Today it's training; tomorrow, it's war.