F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Red Flag wargames pit pilots

April 7, 2005 (by Staff Sgt. Allen L. Puckett) - The F-16s flown by 64th Aggressor Squadron pilots, replicate the air-combat tactics of potential threats at Red Flag. This realistic combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States and its allies, is conducted on Nevada's vast bombing and gunnery ranges.

USAF F-16C block 32 #87-0267 of the 64th AS on finals at Nellis AFB during Red Flag 05/01 on October 30th, 2004. [Tailslides photo by Peter]

Seeing the MiG-21 Fishbed static display in the parking lot, a Soviet flag hanging from a doorway and a picture of a smiling Joseph Stalin on a nearby counter top, might make it difficult for some to believe they are actually on a U.S. Air Force base.

Things definitely look and work differently here in MiG Alley, home to the self-proclaimed "bad guys" of Joint Red Flag 2005, a joint training and experimentation capabilities exercise.

Pilots of the 64th Aggressor Squadron are air-to-air threat experts and replicate the tactics used by enemy forces in combat situations, said Lt. Col. Paul Huffman, squadron commander. "We try to provide our forces with the most valid and realistic threat representation during exercises like JRF to better prepare them for real-world operations," he said.

This mission began more than 30 years ago when the squadron was activated as a result of the high air combat loss rate suffered by the U.S. during the Vietnam War, Colonel Huffman said. The air-to-air kill ratio for U.S. forces had fallen from 10 to one in the Korean War, to almost one to one at a low point in Vietnam. To minimize the loss of aircraft, Air Force officials conducted exercises in which U.S pilots would use the tactics of the former Soviet Union, using F-5 Freedom Fighters.

Those exercises gave new pilots the experience of their first 10 missions, which was estimated to be the critical time frame in which most pilots were lost," Colonel Huffman said.

Over the years, the squadrons mission has evolved to meet the needs of the current combat air forces and the needs of the joint U.S. and coalition forces during exercises.

The aggressors now fly F-16 Fighting Falcons painted to resemble enemy aircraft and work with a unique group of weapons directors known as "Baron Controllers," Colonel Huffman said. "Baron Controllers" are ground control intercept directors who simulate enemy capablities in terms of directing aircraft from the ground or radar scope. Everything the pilots do is based on information provided by the controllers, making them an integral part of the mission.

Along with tactics, the aggressors are now also experts on the hardware and software used by many other potential threats. Besides their roles as enemy aircraft and GCI directors, the aggressors also provide flight safety for the entire northern Nevada ranges and govern the simulated war to ensure adherence to the established rules of engagement, said Maj. Derek Routt, assistant squadron director of operations.

"Each of our pilots goes through hundreds of hours of academic training based on intelligence gathered from various agencies, as well as a 26-sortie upgrade so we can provide our guys with the best training," Major Routt said. "Basically, there isn"t a Soviet aircraft or tactic out there that we can"t replicate."

With all of the expertise the aggressors bring to the table, Colonel Huffman said he hopes to ensure that through this exercise, both U.S. and coalition forces have the tools and tactics they need to handle the extreme stress of fighting enemy aircraft. This exercise also will help strengthen the joint warfighting team of the future, Major Routt said.

"Whether you"re Air Force, Army, Navy or Marine Corps, we are all one U.S. military force," he said. "We need more situations like these where we can see the capabilities of the other services, and, at the same time, show them what we bring to the table. When we combine all of that knowledge and experience, it makes mission planning and execution much easier."

With the hard work and dedication of his aggressors, and what he calls "the best group of maintainers in the world," Colonel Huffman said he plans to continue providing U.S. forces with the most professional adversary they will ever see. "The thing we like to hear the most is our pilots coming back from real-world missions saying that fighting with us was much harder. That lets us know we did our job."

Republished with kind permission of Hilltop Times.