April 22, 2006 (by A1C Andrew Dumboski) - Nine F-16s and approximately 100 Airmen from the 64th Aggressor Squadron left Nellis April 18 for the first-ever Red Flag-Alaska exercise, formerly known as Cope Thunder.
F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 18th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and Japanese F-15s from Chitose Air Base, Japan, fly in formation during Cooperative Cope Thunder on June 10. This Pacific Air Forces-sponsored air combat training exercise takes place June 9 to 24 at Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases in Alaska. Participants include people and aircraft from the United States, Japan, Germany, Singapore, Australia, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Thailand, Bangladesh, South Korea and the United Kingdom. [Japanese Air Self Defense photo by 1st Lt. Takeshi Okubo]
The exercise is a combined training effort between Pacific Air Forces and Air Combat Command.
The Aggressors provide an air, ground and electronic threat package to Red Flag exercises each year at Nellis and at the annual Maple Flag exercise hosted by Canada.
"Our job is to hone the razor's edge and make the best better," said Lt. Col. Greg Marzolf, 64th Aggressor Squadron commander. "We present a full threat package to provide the blue forces as close to a realistic challenge as possible."
Studies have shown that if a pilot makes it through his or her first 10 combat missions, the chances of them surviving increases dramatically, said Maj. Brad Glenn, 64th AGRS
assistant director of operations.
"We simulate putting pilots through those first 10 missions so when they do have to go in to combat, its not an entirely new experience," he said.
Red Flag - Alaska, which is conducted on the Pacific-Alaska Range Complex, will offer a unique experience from its counterpart here.
"The largest difference between the two locations is airspace," said Colonel Marzolf. "The airspace in the PARC is much larger than the [Nevada Test and Training Range], and that makes for a change in tactics."
The available airspace at the NTTR is 2.9 million acres, while the PARC's airspace is more than 43 million acres.
Red Flag - Alaska begins April 24 and ends May 5. Soon after, the Aggressors will take part in the exercise Maple Flag, from May 12 to June 24.
More than 1,500 active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen, 84 aircraft and an Army and Navy unit will participate in the training.
Participants are divided into opposing "hostile" and "friendly" forces flying against each other in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat and combat support missions using a variety of aircraft against a realistic set of threats. Fighting against a robust air-to-air and surface-to-air threat provides a real challenge for the pilots, Captain Strobach said.
Col. John Dobbins, the air expeditionary wing commander for the exercise, has held command positions in both Afghanistan and Iraq
. From a planning standpoint, he said Red Flag-Alaska 06-2 will probably be more demanding than either experiences he had in the desert.
"The air-to-air threat is going to be significantly higher. The surface-to-air threat is probably, from a simulated point of view, going to be higher," Colonel Dobbins said. "Obviously nothingâ€™s actually trying to shoot us down here, but (the threats) are going to be a lot more dense than most of the things you see in Afghanistan or Iraq."
Here planners can dial up the threats, which will include dedicated "red air" F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 64th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and the 63rd Fighter Squadron from Luke AFB
, Ariz., Colonel Dobbins said.
The aggressors' presence is a first for this exercise, Captain Strobach said.
"Integrating aggressors into opposing forces is going to be a benchmark for us. This is the volume and quality of professional 'red air' we'd like to see," he said.
Red Flag-Alaska is designed to provide the finest training possible ensuring fighter pilots and aircrew receive at least 10 sorties in a realistic simulated combat environment. This is accomplished on the worldâ€™s largest range, complete with more than 29 air defense systems, unmanned (ground) threat emitters and fourth-generation air combat maneuvering instrumentation pods on aircraft, all of which tie into the Yukon mission debriefing system to provide feedback to the pilots.
Air operations will be flown out of here and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and will include daily close-air-support sorties for several thousand U.S. Army Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska, doing their version of spin-up training at the Fort Greeley/Donnelly Training Area.
The Navy will also participate in the exercise as part of the "blue air" with EA-6B Prowlers from the 142nd Electronic Attack Squadron at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
The goal of the exercise, Colonel Dobbins said, "is bringing together, in at least two locations that are fairly-well connected, a way that (Airmen) can go plan against a problem, then execute that problem, and come back and talk about it."
In a combat environment, he said, you don't really have time to do that because you're working on the next day's missions. Here you can stop and talk about what went right, what went wrong and how to make it right next time.
The exercise allows several units, whose missions may differ significantly, the opportunity to work together in a training environment with units with which they may deploy in the future. The exercise will focus on joint offensive counter air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training.
The training does not stop with Airmen behind the flight controls. Aircraft maintainers and other combat support team Airmen are learning here, too.
Although the exercise is primarily focused towards the aircrew, everybody who deploys here ought to learn something about deploying, Colonel Dobbins said.
By working out of unfamiliar surroundings, the people on the ground are conducting business like they would if a unit were deployed for a wartime mission, said Capt. Shawnn Martin, 353rd Combat Training Squadron exercise support division chief at Eielson AFB.
"They bring everything with them to maintain and support their aircraft," Captain Martin said. "All we provide them are the facilities. They're operating just like they would if they were to deploy to a bare base."
With initial briefings and familiarization flights out of the way, training missions will begin April 24.