February 18, 2009 (by SrA Julius Delos Reyes) - The 416th Flight Test Squadron "Skulls" conquered the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of Nellis AFB, as they participated in Red Flag 09-2 from Jan. 26 to Feb. 6, marking the first time an Air Force Materiel Command unit has ever deployed and participated in the exercise.
Edwards based F-16C block 42 #88-0445 from the 416th FLTS takes off for the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of Nellis AFB on February 4th, 2009 as part of Red Flag. This marked the first time an AFMC unit has ever deployed and participated in the exercise. [Photo by John Mumaw]
Administered by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis through the 414th Combat Training Squadron involving the air forces of the United States and the United Kingdom, Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat training exercise.
"I'm proud of the entire 412th Test Wing team," said Col. William Thornton, 412th TW commander. "Our maintenance team was called out as having the best operation on the flightline. Red Flag participation allowed us to conduct better and more realistic testing, while saving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. This historic deployment was critical to our evaluation of new capabilities being fielded. We could not have replicated this intense level of testing here at Edwards with all the assets assembled for Red Flag. We validated many of the new capabilities under test and more importantly, found a few things we need to investigate further. Ultimately this deployment will result in increased combat capability to the warfighter in less time and cost."
The exercise provides realistic training in a combined air, ground and electronic threat environment while providing for a free exchange of ideas between forces. However, the 416th FLTS team also used the Red Flag environment to evaluate the F-16 Fighting Falcons' latest operating system, M5.1+ software.
"The Red Flag environment allowed us to evaluate the interoperability of our five M5.1+ F-16 Fighting Falcons with other aircraft, such as F-22 Raptor, B-2 Spirit and MQ-1Predator," said Lt. Col. Todd Ericson, 416th FLTS commander. "We also assessed the aircraft's performance in both a (Global Positioning System) and electronic jamming environment -- all of which would have been impossible to accomplish at Edwards for both logistical and cost reasons."
Through the Red Flag exercise, the 416th FLTS was able to fly 54 sorties at a cost equivalent to flying eight to 10 Integrated Systems Evaluation sorties at Edwards.
An ISE is an evaluation of the military utility of the aircraft where test pilots use all the systems as they would be in combat prior to providing a fielding recommendation to operational test.
"Red Flag allowed us to provide the most thorough, integrated evaluation of an F-16 software release in the 30-year history of the Combined Test Force," Colonel Ericson said. "We also saved nearly $100,000 in range costs by conducting live air-to-ground weapons delivery evaluations at Red Flag as opposed to scheduling a dedicated range time as an exclusive event."
The Combined Test Force was able to evaluate the aircraft in missions currently flown by the F-16 such as defensive counter air, interdiction, suppression and destruction of enemy air defenses, time sensitive targeting and close air support.
Deploying to Red Flag provided an opportunity for the 416th FLTS to expand their view of the software and see the enhancements in combat capability proven on each sortie, Colonel Ericson said.
"We were very pleased with the results that we had," said Maj. Carrie Reinhardt, 416th FLTS assistant director of operations and project officer for the Red Flag deployment. "We had a 100 percent mission complete rate, which is outstanding and exceeded our expectations on the evaluation of the software."
The 416th FLTS contingent consisted of about 100 personnel, including pilots, maintainers, contractors as well as government civilian and military flight test engineers.
"The team work was fantastic because everyone came together to provide support," Major Reinhardt said. "The maintainers were top notch and we received invaluable support from the contractors. The whole experience was great, and everybody was excited to be participating in Red Flag."
Colonel Ericson said the Red Flag deployment was a challenging exercise that the 416th FLTS was able to hurdle.
"The Skulls rose to the challenge and excelled," he said. 'It was not a trivial task to take a unit that has never deployed before, go to Red Flag and execute 54 test sorties in the period of two weeks. Overall, I was impressed daily by the dedication and professionalism of the Skulls throughout the deployment. I'd be proud to go into combat with each and every one."