May 4, 2015 (by SrA Patrick S. Ciccarone) - Pilots from the 13th Fighter Squadron and maintainers from the 35th Maintenance Group are currently engaged in the aerial training exercise Red Flag held at Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases, Alaska.
USAF F-16C block 50 #92-3884 from the 13th FS lands during Red Flag-Alaska 14-3 on August 13th, 2014. [USAF photo by SSgt. Jim Araos]
The exercise, created in 1975, brings participants from different air bases and services together, to test their ability to integrate different aerial missions, tactics and personnel in order to combat real-world contingency operations in a controlled setting. Red Flag Alaska is specific to Pacific Air Forces, which owns the largest area of responsibility of all major commands.
With an average of more than 500 personnel and 50 aircraft in play, Red Flag's two-week exercise features a heavily populated airspace that regularly conducts multiple combat missions daily.
During the two weeks, teams are subjected to a constantly changing environment and mission scenarios, designed to test both aircrew and pilots' ability to rapidly accustom them to the evolving exercise.
"Based on historical data, a pilot's first 10 combat sorties were the most likely to result in a combat loss," said Air Force Lt. Col. Luke Casper, 13 FS
commander." Red Flag is designed to give the newly mission-ready wingman his or her first 10 sorties in a combat-like environment rather than actual combat in order to mitigate losses."
Often split into two teams, an opposing red team and defensive blue team, the scenarios put into play depict real-world combat situations requiring the use of multi-role tactics and training.
Defensively, ground forces' objective is to initiate in surface-to-air warfare, employing devices simulating real anti-air threats like anti-artillery cannons and surface-to-air missiles, operated by the 353rd Combat Training Squadron, from Eielson AFB
. These attacks directly test the participants of the 35th Fighter Wing, whose Wild Weasel mission is structured around the suppression of enemy air defenses.
The offending force naturally contains the air power present in all branches of service, split between the numerous countries who participate. A third party white team is used to mediate the simulated battlefield and ensure all parties safely operate and carry out the mission.
"Although we train on a day-to-day basis at home station, the cross-talk we get when we join other forces in a large force exercise such as this is invaluable for both ops and maintenance," said Casper.
Red Flag is expected to conclude mid-May, when a contingent of 35 FW Airmen will remain in Alaska to carry out Distant Frontier, a similar exercise with a larger focus on dropping live munitions.