RED FLAG-Alaska 20-3 Broll [VIDEO 5min]

Discuss the F-35 Lightning II
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spazsinbad

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Unread post12 Aug 2020, 22:54

F-35A joins Red Flag-Alaska, soars to new heights
12 Aug 2020 Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky, 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

"EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (AFNS) -- Throughout the years, numerous types of aircraft have flown in the Alaskan skies during Red Flag-Alaska. This year, a new fifth-generation fighter joins the fight. The 356th Fighter Squadron and 388th Fighter Wing’s F-35A Lightning IIs are the first F-35s to participate in the U.S. Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise.

“The purpose of Red Flag-Alaska is to provide training for the aircrew participating on the blue-air side in order to increase mission readiness and prepare them for combat operations,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Kinsey, 18th Aggressor Squadron commander.

Unlike recent RF-A exercises, the F-35s have given the 354th FW a chance to have the ‘home team’ play as blue air to enhance their warfighting capabilities. “We’ve been flying F-35s for the past three months and this is the first Red Flag exercise for the 356th FS,” said Lt. Col. James Christensen, 356th FS commander....

...“What we had to do is get our pilots ready for this Red Flag by flying as much as we possibly could to get proficient in the airplane,” Christensen said. “For us, this is kind of the intro to the airspace and an intro to four-ship tactics. This is the first time we’ve flown four aircraft together at the same time and we are combining the other F-35s and F-22s to make a large-force exercise.” Christensen mentioned pilots train on a basic fundamental skills-type progression, which means pilots start at basic skills and work up to advanced tactics. RF-A offers a realistic combat feeling for pilots to train exactly how they fight, he said....

...“What we need to do in the future and what we have planned for the next Red Flag iteration later this year is we are going to start bringing in partner countries and allies from across INDOPACOM,” Christensen said. “There are F-35s that are going out to Australia, Japan and Korea, and in the future we want to bring those F-35s up here and practice and train … so that we have a standard set of tactics, techniques and procedures.”" [WotNo Canuks?!]

Source: https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display ... w-heights/
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Unread post13 Aug 2020, 05:04

Salute!

What a blast in the frozen north for this old warrior!

All my "operational" fighter squadrons represented except the 3rd TFS.

- 18th Blue Foxes: 1966-67 in VooDoos
- 356th FS Green Demons; 1971-73 in the Sluf, with 200 hours of combat time
- 4th, 34th and 421st of the 388th in Vipers 1979 - 1984

Whew.

Gums remembers.....
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"God in your guts, good men at your back, wings that stay on - and Tally Ho!"
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Unread post16 Aug 2020, 11:19

RED FLAG Alaska 20-3 ENDEX Video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-2a6FYc1wk

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Unread post17 Aug 2020, 20:20

A general article about 'landing & stopping' on SNOWY runways with reports of conditions at same before doing so....
Slip Sliding On Snow: Landing Demands Close Crew Attention
13 Aug 2020 Patrick Veillette, Ph.D.

"For too many years aviation lacked a reliable, up-to-the-minute system for reporting runway surface conditions for pilots to make accurate landing performance assessments. Rather, we depended on subjective braking action reports or Mu-Meter readings that did not directly translate into an aircraft’s braking effectiveness...."

Source: https://aviationweek.com/business-aviat ... -attention
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Unread post18 Aug 2020, 10:37

RED FLAG-Alaska 20-3 comes to a close



EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
RED FLAG-Alaska 20-3, a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise, concluded Aug. 14, 2020.



Flying participants completed roughly 560 sorties and racked up approximately 1,500 flying hours which contributed to the pilots gaining the confidence needed to execute combat operations.



“The exercise went amazing. We had a lot of challenges, the biggest one being COVID, but we were able to overcome that,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Hunger, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron commander. “We were able to reduce the footprint of COVID without sacrificing the training and the high-end combat capability that participants will walk away with.”



Typically, planning for a RF-A begins eight months prior to an exercise, but planning was compacted into a much shorter time period for this iteration.



“For this exercise, it was six weeks prior when we were given the ‘go ahead’ and what the units were going to be doing,” said Hunger. “The team at the 353rd CTS and the whole 354th Fighter Wing pitched in to make it happen.”



This iteration of RF-A may have been smaller in comparison to previous years; however, fifth-generation participants ensured there was no shortage of airpower for blue air. The lineup consisted of F-35A Lightning IIs from Eielson and Hill AFB, Utah, along with F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.



B-1 Lancers assigned to the 37th Bomb Squadron out of Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 97th Air Refueling Squadron out of Fairchild AFB, Washington, and the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th ARS supported combat scenarios throughout the two-week exercise.



In addition to all the action in the sky, survival, evasion, reconnaissance and escape (SERE) Airmen assisted special operations personnel with ground operations.



“Anytime we get a chance to participate in RED FLAG it's instrumental to our training ” Maj. Matthew Roland, a 37th BS B-1 pilot. “We get to integrate with additional fifth-generation fighters and see the realistic air war. It presents us a new picture and we can train to a more realistic situation.”



The 18th AGRS runs the red side of RF-A. Its mission, which is to know, teach and replicate threats to prepare pilots for real-world enemy forces stayed the same, but the squadron’s F-16 Fighting Falcons elevated training with their new teammates.



“One of the main ways we are going to challenge the fifth-generation is to utilize fifth-generation platforms to augment our forces and show the participants a fifth-generation threat,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Kinsey, the 18th AGRS commander.



F-35s were first introduced to RF-A during this iteration, which opens the door for future fifth-generation participation from both national and international participants.



“As we go into the future for RED FLAGs, it’s going to be fifth-generation,” said Hunger. “This is a good opportunity to get our foot into the water to see what the temperature is and then we can really start ramping it up.”


https://www.eielson.af.mil/News/Article ... o9XR3T_4k/
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Unread post22 Aug 2020, 03:40

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing’s F-35 Squadron Brings Home “Top Honors”
17 Aug 2020 1st Lt. Charles Allen 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing

"MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. – (August 17, 2020) Marines with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) were recognized for their performance in Exercise Red Flag 20-3, which took place between Aug. 3 and Aug. 15 in the vicinity of the Nevada Test and Training Range in Southern Nevada....

...Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 211 [F-35B] was given “Top Honors” for their superior performance as they showcased the squadron’s abilities to provide support and keep aircraft in the fight. VMFA-211 returned to MCAS Yuma, being named the Outstanding Unit of Red Flag 20-3 after their maintenance department was recognized for their outstanding effort, along with their intel unit taking the “Top S-2” award....

...Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 has demonstrated their ability to remain technically and tactically proficient in all aspects of combat while practicing operational excellence even in the midst of a pandemic. 3rd MAW continues to “Fix, Fly and Fight” as the Marine Corps’ largest aircraft wing, and remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action."

Source: https://www.dvidshub.net/news/376193/3r ... top-honors
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Unread post02 Dec 2020, 17:43

Counter-air Zero Losses. 8)
https://www.af.mil/News/Article-Display ... -red-flag/
Newest F-35A squadron brings fifth-generation capabilities to Red Flag
By Micah Garbarino, 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published February 11, 2020
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (AFNS) -- Pilots and maintainers with the 421st Fighter Squadron are launching and flying the F-35A Lightning II in their first Red Flag exercise together.
The exercise, which takes place from Jan. 27-Feb. 15, is meant to give at least 10 combat-representative sorties to younger pilots to better prepare them for real combat against very capable adversaries. The 421st Fighter Squadron is the most recent squadron to transition to the F-35A in the 388th Fighter Wing.
“We are the newest squadron, with the least amount of experience, who stood up the fastest,” said Lt. Col. Richard Orzechowski, commander, 421st FS. “We have a fairly high ratio of pilots with limited F-35 experience, including some who have never flown another platform. Flying in a large force exercise is a valuable learning experience for them.”
During Red Flag, a friendly “blue force” fights against an enemy “red force” in what is the Air Force premier large-force combat-training experience, including air, space, cyber and intelligence operations.
For the young pilots, their main challenge takes place in the mission-planning and briefing rooms. Then during the missions over the Nevada Test and Training Range, which is bristling with surface to air threats and covered by an integrated air defense system and aggressor aircraft flown by some of the best pilots in the world.
“They have about a 10-hour mission planning day. They sit down with all the other assets and figure out how to best tackle the mission scenario,” Orzechowski said. “The mission execution day is about 15 hours, with briefings and debriefings following the mission.”
A room full of pilots and operators dissecting the movements, actions and associated outcomes of each mission in “painful” detail is often the most valuable part of the exercise.
“The integration that they see here is critically important, and we can’t do our mission to the fullest without the support of every aircraft,” Orzechowski said. “Being here at Red Flag we get to do that face-to-face instead of simulating it in local training.”
Most often, the mission of the 421st is to take the F-35A into very dangerous, high-threat environments where older, less stealthy aircraft cannot survive, let alone win.
“Because of our low-observability and the high level of battlespace awareness that our pilots have in the F-35A, we are often asked to go in and take out complex surface threats or systems and protect other aircraft from high-end air-to-air fighters,” Orzechowski said. “The F-35 also has an extremely high level of battlefield awareness and can pass that information to other F-35s anywhere in the fight without any pilot interaction. In terms of the amount of information, think fiber-optic versus dial-up internet. That’s a huge advantage”
For Capt. Chris Shannon, his first time flying the F-35A at Red Flag has been both an education and a confidence boost in the lethality of his jet and his fellow Airmen.

“My confidence in our tactics, our aircraft’s capabilities, and our level of preparation have grown with each mission,” Shannon said. “In the F-35 community, we take tremendous pride in our ability to make other platforms more survivable and more lethal. It’s a great feeling to escort other aircraft and suffer zero losses from counter-air. Allowing them to focus on their primary mission, knowing we have their back – That’s a great feeling.”
The active-duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force's first combat-capable F-35A units. They fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.
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Unread post02 Dec 2020, 17:45

In Air-to-Air, F-35 is dominant. 8)
https://www.webcenterfairbanks.com/2020 ... -exercise/
Eielson F-35s participate in their first ‘Red Flag’ exercise
By John Dougherty Published: Aug. 5, 2020
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -
Monday marked the first day F-35s stationed at Eielson Air Force Base took part in a RED FLAG-Alaska exercise. The 356th Fighter Squadron received its first F-35s in April and have been working and training to be ready for the operation over the last few months.
“This is one step in getting us ready to go. When we go to combat, the Air Force joins with partner countries all over the Indo-Pacific region. We have F-35s that are being sold in Japan, South Korea and Australia, and we need to learn how to integrate with those F-35s. So this is an integration exercise for F-35s to work out our tactics with each other,” said Lieutenant Colonel James Christensen of the 356th Fighter Squadron.
RED FLAG-Alaska allows the airmen to simulate real world scenarios. Christensen said, “the way we train is the way we would fight.” The exercises go for two weeks and get progressively more difficult as training continues. In order to simulate the air-to-air combat, F-16s from the 18th Aggressor Squadron simulate dog fights with the F-35s. Christensen said this provides realistic training for the pilots and crews. Planning started months before when the 356th Combat Training Squadron began building scenarios for the airmen to train in.
“When you have those people out there, you can’t pretend anymore. It’s not a simulation, you actually have to find that aircraft, you actually have to be able to put yourself in a position to employ your weapons against them and be successful,” Christensen said.
Fortunately for the pilots of the F-35s, the fifth generation fighters give them the upper-hand. Christensen said, “The F-35 is absolutely fantastic at getting into an air-to-air fight and finding the adversary before he is able to detect and target and then shoot at us.”
The first two RED FLAG-Alaska exercises were cancelled because of COVID-19. This exercise has F-35s from Eielson as well as Hill Air Force Base. They are also joined by F-22s from Elmendorf Air Force Base. Christensen said that the F-35 training at Eielson is ahead of schedule, “We are meeting our goals, we are exceeding them and I am excited to see us push a little harder and get even more ready.”
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Unread post23 Jan 2021, 15:47

The Red Flag season has arrived again this year. 8) The F-35 kicks enemies every year.
https://www.nellis.af.mil/News/Article/ ... -exercise/
Hill Airmen deploy F-35A for large combat exercise
By Micah Garbarino, 388th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published January 22, 2021
HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Airmen from the active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wing here are deploying to Nellis AFB, Nev., to take on a tough adversary – other Airmen.
Approximately 200 Airmen with the 34th Fighter Squadron and 34th Fighter Generation Squadron, will participate in Red Flag 21-1 from Jan. 25 – Feb. 12.
The exercise is the Air Force’s premier combat training experience and pits an integrated friendly “Blue Force” against an aggressor “Red Force.” The 34th FS will integrate and fly side-by-side with fighters, bombers, command and control, and other support aircraft from across the Department of Defense.
“Working together at Red Flag, in a high-tempo integrated fight, all focused on that day’s missions, is a confidence builder for our young pilots and maintainers,” said Col. Steven Behmer, 388th Fighter Wing commander. “It’s also a good opportunity to build strong working relationships across weapons systems and cohesiveness as a wing.”
Developed after the Vietnam War, Red Flag was created to give young pilots at least ten combat-realistic, large-scale, training missions. Since then, planners have shaped the experience into an all-inclusive modern battlespace, adding space, cyber and intelligence assets – all aimed at making life as tough as possible for the attending units.

The scenarios at Red Flag are robust, and the training space has enough threats to realistically test the fifth-generation combat capabilities of the F-35A.
“Red Flag is always great opportunity for all of us to train in an environment that is extremely challenging,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Cavazos, 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “We’re able to plan and fight as a joint force. We want to find any of our weaknesses here, before we find them in combat.”
The active duty 388th FW and Air Force Reserve 419th FW are the Air Force's first combat-capable F-35A units. They fly and maintain the jet in a Total Force partnership, which capitalizes on the strength of both components.
“There’s no better way to train for combat than to practice in the complex and intense training environment that is Red Flag,” said Col. Matthew Fritz, 419th FW commander. “We look forward to further refining our skills as F-35 pilots and maintainers alongside our active duty counterparts.”
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Unread post25 Jan 2021, 17:36

So we've heard 15:1, I think 20:1 air to air kill ratios for the F-35 prior. Sounds like something similar here (aka "no losses"). I wonder how dominant the F-15/16 was, during its Red Flag debut?

I'm sure the info is out there, but was wondering if anyone knew offhand? Something sticking in my brain about 3:1 advantage, but I'm not sure if that was for the F-15, 16 or both..
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Unread post25 Jan 2021, 18:40

mixelflick wrote:So we've heard 15:1, I think 20:1 air to air kill ratios for the F-35 prior. Sounds like something similar here (aka "no losses"). I wonder how dominant the F-15/16 was, during its Red Flag debut?

I'm sure the info is out there, but was wondering if anyone knew offhand? Something sticking in my brain about 3:1 advantage, but I'm not sure if that was for the F-15, 16 or both..

I've posted old Red Flag numbers for F-15 before, trying to find it.

12.6:1 (202:16) in 1980 against F-5, F-4, and F-106. Ref p120 Great Book of Modern Warplanes and this post....

viewtopic.php?f=57&t=52723&p=363017&hilit=great+book+of+modern+warplanes#p363017
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Unread post26 Jan 2021, 16:33

Wow, thanks!
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Unread post15 Feb 2021, 16:56

An unfamiliar new exercise called the Black Flag. 8)
https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/3 ... heir-limit
Black Flag Rises: New “Super Bowl Of Test Exercises” Pushes USAF’s Top Weapons To Their Limit
The full story behind the Air Force’s new war games that will ensure interoperability and get new capabilities and tactics to front line units faster.
BY JAMIE HUNTER JANUARY 13, 2021
Black Flag is a brand new, large-scale, test and evaluation exercise that the U.S. Air Force is betting big on. It forms a central pillar in transforming the way it gets new capabilities into the hands of frontline squadrons as quickly as possible. The War Zone was granted an exclusive interview with the leadership of the 53rd Wing, which is the organization responsible for overseeing this potentially revolutionary new exercise. In our discussion, we came to understand how the USAF will stress test and fully evaluate some of its most advanced technologies and new tactics in a secluded and highly demanding testing scenario that is far more akin to a high-end peer-state air war than a sterilized developmental environment.
Established as a counterpart to the famous Red Flag training and readiness exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Black Flag is a test-driven derivative that is all about pushing the envelope of the latest equipment in similarly realistic and operationally-relevant scenarios. In December, Air Combat Command (ACC) chief General Mark D. Kelly formalized the 53rd Wing’s Large Force Test Events (LFTEs) as Black Flags. Now, this series of events will help to ensure ACC’s latest developments are ready to be plunged into the harshest of combat scenarios.

The need for Black Flag
Headquartered at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, the 53rd Wing is the operational test arm for pretty much everything inside ACC and much of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). It is therefore responsible for a multitude of critically important assets that are based at several different locations across the United States. Seamless integration between these assets is vital to ensure the maximum combined effect in combat. “Our job is to ensure to the maximum extent possible that we have really wrung out capabilities [in each aircraft], the tactics, and of course the procedures that we give to the operators so that on night one there’s no lesson to be learned other than us completely dominating in the space we operate in during the 21st century,” explains Colonel Ryan “Schmitt” Messer, commander of the 53rd Wing.
According to COMACC (Commander ACC) Plan 21, Black Flag “will enable the Combat Air Force [CAF] to 1) innovate through deep-end test integration to discover new capabilities and synergies of fighter, bomber, ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance], and classified programs that create multiple dilemmas for the adversary, 2) satisfy AFI/AFMAN [Air Force Instruction/Air Force Manual] testing mandates, 3) add relevancy and accountability to ACC Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC), 4) foster a culture of Test Like We Fight that compliments Train Like We Fight, and 5) produce strategic impacts for Joint All-Domain Operations [JADO] and the NDS [National Defense Strategy].”
ACC’s annual Weapons and Tactics Conference (WEPTAC) is a key driver for critical Tactics Improvement Proposals (TIPs) that are designed to make significant differences to the way squadrons approach their operations. TIPs are not about introducing new hardware or software on their own, they are more about using what is already available to its maximum potential and ensuring that everything will work in a combat environment when many other assets work alongside each other, including new and cutting-edge ones. These TIPs are a huge part of the thinking behind Black Flag, with the event being part of a new approach to get valuable new tactics to squadrons much faster.
The Black Flag concept is not totally new — the operational test (OT) community has long been tasked with evaluating platforms and systems in a realistic, mass-force environment. “While the Black Flag concept itself was not new, the way we approached it was different,” explains Col Messer. “We wanted to create a venue by which we could create an integrated method and event where we could actually test the way that we plan to fight. Testing a specific weapons system or integrating just fighter aircraft together but not including all the other entities, although good, falls well short of what is required on night one,” says Messer.
The 53rd Wing proved the effectiveness of the Black Flag concept through recent LFTEs in August and November 2020. “When it came to branding, LFTE doesn’t really roll off the tongue very well, and we knew we needed to make this a Flag-level event. This reflects the amount of resourcing that’s required, the level of integration, the number of aircraft, which is of the same order of magnitude as a Red Flag. The idea of a Flag-level event for operational testing dates back to the mid-2000s and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and that was originally going to be named Black Flag. So we are in fact building on the legacy of those who previously tried to get this approved.”
“Red Flag was designed to get folks into combat so that they can survive their first several missions. Black Flag provides an environment for integrated test with the maximum amount of participation available from not only the USAF, but also as it expands from our joint test partners where we are fully testing not only the materiel, but also the non-materiel solutions in the highest-threat environment so our warfighters are as prepared as possible.”

A higher echelon of flight-test
“Black Flag is ultimately a deep-end testing arena to create and discover capabilities utilizing existing and emerging materiel,” says Lt Col Mike “Pako” Benitez, the 53rd Wing’s Director of Staff and lead project officer for the new exercise. Black Flag sits in a triad of new test-focused Large Force Exercises, or LFEs. “We call it the test Flag enterprise,” explains Lt Col Benitez. “These are Black, Orange, and Emerald Flags. Orange Flag has been around since 2017 and is run out of Edwards AFB, California, and is dedicated to developmental tests with “blue patch” test pilots working together in large force scenarios. Emerald Flag started in December and is run out of Eglin and it combines developmental and operational testing, and that is multi-domain and a playground for other systems from the likes of DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency], and experimentation from contractors.” Black Flag can either stand alone or work in conjunction with its other test Flag counterparts.
New programs have a rigorous set of tests and evaluations that they must complete in order to qualify for delivery to the front line. “To use an American football analogy, what we do on a day-to-day basis at the 53rd Wing’s individual units is the basic blocking and tackling for individual MDS [Mission Design Series, aircraft] of wringing out the systems and the associated tactics for that particular weapon system to either fix or upgrade,” explains Col Messer. “We then scrimmage in a Black Banner, Skull War, or Bat War, which are localized events where we bring entities within the wing together — that’s where we start to do a little more integration. Black Flag is like the Super Bowl.”
“We have discovered that we often think we know everything about individual platforms and that new things are ready to go. But when we integrate into an LFTE we discover new things — issues we didn’t know existed because we hadn’t integrated with another platform until that point. So, a Black Flag allows us to really flex our muscles and include deep data-driven analysis to judge how we performed. This is extremely informative for our senior leaders. We can clearly show them what we did, what we learned, and back it all up with data and analysis that can then inform plans for the future.”
Black Flag is primarily run on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), which is adjacent to Nellis AFB. It offers the chance to plug into the incredible diversity of assets that are based here, as well as the full suite of Foreign Materiel Exploitation (FME) assets (foreign weapons) available in the NTTR. However, some joint events with Orange Flag, for example, have been flown in the R-2508 range complex near Edwards.

Working for TIPs
“The 2020 LFTEs were about getting after the Tactics Improvement Proposals [TIPs] pushed out by senior leaders after WEPTAC. In the August event we primarily looked at how we help low-observable [LO] assets like the B-2 Spirit ingress and execute a deep strike on an adversary target,” says Major Theodore “CINC” Ellis, the 53rd Wing Weapons Officer, as he explains details of the two publicized LFTEs of 2020. Significantly, this event also teamed the B-2 and F-35 with the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone from the service’s top-secret 44th Reconnaissance Squadron, which The War Zone was first to report on in detail.
“The November event focused on Destructive of Enemy Air Defense [DEAD], how we sustain air dominance from a ground perspective to make sure all of our aircraft, including types such as tankers, have the security to make sure we can go in, knock down doors and be successful.”
Ellis notes that this event included an EC-130H Compass Call as well as a pair of F-15E Strike Eagles upgraded with the new Eagle Passive/Active Warning and Survivability System (EPAWSS). “This system is still in the developmental phase, but it’s fairly mature. F-15E aircrews from the 53rd Wing that flew in the LFTE with EPAWSS were really impressed with how well it’s doing. They were actually able to use some of the electromagnetic features it has for geolocation as well as some electronic attack during the LFTE missions. This is a great example of Development Test working with emerging tactics, using a high-density, high-threat environment to really stress the system. This event had all kinds of threats online.”
“We conducted one additional [LFTE] event in the September-October timeframe in conjunction with Orange Flag 20-2,” Ellis adds. “That was primarily focused on U.S. Joint and Coalition partnerships to ensure our systems worked together. We let the DT guys gather their data, then the following week we had a Black Flag look on it. We were supposed to have Australian F-35s with us, but they could not participate because of COVID travel restrictions. But it underlines how the test Flags are designed to work in a joint or coalition environment.”

Delivering on WEPTAC
Held annually in January at Nellis and hosted by the resident Air Force Warfare Center, WEPTAC is a two-week conference led by ACC that is designed as a forum to discuss TIPs — a set of non-materiel solutions that will be focused on over the following year. It’s where senior leaders have a chance to hear from those on the front line about critical issues.
“Broadly, the first week is geared towards working group development and the second is when senior leaders out-brief on what the groups have been working on,” says Messer. “It’s a chance to look at hard problems that folks are facing in the various combatant commands and bring some of the best minds together to try and come up with how solutions might look. We don’t always arrive at a fix, but we will decide on potential courses of action to test and develop.”
“Some of the main challenges we faced with WEPTAC was that we had lots of different suggestions that were very aircraft-type focused and not fully integrated. More importantly, it wasn’t resourced properly. Each year when we discussed the top 20 TIPs we should focus on, we would form a prioritized list, but it wasn’t resourced, which meant we couldn’t really get after it.”
“The big change for the 2020 event was that we bought a new team to WEPTAC. Our resource and test management folks looked at the TIPs to put a price tag on what each would most likely cost. It meant that our top 15 TIPs that were agreed by the four-star generals were actually resourced by ACC and the other MAJCOMs [Major Commands]. Despite the impact of COVID, we have been able to execute 12 of those 15 TIPs during 2020. That’s phenomenal in any year.”
The 2020 TIP list included fifth-generation fighter Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) support to maximize the effectiveness of B-2 Spirit operations, and B-2 low-observable ingress tactics, AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) integration between the B-1B and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-16 cruise missile defense with the AGR-20 Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), and F-35 fourth and fifth-generation, joint, and coalition SEAD.
“The addition of Black Flag allows us to plan ahead of time. We now have established venues that we can plug these TIPs into, which means we don’t have to wait for resourcing before we can execute. All that deconfliction can be done ahead of time and it allows more long-term planning and thereby streamlines throughput of the TIPs,” Messer explains.
Maj Ellis adds: “TIPs drive how I build the scenarios. We took the top 15 from WEPTAC in January 2020 and looked at ACC priorities and how we could get after those in an integrated environment, structuring it to be operationally relevant and tactically focused to test like we fight. The Weapons School here at Nellis is training-driven with specific desired learning objectives, and we can use Black Flag to ensure the latest WIC [Weapons Instructor Course] graduates — the most tactical guys and gals that we have — go back to their squadrons with the latest data.”

Black Flag is an indicator of big changes
Black Flag is part of the broad initiative to expedite the fielding of new equipment and tactics. “Historically, tactics development is a linear process that can take three to four years,” explains Lt Col Benitez. “This year, with these changes, we’ve been able to cut that down to about 15 months from concept to combat. As our software updates start hatching faster, we now have a venue that’s resourced so that we can develop multiple on-ramps for opportunities to test new software and how it applies to a weapons system, as well as how it can amplify the combat capability of an entire package.”
This acceleration is forcing changes in the way the USAF documents and issues instructions to the CAF. “We hope that Black Flag will change the paradigm of how we write and update the “three-dash-one” [3-1] tactics manual,” says Lt Col Benitez. “As we move to rapid test and rapid integration with agile software in the aircraft and Black Flag uncovering new ways to use it, rewriting a paper manual every couple of years is going to lag behind the fight. We will be developing tactics faster than we can publish them, so the way that we publish them will have to change.”
Black Flag has already been used to test and endorse specific elements of the tactics manual, as Maj Ellis adds. “In August we looked at specific F-35 data and an example that said with a four-ship of F-35s they needed to be in X formation to achieve Y effect. They had never actually gone out to test the limits in a full-up environment. Black Flag said: “Well, your 3-1 says this, let’s actually do it.” We looked at what are the actual limits. We tried different formations and evaluated if they needed to be that specific to make it work.”
Looking at the schedule for 2021, Maj Ellis says: “The first Orange Flag and Black Banner combined event came about because our objectives align fairly well. We will be primarily looking at LO aircraft once again and how we can test counter-air tactics against them.” The diary calls for two Black Flag level events per year plus two “usually smaller” Black Banners, based on resourcing and scheduling.
Meanwhile, the 53rd Wing is reorganizing some of its units to embrace the more agile approach to operational testing across its broad remit. It is combining its previously separate Test Evaluation Groups (TEGs) and Test Management Groups (TMGs). At Nellis, the 53rd TEG will focus on test management and execution for all fighter, remotely piloted aircraft, and rescue types that come under ACC. The 53rd Test Management Group at Eglin will become the 753rd TEG that is focused on AFGSC to cover the test and management of all bomber assets. This will include the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron, which will focus on the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider program.
The coming months will also see further clear examples of how the 53rd Wing is moving to truly combined development and operational testing. “We plan to roll out the first F-15EX here at Eglin and then hope to be able to take the USAF’s brand new Eagle to Exercise Northern Edge in Alaska in May for operational testing,” reveals Col Messer. Northern Edge is designed to replicate the most challenging Indo-Pacific theater scenarios, and pairs training with the ability to stress-test emerging capabilities. “That will be a brand-new asset that will immediately be taking part in a Large Force Exercise. This is planned to have a large test footprint that is inserted into an Indo-Pacific Command exercise, and we will fly in certain missions.”
Northern Edge serves as a further example of how the 53rd Wing is going much further than just evaluating a specific type or piece of equipment in the constraints of its typical daily environment. Modern-day USAF operational tests are pushing the limits much further. It is looking at a far more diverse and integrated environment, whilst also accelerating the overall process.
These moves are critical in keeping the USAF on the leading edge when it comes to the great power competition with China. Fielding new tactics and technologies in an increasingly agile manner, while also ensuring integrity and lethality, has become an absolutely necessary proposition. With all this in mind, from henceforth, Black Flag will provide an arena where the latest and greatest capabilities, both disclosed and classified, that the USAF’s combat forces have to offer will be put to the ultimate non-combat test.
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