European Air Forces at Red Flag
The well-known Red Flag exercises at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas in Nevada, are not only used by their sponsor, the United States Air Force (USAF), but by many armed forces.
With multinational operations more common in the past decades (Iraqi wars, campaigns in Kosovo, Libya, and those against ISIS, just to name a few), leaders realized that training has to be accomplished together too. In the beginning on coalitions, this was done in Europe. However, the good reputation of the Red Flag training awoke the desire of European countries to participate in those exercises, and nowadays only a few countries are not flying over the deserts of Nevada.
A deployment to Nevada brings up a lot of challenges for European Air Forces. Until the early 1990s, their structures were built with the emphasis on defending their own territory. During the last decades, weapons and planes were acquired that were able to fight over long distances. Therefore, tankers and transport aircraft were bought, and a lot of European countries now have the (sometimes limited) ability to refuel their own aircraft. Other Air Forces still rely on the USAF’s refueling capabilities when they come to the United States.
So the main challenge is the long distance. What has to be considered is how many aircraft will be taken to the exercise, how many personnel will have to travel with them, and how long will they stay. Another question to be answered centers around the roles and different missions each participating Air Force expects to accomplish, which requires different equipment to be carried along for different roles.
Here is an example of how these considerations were met during the last Red Flag exercise, when eight Italian T/F-2000A (Eurofighter Typhoon) and six Turkish F-16s participated. Both countries have their own tankers nowadays; the Italians have the Boeing KC-767, while the Turkish Air Force took over obsolete KC-135Rs from the USAF. Both countries chose Lajes Field at the Azores as their first stop. While the Turkish then landed at Shaw AFB, SC on the U.S. mainland, the Italian contingent went to Pease International Airport in NH. The Turkish continued from Shaw to Nellis, while the Italians also flew to their final destination of Nellis during the following days. While the Turkish contingent included about 250 of their soldiers, the Italians brought over 400 of theirs. Although each participant should be able to repair and maintain their own aircraft during the exercise (like it would be in a real combat scenario), the Turkish might receive some help from the USAF, if one of their aircraft broke with a rare problem (as the USAF also uses the F-16 in large numbers). The Italian Air Force had to be prepared for every problem, because they use an aircraft which isn’t flown by the USAF. The Turkish contingent also included the two KC-135Rs, while the Italian tankers flew back to Italy and returned at the end of the exercise.
Other participating countries like Belgium or Greece will get help from the USAF or (in the case of the Belgium F-16s) the Netherlands. Germany relied on the USAF for very long but has acquired four A.310MRTTs to refuel its Tornados and Eurofighters.
When deployed, the whole exercise is also used for a larger training program for the whole Air Force. Sometimes planes will be deployed earlier (the Germans often deployed to Canada to train for low level flying there), other units deploy to different bases either before or afterwards to conduct further training in the northern (Mountain Home AFB) or southern (Barksdale AFB) parts of the U.S.. Other countries just stay at Nellis AFB to participate in additional exercises like Green Flag. The expansive restricted areas in the south of Nevada cover more than 31,000 square kilometers. Presently, four Red Flag exercises are taking place each fiscal year – so further European countries can be expected here.
Over the recent years, the following countries had participated: Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and United Kingdom.
We like to thank the numerous members of the PAO at Nellis – without your continuous support, help and understanding, this article won’t be possible.
Copyright Picture 58-64 Ulrich Seibicke
Copyright Picture 65-68 Sadzulewski/Cirrus