Red Flag 13-3

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Red Flag 13-3 was held at Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada, from Feb. 25 to March 15, 2013. While twenty-nine different countries have participated in Red Flag exercises since 1975, this particular Red Flag was a tier 3 exercise, which is restricted to America’s closest allies. The Royal Air Force contingent of the exercise was provided by XI and 12(Bomber) Squadrons. XI Squadron, which flies the Typhoon FGR4 multi-role combat aircraft, brought a total of nine aircraft, with eight being single seat Typhoons, and one dual seat Typhoon, from their home base at Coningsby, Lincolnshire, England. The squadron was reformed in 2007 and was just the second Typhoon squadron formed. After making two stops en route to the United States, XI Squadron first stopped at Langley AFB, Virginia, and spent two weeks participating in Exercise Western Zephyr with the 1st Fighter Wing’s F-22 Raptors. Beginning with an academic phase, the training quickly changed focus to the interaction between the Raptors and Typhoons, and then transitioned into integrating with the Raptors during Red Flag.

12(B) Squadron, which is home based at RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland, flies the Tornado GR4 variable geometry, all-weather attack aircraft. 12(B) Sqn participated in Red Flag 13-3, but did not accompany XI Squadron to Langley AFB. Senior Engineer Officer, Squadron Leader Jason Price said 12(B) Squadron’s main objective of the exercise was to continue to improve and adapt to all aspects of large scale operations. Typically serving as a ground attack aircraft, the Tornado GR4 was also utilized in a variety of other roles. These included both reconnaissance and anti-radar missions, and he added that the Tornado’s were operated during the exercise “both independently, and as a partner with the Typhoon.”

During 2009, 12(B) Squadron was deployed to Afghanistan for Operation HERRICK, and became the first GR4s in theatre, replacing the RAF’s Harriers. The squadron also served time in Afghanistan in 2011. Additionally, both XI and 12(B) squadrons played key roles in Operation ELLAMY over the skies of Libya in 2011, enforcing the United Nations Resolution 1973.

I had the unique chance to speak with both of the Senior Engineer Officers for the Royal Air Force’s XI and 12(B) Squadrons participating at Red Flag 13-3. Senior Engineer Officers, or SEngOs, are in charge of all maintenance on their respective squadron’s aircraft.

During our conversation, I asked how they compared Red Flag to other training exercises they had been a part of. They both agreed that Red Flag was a “top notch” exercise. SEngO, Sqn Ldr Jason Price said, “Red Flag was very realistic, especially the bombing.” 75% of all United States Air Force training ordinance is dropped on the 535,000 acres of bombable range in the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). “Red Flag is relevant and realistic training that promotes valuable cross talk between weapons systems.” said Lt. Col. Cameron Dadgar, 414th Combat Training Squadron, deputy commander. Having air to air, air to ground, and air to sea training scenarios available, Dadgar pointed out, “There is no other venue in the world that offers this type of training. ” With a heavy emphasis on training, and the importance of the knowledge and experience gained, Dadgar added “The actual result is less important than the training itself.”

In addition to the nine Typhoons brought over, XI Squadron brought 111 engineers to maintain the aircraft. With being deployed to Nellis AFB, and with the scale of the exercise, the engineers were also afforded an opportunity to put their skills to the test. SEngO, Sqn Ldr Pieter Severein said, “The training for the air crews has been excellent, but for the maintainers it’s been great as well.”

Severein said that during the exercise, four Typhoons would be launched to achieve air supremacy, while two additional follow on aircraft would be launched on an air to ground mission to designate targets for the Tornados using a Laser Designation Pod (LDP). Upon the completion of the ground attack mission, the two Typhoons would quickly transition into an air to air role. This kind of swing role mission is exactly what the Typhoon is designed to do. The exercise was “stretching the pilots to their max”; however, he went on to say, “Our air crews have exceeded expectations, from the most junior pilot to the Squadron Boss.”

Units of the Royal Air Force completed their training exercise at Red Flag 13-3 on March 15. While XI Squadron was headed home with their Typhoon’s after the completion of the exercise, 12(B) Squadron and their Tornado’s were headed to Hill AFB in Utah to continue on with their training.

I’d like to thank both SEngO, Sqn Ldr Pieter Severein and SEngO, Sqn Ldr Jason Price, for setting aside the time to give me an insight into the operations of their respective squadrons. I would also like to thank Senior Airman Jack Sanders, Airman First Class Timothy Young, and the entire 99th ABW Public Affairs Office for the opportunity to observe and to photograph the USAF and their closest allies, maintaining their fighting edge.

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Steve Lewis

Steve is a Southern California based photographer living in the Los Angeles area.

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