Red Flag 19-3, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada

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When most people think of Las Vegas, they may think of the casinos, the strip, the gambling, the drinking, the lights, or even the shows. (Ed. note: don’t forget to add the Aviation Nation Air Show on the weekend of November 15 – 17th too!) For me, I think of Nellis Air Force Base, which sits roughly 10 miles north of the Las Vegas Strip. Nellis AFB is home to the 414th Combat Training Squadron (CTS) which hosts the United States Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise, Red Flag. Although Red Flag is planned and coordinated from Nellis AFB, the majority of the exercise is held to the northwest of the base in the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). This vast training area has over 12,000 square miles of airspace, with over 1900 potential targets, scattered across 2.9 million acres of land. This allows the 414th CTS to execute very large-scale exercises involving upwards of 35 units at a time from every branch of the U.S. military, including those of our allied forces.

Red Flag was designed to give pilots and other flight crew members their first 10 combat missions to improve confidence, effectiveness, and survivability in actual combat. The 414th CTS’s overall mission is to expose these pilots to a variety of incredibly realistic training scenarios combing air, ground, cyber, and electronic threats. The pilots and their air crews execute a multitude of missions such as; close air support, air interdiction, combat search and rescue, defensive counter air, and dynamic targeting; and will attack targets such as convoys, mock airfields, bunkers, missile sites, and tanks. Each of these targets are well defended however by both ground and air assets. The 64th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS), based at Nellis AFB, uses F-16C Fighting Falcons painted in various camouflage schemes to emulate different types of enemy fighters. Draken International, which is also housed at Nellis AFB, supplements the ‘Red’ team with A-4 Skyhawks and L-159E Honey Badgers.

Red Flag 19-3 was conducted from July 15 through August 2nd, 2019.
While typically a summer iteration is an ‘American forces only’ Red Flag, this year’s summer exercise also included a Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail from 2 Squadron.
American participants included:

KC-135 Stratotankers, 92d Aerial Refueling Wing (ARW)

RC-135 Rivet Joint, 38th Reconnaissance Squadron (RS)
E-8 Joint STARS, 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS)

E-3 Sentry, 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron (AACS)                                                                                                                      EC-130H Compass Call, 43d Electronic Combat Squadron (ECS)

HC-130J Combat King, 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS)

HH-60G Pavehawks, 41st Rescue Squadron (RQS)
B-2 Spirits, 393rd Bomb Squadron (BS)
EA-18G Growlers, Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135
F-15E Strike Eagles, 492d Fighter Squadron (FS)

F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, 55th Fighter Squadron (FS)
F-22 Raptors, 94th Fighter Squadron (FS)

F-35B Lightning II, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA)122

Red Flag is a rigorous and grueling test of a fighter pilot skills. It pushes aircrews to their limits, takes them out of their comfort zones, and exposes them to situations they have never before encountered. With the amount of experience gained, lessons learned, and the ability to integrate with every branch of not only our military, but other nations military’s as well, Red Flag will continue to be some of the most valuable training they will ever receive.

While the exercise has changed significantly over the years, it is constantly evolving to meet today’s as well as tomorrow’s challenges. Red Flag will continue to enhance the combat readiness and lethality of today’s warfighters, giving them the tools needed to dominate the battlespace wherever it may be, making them second to none in the world.

I’d like to thank the 99th Air Base Wing’s Public Affairs Office for their hospitality and taking the time to assist us in sharing the story of Red Flag.

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Steve Lewis

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

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