Red Flag 15-1 marks ‘Forty Years of Flag’

F-15 65th


Forty years ago the United States Air Force needed to improve their success rate in aerial combat over Vietnam, where it had fallen from 10:1 during the Korean conflict, to lower than 1:1 at times, during the decade long Vietnam war. The Air Force developed a study known as ‘Project Red Baron II’, which found that if an air crew could get through it’s first ten combat missions, their survivability greatly increased.

First Lieutenant (1Lt) Paul Heins, Deputy Targets Chief of the 547th Intelligence Squadron at Nellis AFB, touched on this during our briefing prior to heading out to the flight line. “The bottom line is this; we want to get these crews through the first ten combat sorties so that their survivability rate goes up ten-fold.”

What once started as an air combat maneuvering exercise, primarily focused on air to air tactics and surface to air missile (SAM) evasion, has transformed into using the latest cutting edge tactics and technologies, and involves every facet of our military forces and those of our allies. Along with the fighters that most are accustomed to seeing when this all started 40 years ago, the assets used in Red Flag has now grown to include: heavy bombers, cargo aircraft, electronic warfare assets, reconnaissance and surveillance platforms, remotely piloted vehicles (RPAs), cyber threats, and even space assets.

One of the most notable differences between a regular Air Force unit’s training exercise and a Red Flag exercise, is the complete integration of all assets involved. All the way from the air crews who rely on certain information to be able to attack their targets at a precise time, to the maintainers who deal with cyber attacks to their systems while trying to prepare their aircraft for launch, information flow is key.

Airman First Class (A1C) John Walker, from the 48th OSS Intelligence Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, said the biggest thing he has taken so far from this Red Flag was “…integration, integration, integration.”

Tech Sgt. Guillermo Sacevo, a F-22 Raptor maintainer from the 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU) agreed with Walker. “Integration is pretty much the key thing here, learning to work with everybody else.”

A1C Walker added that even from the first week to the second week, he saw a big improvement as to how information was being shared. “Sometimes we are not beaten by enemy tactics, but sometimes we beat ourselves by not sharing information and by not communicating effectively” said Walker.

Red Flag 15-1 had the following participants:

1st Fighter Wing, 94th Fighter Squadron, F-22As, Langley AFB, Va.

– 20th Fighter Wing, 79th Fighter Squadron, F-16CJs, Shaw AFB, S.C.

– 158th Fighter Wing, 134th Fighter Squadron, F-16Cs, Burlington, Va. ANG.

– 114th Fighter Wing, 175th Fighter Squadron, F-16Cs, Sioux Falls, S.D. ANG.

– 31st Fighter Wing, 555th Fighter Squadron, F-16CMs, Aviano, AFB, Italy.

– 48th Fighter Wing, 493rd Fighter Squadron, F-15Cs, RAF Lakenheath, England.

– Carrier Air Wing 17, Electronic Attack Squadron 132, EA-18G, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.

509th Bomb Wing, 393rd Bomb Squadron, B-2As, Whiteman AFB, Mo.

3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 225, F/A-18D, Marine Corps Air Station, Miramar, Calif.

– 461st Air Control Wing, 12th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, E-8s, Robins AFB, Ga.

– 55th Wing, 348th Reconnaissance Squadron, RC-135s, Offutt AFB, Neb.

– 55th Wing, 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron, EC-130H, Davis Monthan AFB, Ariz.

– Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing, Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1, EP-3C, NAS Whidbey Island, Wash.

– Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Ten, Patrol Squadron 46, P-3C, NAS Whidbey Island Wash.

– 9th Reconnaissance Wing, 99th Reconnaissance Squadron, U-2, Beale AFB, Calif.

– 22nd Air Refueling Wing, TTF, KC135s, McConnell AFB, Kan.

– 23rd Wing, 79th Rescue Squadron, HC-130Js, Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz.

– 23rd Wing, 66th Rescue Squadron, HH-60Gs, Nellis AFB, Nev.

– 552nd Air Control Wing, 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron, E-3s, Tinker AFB, Okla.

– 57th Wing, 64th Aggressor Squadron, F-16Cs and F15Cs, Nellis AFB, Nev.

– 57th Wing, 526th Intelligence Squadron, DCGS, Nellis AFB, Nev.

In addition to US forces, The Royal Air Force participated with Typhoon FGR1s from 1(F) Squadron and a pair of Sentinel R1 reconnaissance aircraft. The Royal Australian Air Force also participated with a pair of C-130J-30s and an AP-3C Orion.

Over the past few years, a total of three Red Flags had been planned each year. That number has gone up to four exercises for fiscal year 2015. As the sun now sets on RF 15-1, there are now only two short weeks before the start of RF 15-2, which begins March 2nd and runs through March 13th.  would  like to thank MSgt Miller, A1C Kleinholz, and the entire 99 ABW Public Affairs Office for their hospitality and for opening their doors to make it possible to show what Red Flag is all about on its 40th anniversary.

Steve Lewis

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

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