Red Flag 16-1 Is “In the Books”

F-16 (31)

In 1975, the United States Air Force established an elite combat training exercise for all of its warfighters. Its purpose was to teach advanced tactics to maximize lethality, combat readiness, and survivability, and to ensure that the air crews who participated were able to integrate at the highest tactical level with our allies.

They succeeded.

Today this exercise is known as….RED FLAG.

Just over 13 miles northeast of the famous Las Vegas strip lay Nellis Air Force Base. Three to four times a year, units from the United States Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as allied nations from around the globe, all converge on Nellis AFB to participate in the most realistic air combat training exercise in the world.

The participants are split into primarily two opposing forces, The ‘Red Team’ and the ‘Blue Team’. During most missions, the Blue Team has a set of objectives to control, or to eliminate, while the Red Team is charged with stopping them. On a few of the missions the Red Team is tasked with striking at predesignated targets, and then it’s the Blue Team’s job to thwart those efforts.

F-15 (11)

The Red Team is composed of a squadron of specially painted F-16Cs from the 65th Aggressor Squadron based at Nellis AFB. Additional aircraft may also be tasked to support the 65th AGS in most Red Flags. In this exercise, additional ‘aggressor’ support was provided by the 131st Fighter Squadron from Barnes, Massachusetts, as well as the 194th Fighter Squadron from Fresno, California. Both units fly the lethal F-15C Eagle.

The Blue team is made up of a wide variety of fighter, bomber, electronic warfare, surveillance, and support aircraft. A full list of participants during Red Flag 16-1 can be found here:

GR4 Typhoon RAF 3 SQN (18)

Since its inception in 1975, twenty-eight different countries have participated in these exercises. Having foreign participation is an integral part of each training cycle, as each nation brings its own tactics to the table. After each mission over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), the ‘players’ can then debrief and share some of the tactics and lessons learned before going back out on the next sorties. In turn, these lessons learned and tactics shared help integrate those participating on a realistic battlefield, in real time operations, which is vital to our success in overseas engagements. Integration and mobilization are two of the key factors that play into every Red Flag exercise.

FA-18 RAAF (36)

The first of four planned exercises this year was a tier one exercise, involving only America’s closest allies. Both the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Air Force from the United Kingdom participated in 16-1. The RAAF brought six F/A-18A Hornets, six F/A-18F Super Hornets, one E-7A Wedgetail, and one AP-3C Orion. The RAF contingent brought eight GR4 Typhoons, one E-3D Sentry, one Sentinel, and one C-130J Hercules. Group Captain Philip Gordon, Air Expeditionary Wing Vice Commander of the RAAF, said moving the 400 plus personnel and 14 aircraft over 7600 miles across the pacific from Australia also presented its own training opportunity. The trip took approximately one week with stops in Guam and Hawaii before landing at Nellis AFB. “It provides the ultimate environment in which our Air Force personnel can showcase their extraordinary abilities in a deployed scenario.” said Gordon.

EP-3 (2)

The sun has now set over the Nevada desert and Red Flag 16-1 has come to a close. But don’t blink, right around the corner RF 16-2 is set to begin on February 29th. Various aircraft from across the country will soon be filling the skies over Nellis AFB once again, with Italy and Turkey providing the foreign participation for this iteration.

I’d like to thank MSgt Sanjay Allen, SrA Thomas Spangler, and the entire 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs Office for their hospitality, and for putting together such amazing opportunities to showcase this elite exercise in motion.

Stay tuned for more coverage on RF 16-2 and additional in depth looks into the most realistic combat training exercise on the planet.

Photos by Joe and Dave..

Steve Lewis

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

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