Nellis Air Force Base has become synonymous with the Red Flag exercises. Every year, aviation enthusiasts from all over the world make the trek to the desert, north east of Las Vegas to watch the spectacle of the premiere military aircraft training exercise taking place. Jason Grant and Mark Forest made a return trip to Nevada, to watch the aircraft and speak with some of the personnel involved during the first Red Flag exercise of 2015, known as Red Flag 15-1.
As always, the views across the ramps full of varied aircraft was an amazing sight. In the current climate of austerity being played out by governments around the world, this seemed the opposite of what we had been witnessing in the UK and Europe; no shortage of aircraft here. Many different types of aircraft including 4th generation legacy fighters and 5th generation stealth fighters were spread along the ramps. On the opposite side of the runways is where some of the more sensitive aircraft types were positioned and included three Northrop B-2A Spirit “stealth” bombers along with various command and control aircraft.
Below is a list of aircraft and units involved in the RF 15-1 exercise:
Red Team Air:
- F-15C Eagles and F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 64th Aggressor Squadron, Nellis AFB
- F-15E Strike Eagles from the 4th FW, Seymour Johnson AFB
Blue Team Air:
- F-22A Raptors from the 1st FW 94th FS, Langley AFB
- F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 158th FW, 134FS, ANG, Burlington
- F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 114th FW, 175th FS, ANG, Sioux Falls
- F-16CM Fighting Falcons from the 31st FW, 555th FS, Aviano AFB
- F-15C Eagles from the 48th FW, 493rd FS, RAF Lakenheath
- RAF Typhoon FGR4 from 1 Sqn, RAF Lossiemouth
- RAAF C-130J-30 Hercules from 37Sqn, 84QG, Richmond AFB
- B-2A Spirits from the 509th BW, 393rd BS, Whiteman AFB
- F/A-18D Hornets from the 3rd MAW, VMFA-225, MCAS Miramar
- F-16CJ Fighting Falcons from the 20th FW, 79th FS, Shaw AFB
- EA-18G Growlers from VAQ-129 & VAQ-132, NAS Whidbey Island
Command and Control:
- E-3 Sentry from the 552nd, 965th, AACS, Tinker AFB
- RC-135 Rivet Joint from the 55th Wing, 38th RS, Offutt AFB
- U-2 Dragon Lady from the 9th RW, 99th RS, Beale AFB
- EC-130 Compass Call from the 55th EG, 43rd ECS, Davis-Monthan AFB
- E-8 JSTARS from the 461st ACW, 12th ACCS, Robins AFB
- EP-3E Aries II from VQ-1, NAS Whidbey Island
- P-3C Orion from Patrol Squadron 46, NAS Whidbey Island.
- 57th, 526th Intel Squadron, DCGS, Nellis AFB
- RAAF AP-3C Orion from 92 WG, Edinburgh AFB
- RAF Sentinel R1 from 5 Army Cooperation Squadron, RAF Waddington
- KC-135R Stratotankers from the 22nd ARW, McConnell AFB
- KC-135R Stratotankers from the 92nd ARW, Fairchild AFB
- KC-135R Stratotankers from the 121st ARW, Ohio ANG
- KC-135R Stratotankers from the 916th ARW, Seymour Johnson AFB
Search & Rescue:
- HC-130J Hercules from the 23rd Wing, 79th Rescue, Davis-Monthan AFB
- HH-60G Pave Hawks from the 23rd Wing, 66th rescue, Nellis AFB
The best place to hear about the benefits of Red Flag are from the participants themselves, and AeroResource were able to interview a number of the personnel who took part in the exercise.
Royal Air Force –Typhoon FGR.4s
Flt. Lt. Andrew North, an Air and Space Battle Manager with 1 Air Control Centre Royal Air Force based at RAF Scampton, explained how UK training with coalition partners at Red Flag is extremely valuable, as significantly less resources are available for current live operations back in the UK. The whole spectrum of integration (including unmanned vehicles, space assets and air-to-air combat aircraft) makes this a very valuable experience for all involved. During Red Flag, the attending Typhoon FGR.4s from 1 Squadron, based at RAF Lossiemouth, were primarily tasked with swing role missions (where air-to-air and air-to-ground missions are carried out during a single sortie), which included the dropping of both live and inert Paveway 4 ordnance. 1(F) Squadron had dropped the first Paveway IV from a Typhoon over Cape Wrath Training Area on 25th November 2014. Flt. Lt. North also went on to say that the Typhoon force sharped their air combat skills, with air-to-air engagements with both 4th generation aircraft and the 5th generation F-22 Raptors, allowing for a spectrum of RAF fighter parameters to be realised during the exercise.
United States Air Force – B-2A Spirits
Hailing from the B-2A Spirit force at Whiteman AFB, Captain Brendan “Block” Bond, explained that the B-2As at Red Flag operated independently to any other aircraft during each mission. Having the ability to interact with other assets after each mission and to be able to better understand how the mission played out using all the resources that the US Air Force and Coalition have helped improve coordination for each sortie. Innovative new tactics and procedures for the B-2A are being practised on a daily basis at Red Flag. The combination of payload, range and precision-guided munitions are capabilities that no other bomber in the world can rival, so working with all the flight crews and ground staff at Red Flag allowed the crew to understand how the B-2 could help achieve the mission goal of taking out an integrated air defence and varied targets over the range. The B-2 trained in the conventional war role at Red Flag dropping bombs ranging from 500lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions to the 30,000lb GBU Massive Ordinance Penetrator although all bomb releases were simulated (rather than live munitions drops) during Red Flag 15-1. No exercise performance related radio communications took place during the sorties, with the B-2 having to complete the mission goal and return to base before finding out how successful it was during a debrief.
United States Air Force – F-22A Raptor
Tech Sergeant Guillermo Salcebo from the 1st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron based at Langley AFB, in support of the 94th Fighter Squadron which attended with the 5th Generation F-22A Raptor, explained how the F-22A Raptors learned to integrate with other US aircraft and coalition partner aircraft during air-to-air engagements. He also went on to say how cyber threats are built into the exercise, although no specific details were given.
Royal Australian Air Force – C-130J Hercules
Wing Commander Darren Goldie, Commanding Officer of 37 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) based at Richmond AFB near Sydney, explained that integration with a coalition force often takes place for the 1st time during real world operations. It is critical to be well prepared in order to participate in these operations and Red Flag provides the RAAF the opportunity to better integrate, allowing them to speak the same tactical language and apply the same tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) as the rest of their coalition partners. The RAAF is one of the most consistent international participants alongside the UK, having taken part for over 30 years. As with all air arms, RAAF aircraft have been updated considerably over the years, and being able to evolve and best understand each platform by sending it to Red Flag to experience and develop the best procedure is something that has benefitted the RAAF during this time. Attending Red Flag 15-1 with two C-130J Hercules aircraft (as well as one P-3C Orion), which are from the only squadron of C-130J Hercules the RAAF operate, the crew needed to learn skills across the spectrum from war fighting through to humanitarian assistance including disaster relief and search and rescue even though Red Flag is primarily tasked with teaching war fighting skills. The C-130J practices low level flying which proved a very effective technique during the missions against the Red Force. The C-130J was also tasked with airborne insertion of Special Forces by parachute as well as landing on the saltpans for ground insertion. As Wing Commander Goldie explained, lessons learned at Red Flag are applied when the aircraft return home to Australia through locally based exercises, allowing the training at Red Flag to be disseminated to other squadrons. During these national exercises, the information is presented in a consistent way so RAAF aircraft and personnel understand how to work with coalition aircraft during any multinational exercise involving partner nations.
United States Air Force – Intelligence
1st Lieutenant Paul Hinds of the 547th Intelligence Squadron based at Nellis AFB, who is also the Deputy Targets’ chief for Red Flag, explained that the exercise brought coalition partners together in one place, giving them the opportunity to put new ideas forward and incorporate them in the daily missions. Real world scenarios that allied partners might encounter overseas are also practiced over the range, as has always been the primary mission of Red Flag, (based on the mantra that if pilots survive their first 10 combat sorties, their survivability increases 10 fold – Red Flag just provides a “safe” environment to conduct those first ten sorties in). Integration has improved during the exercise through shared information and effective communication. Being able to talk face to face with other squadrons during mission planning and debrief is something that many of the attending aircrews find to be one of the most positive aspects of future mission planning. Two missions were flown daily, with the threat level increased during the night missions, which were flown by more experienced pilots. Of the entire ordnance dropped by all aircraft over the ranges, 50% was simulated with the other 50% split equally between inert and live bombs.
It was obvious from speaking with the people present that every conceivable threat had been thought out and the planning was meticulous. For an exercise this big, a well rehearsed and executed plan was put into action so that any scenario could be played out with each mission involving over 50 fighter aircraft and at least 10 heavies (large military aircraft). During Red Flag 15-1, 29 missions took place across day and night scenarios.
Red Flag 15-1 was a three-week exercise, taking place between the 26th January 2015 and the 13th February 2015 and was the first of four exercises planned during 2015. Red Flag 15-2 will run between the 2nd and 13th March, with Red Flag 15-3 running from the 13th July until the 31st July and the final Flag (15-4) taking place from the 17th August until the 28th August.
AeroResource would like to thank the Public Affairs’ Team at Nellis AFB for taking the time to arrange the interviews and fulfilling our requests to be able to bring you this report.