Red Flag History

What are Red Flag Exercises by the United States Air Force?

 

Riding a wheelie while landing in an F-15C Eagle from the Weapons Academy during Red Flag 10-4.

Riding a wheelie while landing in an F-15C Eagle from the Weapons Academy during Red Flag 10-4.

Red Flag exercises are training missions run by the United States Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Created in 1975 as a response to poor fighter pilot performance during the Vietnam War in comparisons to prior conflicts,  Red Flag provides the Air Force with a training program designed to give pilots real world experience in air to air combat, ground attack, electronic warfare and aerial refueling. The actual bombing and air-to-air training takes place in the skies over Rachel, Nevada near Area 51. Some of it is visible to plane spotters from public land in the area, though usually at a distance.

Colonel Richard “Moody” Suter became the driving force behind the implementation of the Red Flag training concept. On 1 March 1976 the 4440th Tactical Fighter Training Group (Red Flag) was chartered with Col P.J. White as the first commander, Lt. Col Marty Mahrt as vice commander, and Lt. Col David Burner as Director of Operations. This small crew under Col White’s leadership undertook the mammoth task of establishing the program. Their hard, imaginative work over the early years would confirm Red Flag’s promise and turn it into the finest training system in aviation history.

F-15s returning to Nellis Air Force base during Red Flag 10-2, February 2010.

F-15s returning to Nellis Air Force base during Red Flag 10-2, February 2010.

The Nellis Ranges provide an area of 60 nautical miles by 100 nautical miles, or half the size of Switzerland, for aerial training. The ranges are located northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada near the towns of Alamo, Ash Springs and Rachel. The surrounding areas are extremely rural and sparsely populated making it ideal for aerial combat training.

The Red Flag training program consists of Red Flag, Green Flag and Maple Flag exercises throughout the year. Typically there are 4 to 6 Red Flags, 10 Green Flag West exercises that are run together with ground forces at Fort Irwin in Barstow, California, and 1 Canadian run Maple Flag exercise.

A key element of Red Flag operations is the Red Flag Measurement and Debriefing System. RFMDS is a computer hardware and software network which provides real-time monitoring, post-mission reconstruction of maneuvers and tactics, participant pairings and integration of range targets and simulated threats. Blue Force commanders objectively assess mission effectiveness and validate lessons learned from data provided by the RFMDS.

 

#WA AF 90 751 F-16C Fighting Falcon Block 42J from the Weapons Academy on approach to Nellis AFB during Red Flag 10-4.

#WA AF 90 751 F-16C Fighting Falcon Block 42J from the Weapons Academy on approach to Nellis AFB during Red Flag 10-4.

The Red Flag exercises are run by splitting the participants into two teams, Red Team(friendly) and Blue Team(hostile). Blue Forces are made up of units from Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, United States Air Forces Europe, Pacific Air Forces, the Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force Reserve, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, the Canadian Air Force as well as other allied air forces. They are led by a Blue Forces commander, who coordinates the units in an “employment plan”.

Red Forces (adversary) are composed of the 57th Wing’s 57th Adversary Tactics Group, flying F-16s (64th Aggressor Squadron) and F-15s (65th Aggressor Squadron) to provide realistic air threats through the emulation of opposition tactics. The Red Forces are also augmented by U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps units flying in concert with the 507th Air Defense Aggressor Squadron’s electronic ground defenses and communications, and radar jamming equipment. The 527th (Active Duty) and 26th (Reserve) Space Aggressor Squadrons also provide GPS jamming. Additionally, the Red Force command and control organization simulates a realistic manual integrated air defense system.

Each Red Flag features different squadrons from both the United States and it’s allies. The variety of aircraft that can be seen during one is dependent on which nations are taking part. Typically you will be able to see F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Strike Eagles, A-10 Thunderbolts, C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, T-38 Talons, and KC-135 Strato-Tankers. The list of aircraft that have been involved is as long as the list of aircraft flown by militarys throughout history. B-2, F-117, B-52, F-4 Phantom, etc., etc.