Red Flag exercise – The huge “War” during peacetime

Red Flag – The great exercise in the sky

Boeing E-3 Sentry - Airborne early warning and control (AWACS)

The “Red Flag” operation does not mean walking or dancing with a Soviet Union or a Chinese flag. One may say, it is probably the most realistic and advanced aerial combat training held at the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Every year since 1975, during two weeks (several times a year), the United States Armed Forces (mostly USAF) and its allies simulate modern ,,aerial warfare’’. The main goal of these trainings is to give the pilots a chance to recognize their skills in almost real war situations. Besides, everyone engaged in such exercises improve ability to cooperate between diverse branches of the army and in different languages.

The Red Flag exercises are quite large operations. Within a 12-month period from over 500 to more than 1.200 aircraft (depends on a year) fly beyond 20.000 sorties. Interesting fact is that 20.000 personnel gaining experience, almost equals to all personnel of the Polish Air Force (25.400).

United States Armed Forces and NATO against who?

F-15 and F-16 belonging to 64 and 65 Aggressor Squadron

F-15 and F-16 belonging to 64 and 65 Aggressor Squadron

The typical war situation requires two enemy sides, and here is the same. Consider that the Red Flag originated during the Cold War.The defenders (Blue team) were the U.S. and NATO against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact members (Red team). It should be noticed that the White Team represents the neutral controlling force. Of course nowadays it is a historical fiction, but this scenario is still played. The aggressor’s ground units are armed with the soviet-designed air defense missiles (S-75, S-125), the anti-aircraft weapon (ZSU-23-4, ZSU-57-2) and more. Those weapons are equipped with electronic devices for sending out simulating signals of fire and aiming. It still has to be as realistic as it is possible, but it is clear that they don’t kill each other. The only simplifications are the jets, both teams are using ,,NATO’s” aircrafts. Blue forces use every aircraft which can be used during a real war. Bombers (B-1, B-2, F-117, etc.), air superiority aircrafts (F-15, F-16, M2000, F-22, etc.), reconnaissance aircrafts (U-2, UAV, etc.), electronic warfare aircrafts (EA-6B, F-16, EA-18G, etc.) And also air support, search and rescue aircrafts, aerial refueling aircrafts, and the commander aircraft E-3. The Red force comprises of the 64th Aggressor Squadron (64 AGRS) and the 65th Aggressor Squadron (65 AGRS) using the F-15 and F-16 to compete with the MIG-29 Fulcrum and the Su-30 Flanker. This emulation is not a mistake, western and eastern fighters have many similar features and are among the best fighters in history. Furthermore MIG-29 flights are available for tourist. If you want to know more, click here for additional information.

[CSSBUTTON target=”” color=”#F22F2C”]Supersonic MIG-29 Flight![/CSSBUTTON]

The origin of the Red Flag exercises

The “Red Flag” operation was initiated by Colonel Richard “Moody” Suter. His experience from the Vietnam War and analytical abilities (ex. Project Red Baron) pushed him to persuade the Tactical Air Command to adopt the program. It was well known, that the first 10 sorties were mostly dangerous for young pilots and crew members. To avoid unnecessary losses and strengthen self-confidence of “greenhorn” pilots in the air, he gave them opportunity to train. But it is not only the aircraft that wins the war. There are also paratroopers, rescue and search units, and an ops center. All that makes this operation one of the most advanced and outstanding exercise in the U.S Armed Forces.

Despite everything is a simulation, bad things can happen. So far a few incidents took place. One of them was deadly. In 1979 an F-111 crashed in the Nellis Air Force Base.  MAJ Gary A. Mekash and LT COL Eugene M. Soeder were killed. Hopefully such accidents will never happen again.

Red Flag is not secret!

Everything that’s going on in the Nellis Air Force Base and the Eielson Air Force Base is public. No “black ops” are being held. Moreover, defense giant Boeing made a documentary movie for IMAX called Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. Fantastic shots and amazing aerobatics and extremely realistic shots make it worth seeing. For a moment you can be part of Red Flag. Watch the video below under Red Flag videos on Youtube.

It is interesting that the last exercises were quite popular because of the clash of two great jet fighters, the F-22 Raptor and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Surprisingly German Eurofighters won dogfights against the F-22, despite the technology and cost difference. This led us to ask is the F-22 invincible?


Additional Articles and Ressources

Red Flag videos on Youtube