July 27, 2012

Colombia participates in Red Flag for first time

By Staff Sgt. William Coleman
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Col. Hans Palaoro, Chief, United States Air Force Mission-Colombia, shakes the hand of Colombian air force Capt. Freddy Figueroa, pilot, after landing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., July 13, 2012. Palaoro welcomes the Colombian air force on their arrival at Nellis for Colombia’s first-ever Red Flag. Their arrival culminates two years of preparation and training for this long-awaited event which begins Monday.

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Red Flag exercises bring unique training opportunities to air forces from multiple nations, and for the first time, the Colombian air force embraced those opportunities.

The journey Colombia made to participate in Red Flag started more than three years ago when its air force was recognized for its ability to perform air operations in complex environments.

“We want to work interoperability issues with our partners, and Colombia is one of our strongest friends in the world,” said Col. Hans Palaoro, chief of Air Force Mission MILGROUP Colombia. “They are a country that wants to work with us, and we want to work with them. Red Flag is the big game, and their air force knows that”

Each Red Flag exercise involves a variety of interdiction, attack, air superiority, defense suppression, airlift, air refueling and reconnaissance aircraft. Red Flag provides a peacetime “battlefield” within which combat air forces can train.

Aircraft and service members deploy here for Red Flag under the Air Expeditionary Force concept and make up the exercise’s “Blue” forces. By working together, these Blue forces are able to utilize the diverse capabilities of their aircraft to engage enemy “Red” forces.

Not only do participants get to learn, train and battle each other, they get to fly with airframes not normally seen in each country’s respective airspace. The Colombian’s Kfir, which is Hebrew for young lion, is a multi-role combat aircraft found only in Sri Lanka, Ecuador and Colombia. The aircraft refuels with a basket and probe configuration similar to that of all U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps aircraft.

“We are working on the technical assessments so they will be able to refuel our assets as well,” Palaoro said. “The next time there is a natural disaster in the Caribbean, the Colombian tankers can refuel our Navy.”

Colombian air force pilots participating in Red Flag 12-4 pose for a group photo July 13, 2012, after arriving at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States and its allies.

Accommodating aircraft from different nations means more than lending a hangar for maintenance, offices for mission planning and room to park the planes. The Kfir deploys a drag chute upon landing, requiring extra efforts from the ground crew to keep runways safe.

“After the last Kfir aircraft lands, we close off the runway for a couple of minutes,” said Staff Sgt. Beau Portman, 57th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control watch supervisor. “This time allows our Red Flag maintenance crew to gather each chute and remove it from the runway before more aircraft approach.”

Challenges await U.S. Air Force, Marine, Navy, United Arab Emirates and Colombian units as their aircraft take flight and conduct missions such as air interdiction, combat search and rescue, close air support, in-flight refueling, dynamic targeting and defensive counter air.. The Colombian air force will get the experience 28 other nations have received since Red Flag began in 1975 while enhancing its interoperability with allies.

“Getting the Colombian air force to Red Flag has been a huge interoperability success, we can do things with them in the future that never would have happened without this exercise,” Palaoro said.

“This is something they have been dreaming about since the generals were lieutenants,” Palaoro said.

See photo feature here.

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