NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. â€” 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.
â€œWe want to work interoperability issues with our partners, and Colombia is one of our strongest friends in the world,â€ said Col. Hans Palaoro, chief of Air Force Mission MILGROUP Colombia. â€œThey 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 thatâ€
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 â€œbattlefieldâ€ 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 exerciseâ€™s â€œBlueâ€ forces. By working together, these Blue forces are able to utilize the diverse capabilities of their aircraft to engage enemy â€œRedâ€ forces.
Not only do participants get to learn, train and battle each other, they get to fly with airframes not normally seen in each countryâ€™s respective airspace. The Colombianâ€™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.
â€œWe are working on the technical assessments so they will be able to refuel our assets as well,â€ Palaoro said. â€œThe next time there is a natural disaster in the Caribbean, the Colombian tankers can refuel our Navy.â€
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.
â€œAfter the last Kfir aircraft lands, we close off the runway for a couple of minutes,â€ said Staff Sgt. Beau Portman, 57th Operations Support Squadron air traffic control watch supervisor. â€œThis time allows our Red Flag maintenance crew to gather each chute and remove it from the runway before more aircraft approach.â€
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.
â€œGetting 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,â€ Palaoro said.
â€œThis is something they have been dreaming about since the generals were lieutenants,â€ Palaoro said.
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