NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — The United States has achieved global air superiority. It has a well trained and equipped military force, and the resources to provide and maintain peace and stability throughout the world.
With these requisites met, many wonder how Nellis’ Red Flag exercise can possibly continue to prepare Airmen for future adversaries.
How can an exercise, initially designed to prepare Airmen during the Vietnam era for air-to-air combat, ever hope to continue to have the same impact in today’s fight?
To answer that question, you must first understand how today’s technology has changed the way the military accomplishes missions in the 21st century.
Radars guide munitions within inches of their intended targets, communication with troops on the ground protects civilians and service members from harm, and satellites provide important intelligence necessary to make each operation a success.
The new era of warfare is no longer fought on the frontline alone but also in cyberspace. This invisible, yet pivotal domain is filled with enough information to ensure a mission’s success or its failure. Any area this critical can be exposed as a weakness, and adversaries know it.
Over the years, the 414th Combat Training Squadron has evolved Red Flag to incorporate space and cyberspace domains as a way of giving Air Force cyber warriors and pilots more realistic training for today’s operations. During this “new type” of Red Flag exercise, participants are able to simulate potential adversaries through all three domains of air, space and cyberspace simultaneously and work together with counterparts to accomplish mission objectives.
“The proper integration of all forces – through air, space, and cyberspace – is critical to the success of any conflict,” said Lt. Col. Cameron Dadgar, 414th CTS deputy commander. “Red Flag promotes valuable cross-talk between weapon system operators across the spectrum of capabilities so that our Airmen can properly incorporate each other to deliver devastating effects on our adversaries, regardless of the domain.”
The 414th CTS, seeing the importance of preparing our Airmen for this new domain, decided to escalate the amount of cyber-attacks on its participants for Red Flag 13-3. This new focus on providing a realistic threat to the mission, stresses the need for accountability and security when dealing with information on the Air Force cyber network.
Airmen from the 57th Information Aggressor Squadron have provided this threat by replicating possible tactics and strategies potential adversaries would use to hinder the success of any global mission. By adding a constant need for exercise participants to execute proper cyber and information security, Red Flag has become one of the most aggressive training regiments to date.
“The training provided by the information aggressor squadron for Red Flag, allows for U.S and allied forces to experience and understand an operating environment that would result from a future conflict in which adversaries constantly attack our network for information,” said 1st Lt. Kyle Bingham, 57th IAS tactics specialist. “This allows training during Red Flag to be expanded beyond air-focused, tactical situations to the more realistic and complex conflict situation that is emerging in the present and will be in the future.”
Bingman went on to stress the importance of preparing the U.S. military and its allies to deal with cyber-attacks in training environments before it is seen in any real world scenario.
“Our dependence on networked technologies is not going to go away,” he said. “Understanding them and the threats to them should be everybody’s priority. It is absolutely crucial to train our service members to deal with cyber-attacks in order to allow the U.S. and its allies to react to more effectively. Our network’s security and how we react to threats to it can determine a mission’s success or failure.”
For more than 50 years, the 414th CTS has provided the Air Force’s premier training exercise with 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Now, thanks to this new element there are endless possibilities in the way the Air Force can prepare its Airmen and allied air forces to combat attacks from potential cyber threats as well.
“Red Flag provides the venue – better than anywhere else worldwide, orbiting the earth or virtually – to improve Air Force, joint and coalition partners’ ability to achieve our war fighting excellence,” Dadgar said.
There will always be threats to national security; however, with exercises such as Red Flag, the 414th CTS is innovating the way the Air Force prepares its Airmen and allies to conduct operations in the 21st century.