NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Red Flag is the premier joint air combat exercise for U.S. Air Force members and many international partners, but one aspect of this elite training focuses on what happens if that air combat goes wrong.
The Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Specialists of the 414th Combat Training Squadron are responsible for designing, implementing and evaluating the personnel recovery aspect of Red Flag, which is integrated throughout the exercise.
“During Red Flag, we typically perform more than just Combat Search and Rescue training, we provide all personnel recovery events that happen during Red Flag,” said Staff Sgt. Robert Miner, 414th Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of parachuting. “We support any of the training objectives of Red Flag that relate to personnel recovery or tactical airlift. We give the package to blue players who plan for the tactical problem that we’ve presented. Then they execute on it.”
The rescue scenarios are typically run every day of the exercise and involve everything from the initial notification of an isolated person to the extraction of that individual. The average scenario involves a downed aircraft and one or more isolated aircrew member who needs to put their SERE and CSAR training into employment.
“In Red Flag, the aircrews get full package integration. They get to talk to an on scene commander, work with air assets and they are handed over to a rescue escort element, and then picked up and exfilled,” Miner said.
While aircrew typically undergo annual SERE and CSAR training, Red Flag has something the traditional training doesn’t usually offer; total force integration.
“One major difference is that the focus is not on the survivor getting trained. It is more on his ability to do the correct procedures they have been trained. The SERE specialists of Red Flag also evaluate the CAF’s ability to plan, coordinate, and execute a tactically sound recovery plan,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Greer, 414th Combat Training Squadron NCO in charge of CSAR operations. “This allows total force integration with all participants including jets, helicopters, the CAOC, and the different recovery teams.”
The goal is to make the training as realistic and comprehensive as possible. Red Flag offers a unique training opportunity to practice the techniques isolated personnel need to survive while using the air assets available. This means isolated personnel are not only using their survival techniques but also must liaison with air support and the recovery team for a successful exfiltration.
“That’s what Red Flag exists for, to be fighting the next air war and to be practicing for it and we aren’t going to leave personnel recovery out of that equation. It’s important to Red Flag to have the CSAR and SERE aspect because, with sequestration, we had such a long stand down and we had to come back hard, we had to maximize the training just because there were so many people needing it who didn’t get it before,” Miner said.
Personnel recovery has been incorporated into both Red Flag 14-1 and 14-2 in order to highlight the importance of those skills to the readiness of the warfighters.
“We need to be prepared to fight the next war, not just the last war. We have been fighting in areas where personnel recovery has been fairly easy because we had air superiority. But that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily what the future holds,” Miner said.