Defense

February 12, 2014

Shaw’s Shooters roll’em at Red Flag 14-1: First 10 ‘combat’ sorties crucial to combat capability

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Maj. Teresa Sullivan
Nellis AFB, Nev.

An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 55th Fighter Squadron, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., takes off prior to a Red Flag 14-1 training mission Feb. 4, 2014, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. A typical Red Flag exercise involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, electronic warfare aircraft, air superiority aircraft, airlift support, search and rescue aircraft, aerial refueling aircraft, command and control aircraft, as well as ground based command and control, space, and cyber forces.

Pilots leave Red Flag 14-1 ready to integrate and fight at a higher level after facing a robust threat network, coordinating with other weapons systems, and leading warriors here for the past three weeks.

Shaw Air Force Base’s 55th Fighter Squadron F-16 pilots sharpened their ability to more effectively and efficiently integrate with other weapons systems to maximize mission success.

“I can state unequivocally that the Shooters will leave Red Flag 14-1 ready to integrate and fight at a higher level than we had when we arrived,” said Lt. Col. Jared Johnson, 55th FS director of operations. “That is true all the way from our wingmen to our package commanders. Furthermore, the gravity with which we approach striker protection receives no better test than the Nevada ranges in a flag environment because, short of live combat, the Nevada ranges are the best place for our F-16s to realistically train.”

Red Flag is the Air Force’s most comprehensive and realistic live-fly exercise meant to hone service members’ ability to survive and thrive in a high-threat environment.

“Red Flag is the premiere training venue where the Air Force integrates air, space, and cyber effects in a Joint and Coalition environment at the tactical and operational levels of war,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, United States Air Force Warfare Center vice commander.

“Using the unique assets of Nellis AFB, to include the 2.9-million acre Nevada Test and Training Range and the Combined Air and Space Operations Center-Nellis, along with the Space Test and Training Range and the virtual and constructive environments we use to extend the simulated battlespace over an even larger area, Red Flag continues to improve on its mission of providing the first 10 combat missions for our operational crews, maintenance [service members], and support team members.”

It was during the Vietnam War that Americans realized the need for combat training scenarios. During the Korean War, the Air Force had an aerial kill ratio of 10-to-1 in its favor. In Vietnam, the kill ratio declined to 2-to-1 with many U.S. pilots being shot down in their first 10 combat missions. Red Flag was established in 1975 to better prepare Airmen for combat missions. Red Flag was also designed to simulate the first 10 combat sorties a pilot would face to better prepare them for the complexities of war.

Two U.S. Air Force F-16s assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., fly over the Nevada Test and Training Range during Red Flag 14-1, Feb. 6, 2014. Red Flag is a training exercise hosted at Nellis AFB, Nev., that provides realistic combat training missions for air and ground crews. These exercises improve combat readiness and effectiveness for future real-world conflicts or wars.

Combat of the past decade has been defined by conducting limited strikes against poorly defended sites with an overarching focus on low collateral damage. Therefore, the complexity of Red Flag planning and execution is higher than most of the combat operations of the past decade.

“The most advanced threat environments we have faced in the past decade were arguably presented by Libya, and that relatively simple conflict identified significant gaps in our ability to lead and integrate in a coalition environment,” said Johnson, who has deployed three times, and participated in 10 flag exercises.

“As a force, we have picked up habit patterns that do not translate well from counter-insurgency operations to major combat operations. Decision-makers and pilots alike have arguably lost critical skill sets that will be required if we face a competent adversary. For that reason, maintaining a robust Red Flag training environment has probably never been more important in helping us identify our weaknesses as a force.”

For one five-year F-16 pilot, this exercise has been a great learning experience not only due to the fast-paced operations tempo, but from learning what other aircraft can and cannot do.

“Because Red Flag is replicating a major combat operation, it gives younger guys an opportunity to see what really matters,” said Capt Taylor Tally, 55th FS pilot and first-time Red Flag participant. “We can take lessons learned from the scenarios and apply them to our daily training. Many things that seem trivial while training by ourselves have shown their importance when operating in a large-force environment.”

When asked if he would be ready for his first combat sortie after completing Red Flag, he said, “I have very high confidence in my squadron’s ability to execute in a combat environment. The discipline and passion with which our pilots train with is second to none, and we’ll be ready to answer the call.”




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