Red Flag-Alaska 20-3, a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise, concluded Aug. 14, 2020.
Flying participants completed roughly 560 sorties and racked up approximately 1,500 flying hours which contributed to the pilots gaining the confidence needed to execute combat operations.
“The exercise went amazing. We had a lot of challenges, the biggest one being COVID(-19), but we were able to overcome that,” said Lt. Col. Gregory Hunger, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron commander. “We were able to reduce the footprint of COVID(-19) without sacrificing the training and the high-end combat capability that participants will walk away with.”
Typically, planning for a RF-A begins eight months prior to an exercise, but planning was compacted into a much shorter time period for this iteration.
“For this exercise, it was six weeks prior when we were given the ‘go ahead’ and what the units were going to be doing,” Hunger said. “The team at the 353rd CTS and the whole 354th Fighter Wing pitched in to make it happen.”
This iteration of RF-A may have been smaller in comparison to previous years; however, fifth-generation participants ensured there was no shortage of airpower. The lineup consisted of F-35A Lightning IIs from Eielson and Hill AFB, Utah, along with F-22 Raptors from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
B-1B Lancers assigned to the 37th Bomb Squadron out of Ellsworth AFB, S.D., KC-135 Stratotankers assigned to the 97th Air Refueling Squadron out of Fairchild AFB, Wash., and the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th ARS supported combat scenarios throughout the two-week exercise.
In addition to all the action in the sky, survival, evasion, reconnaissance and escape, or SERE, Airmen assisted special operations personnel with ground operations.
“Anytime we get a chance to participate in Red Flag it’s instrumental to our training,” said Maj. Matthew Roland, a 37th BS B-1 pilot. “We get to integrate with additional fifth-generation fighters and see the realistic air war. It presents us a new picture and we can train to a more realistic situation.”
The 18th Aggressor Squadron runs the red side of RF-A. Its mission, which is to know, teach and replicate threats to prepare pilots for real-world enemy forces stayed the same, but the squadron’s F-16 Fighting Falcons elevated training with their new teammates.
“One of the main ways we are going to challenge the fifth-generation is to utilize fifth-generation platforms to augment our forces and show the participants a fifth-generation threat,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Kinsey, 18th AGRS commander.
F-35s were first introduced to RF-A during this iteration, which opens the door for future fifth-generation participation from both national and international participants.
“As we go into the future for Red Flag(s), it’s going to be fifth-generation,” Hunger said. “This is a good opportunity to get our foot into the water to see what the temperature is and then we can really start ramping it up.”