Orange Flag 22-1 combines with Black Flag, coalition partners to meet joint test objectives

Orange Flag 22-1 took place Feb. 16, 2022, with new objectives, including the integration of the RAAF E-7 “Wedgetail” and long-range infrared technology development.

Orange Flag serves as the nation’s premier proving ground for kill-web integration, advanced capability development, and data-driven experimentation. Since 2017, the all-domain large force test event has been carried out three times annually by the Air Force Test Center’s 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

Each Orange Flag event connects sensors and shooters across all domains, fortifies kill-chain nodes, and identifies platform weaknesses using a data-driven approach.

In previous events, Orange Flag facilitated the connection of two geographically separated large force test events through an operationally representative, internet-based tactical data link, and successfully transmitted targetable tracks over 1,700 nautical miles. In the same event last year, the Skyborg Vanguard program core software flew on an MQ-20, bringing autonomous aircraft to large force testing for the first time.

“The number one objective for Orange Flag in 22-1 was to integrate the RAAF E-7 ‘Wedgetail’ into our coalition network infrastructure,” said Maj. D. Isaiah “Knots” Harp, Orange Flag director. “This integration aimed at increasing technical confidence in coalition warfare in PACOM, and also at gathering rigorous performance data to increase our understanding of E-7 capabilities and interoperability.”

OF 22-1 marked the first time that a Royal Australian Air Force aircraft was scheduled to participate in an LFTE. Unfortunately, spectrum coordination issues between the Air Force and FAA prevented the E-7 from participating.

“It was a tremendous opportunity to test together, train together, and acquire together,” said Harp. “The data we could have gathered in this event would have provided coalition leadership at the highest levels with actionable information to fight tonight in Pacific Command. We’re deeply disappointed that we lost this objective, but we still accomplished 4 hours of productive test.”

In fact, the LFTE still accomplished another 24 participant objectives, impacting billions of dollars in acquisition programs. These included advanced sensors, on-orbit space systems, and multiple C2 platforms.

“One of the strengths of Orange Flag is that we do not put all of our eggs in one basket,” said Harp. “If we lose one platform, we still accomplish a huge number of test objectives in a small amount of time, for very little overhead.”

A secondary objective of the Test Flag Event was to further long-range infrared technology development. Orange Flag saw nine aircraft testing IR sensors, and 13 platforms being characterized in the IR spectrum for over an hour of test in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

A General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger unmanned vehicle prepares for taxi at El Mirage Airfield, Calif. June 24, 2021. The MQ-20 Avenger was flown during the Edwards Air Force Base’s Orange Flag 21-2. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Tabatha Arellano)

By combining Orange and Black Flag into a joint LFTE, airspaces of R-2515, R-2508, and the Nevada Test and Training Range combined into one unbroken test range of thousands of square miles.

“This size of the range is a basic imperative for modern test and modern tactics,” said Harp. “Shared resources allowed aircraft flying in our LFTE to be a target and a test platform at the same time.”

Combined developmental and operational test principles allowed developmental test participants from Orange Flag characterizing sensors, while operational test participants from Black Flag assessed survivability.

OF 22-2 is slated for June 23, and solicits the participation of any materiel solutions related to modern, joint, all-domain operations. In particular, this summer’s iteration is focused on the test of autonomous systems. OF encourages the participation of systems at any technological readiness level — including virtual and constructive participants to understand the state-of-the-art in autonomous system testing in the Defense Department.

For more information on the Test Flag Enterprise, visit https://www.aftc.af.mil/Test-Flag-Enterprise/

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