As part of the 388th Fighter Wing’s ‘lead wing’ role at Red Flag, Airmen from the 388th Operations Support Squadron’s Intelligence Flight are scoping out the Red Air adversary.
The 388th FW is based at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Red Flag is conducted at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and the Nevada Test and Training Range.
During three weeks at Red Flag, a friendly “Blue Force” (a variety of fighter, bomber, command-and-control, and tanker aircraft) takes on an equally integrated enemy “Red Force” in simulated combat missions that grow progressively more complex.
“Our fighter squadron and wing intelligence team are working tirelessly to support the flying operation,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Redmond, 421st Fighter Squadron commander. “Every day they come to work with the goal of informing our team with knowledge so that we can compete and win. Red Flag is no different for them than it is for young wingman — it is an experience that translates to resiliency under pressure.”
To lay the groundwork for successful missions, 388th OSS intelligence Airmen in the Combat Intelligence Cell, gather, analyze and distribute critical information on the Red Force’s strength, size, movement, and capabilities.
“Real-world, our job is collecting and analyzing aggregated data from several different high-end intelligence systems,” said Captain James Cunningham, acting senior intelligence officer for the 388th Fighter Wing. “Here at Red Flag, the exercise planners craft that data on a daily basis, and our analysts pull that in a raw form and sift through it to create products.”
Analysts take that imagery and information and research everything from the terrain and roads, to the opposing unit’s hierarchy. They build a cohesive picture of the threats and targets and pass the information along to mission planners, who work together to build a battle plan for each mission’s unique problem sets.
“This is the first Red Flag that we’ve also had targeting analysts really being put to the test,” said Cunningham. “We have weaponeers who are looking at hundreds of targets and recommending which weapon and method of employment is best suited for each target.”
This is also the first time the shop has provided this “robust” of a capability for not only the F-35 but for all the other intel personnel supporting each platform at Red Flag, including the A-10, B-2, B-52, E-3, E-7A, E-8, EA-18G, EC-130, F-15E, F-16C, F-22, F-35, FGR4, HC-130, KC-135, MH-60, MQ-9, RC-135 and RQ-4.
“This is my first Red Flag and it’s definitely been a great challenge and opportunity to do some in depth analysis, researching systems and platforms,” said Aiman 1st Class Jackson Lindseth, 388th OSS intelligence analyst. “We know that the products and information that we are producing are helping pilots be more lethal and survivable on their mission.”
Red Flag provides critical training for younger Airmen like Lindseth to work with other airframes, services, and allied nations.
“High-end realistic training is a must,” said Cunningham. “In today’s likely combat scenarios, we’re not thinking about operating in permissive air environments anymore as we have for the past two decades. This gives our young folks the opportunity to work on problem sets in a high-intensity environment.”
Each mission usually includes some combination of offensive or defensive counter-air, suppression of enemy air defenses, and even combat search and rescue, said Cunningham. Scenarios are aimed at replicating what Airmen may face against a “pacing threat,” like China or Russia, and require a combination of platforms and capabilities to successfully plan.
“Without these fifth generation assets, like the F-35 and the F-22, it would be really, really tough to tackle the problem sets we’re seeing at Red Flag,” said Cunningham. “No one platform is going to be able to do it alone. When we go to war, we go together, so we practice and test those here. Red Flag is the crucible.”