FAA, Nellis AFB partner to expand Red Flag airspace arena

The 414th Combat Training Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and the Federal Aviation Administration have collaborated to expand the available training area during Red Flag-Nellis 22-3 by almost three times the size as prior iterations.

This is the first red flag exercise featuring dedicated fifth-generation aggressors, who are using longer-range offensive and defensive measures to provide exercise participants more realistic threat replication. The expansion of the airspace has allowed for training to more closely align with the National Defense Strategy’s focus on the pacing challenge.

“The airspace expansion agreement is a critical bridge that allows Red Flag to more accurately replicate an advanced threat,” said Lt. Col. Jonah R. Brown, Director of Operations for the 65th Aggressor Squadron.

The partnership with the FAA consists of connecting the airspaces of the Nevada and Utah Test and Training Ranges and the R-2508 Complex through airspace corridors. Connecting the ranges almost triples the area being used for combat training to a total of nearly 36,000 square miles of airspace.

The 414th CTS conducts three Red Flag exercises Annually to provide aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment. Red Flag is designed to simulate the first 10 combat sorties for a pilot in order to increase their survivability in battle.

Prior Red Flag exercises have been held within the Nevada Test and Training Range airspace alone, a 12,000-square-nautical mile range that provides a realistic arena for operational testing and training aircrews to improve combat readiness.

“As our adversary capabilities have advanced with respect to both aircraft and longer-range weapons, the size of the Nevada Test and Training Range has become one of the biggest limiting factors to accurate training,” said Brown. “The air bridges between the NTTR, the UTTR, and R-2508 in California enable Red Flag to present Blue forces the necessary range and time to accurately train against our adversary’s most advanced capabilities.”

“In the past, Red Flag has only flown in the NTTR with their assets,” said Mr. Richard Johnston, 57th Operations Support Squadron chief of airspace management.

Although this is the first time Red Flag is using the airspace expansion, the partnership with the FAA to expand the training area is not new. Johnston said the FAA understands the military’s needs. When it comes to the testing and fielding of fifth-generation and soon-to-be sixth-generation aircraft, more airspace will be needed to operate and optimize their systems in an environment as close to what warfighters would see in conflict.

According to Johnston, this current expansion is just one step in a plan to expand exercise airspace even further.

“We came up with a proposal that we’re going to send to the FAA, asking to connect all of the ranges on the west coast,” said Johnston.

“To train like we would fight in wartime, it is necessary to have a larger airspace,” said Brown.

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