EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, ALASKA --
Over 150 Airmen from the 180th Fighter Wing traveled to Alaska representing the Ohio National Guard in a two-week, multi-national exercise called, Red Flag May 4th - 15th, 2015 at Eielson Air Force Base.
Eielson AFB is home to Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC). One of the world's largest airspaces, it's made up of 67,000 square miles of diverse flying space, varied land mass and large bombing ranges.
Over five times the size of the only other Red Flag location in the country, JPARC offers a unique terrain of tundra, rolling hills and mountains providing pilots the most realistic combat flying conditions they can encounter while in a training environment.
"The purpose of Red Flag is to validate our training, integrate with fellow fighter and support squadrons, and optimize a strategic plan to win the air war," said Lt. Col. Scott Schaupeter, 180th Fighter Wing Red Flag project officer and fighter pilot. "It's a unique opportunity because we get to train and fight together with our coalition partners and active duty counterparts all for the same team integrating our flying maneuvers."
Eight different air frames flew together as "the good guys," or blue air, in the mock training war against "aggressors," or red air. Eielson AFB houses an "aggressor" squadron of F-16 aircraft that are painted in enemy colors, fly using enemy maneuvers and attack with a vast range of flying tactics to give the blue air the most complex training possible. This is a close to a real-world combat fight they can receive in training.
Aggressors simulate taking off as enemy alert fighters from varying national airfields around the world. Typically, Red Flag exercises fly approximately 10 aggressor aircraft in each mission against blue. The blue force is approximately 50 aircraft consisting of F-16's, F-15's, F-22's and F-18's, allowing numerous fighter squadrons from the U.S. and Canada to fly and fight together.
"Missions at Red Flag are targeted to provide new fighter pilots their first ten 'combat missions,' which historically are where fighters had their greatest losses." said Maj. Brian Hoose, a 180th Fighter pilot. "The experience we get here allows us to plan, execute, develop new strategies and debrief with other squadrons and airframes, something that we can't get all in one place at home station."
In addition to air-to-air training, the vast air and land space of JPARC gave pilots the opportunity to practice air-to-ground training and two downed Airman exercises. A downed Airman scenario allows ground crew to receive training in signaling and evading the enemy while working with friendly forces in the sky. The pilots get training on finding and coordinating the rescue of those downed Airmen while fending off the attacks by red air.
"The pilots and ground personnel will be expected to respond accordingly to the downed Airmen scenario by locating and recovering the simulated downed aircrew while also defending against enemy attacks," said Schaupeter. "This is one of the most challenging and dynamic scenarios any friendly force will face."
Capt. Roy Poor, a 180th fighter pilot, traveled to the extraction zone participating as one of the "downed Airman". Working alongside several combat search and rescue professionals, he was dropped into a live range with one goal, to escape.
"It is very comforting to know that those CSAR professionals are out there and always ready to risk their lives to get us home from enemy territory," said Poor, as the adrenaline rush started fading away. "It allows us to focus 100% on the mission at hand and not worry about the what ifs."
CSAR professionals go through intense training to become experts in search, evasion, resistance and escape tactics to teach aircrew and pilots how to survive in the event they become stranded in enemy territory and need extracted.
"Practicing all the steps it takes to get friendly forces to you on the ground in enemy territory is an invaluable experience that I hope to never have to use," Poor said. "But I am very thankful to have had the opportunity."
Red Flag Alaska goes beyond just the flying mission to provide a training environment for non-flyers who get hands on experience along with building comradery with their fellow Airmen.
"The 180th Fighter Wing maintenance and support personnel are world class," said Schaupeter. "They will be challenged with the dynamic demands of the tactical scenario and sortie generation requirements while ensuring our jets are mission-ready."
The fast-paced, high-volume number of flights per day gives ground crews training in pre, through and post flights inspections, marshalling, re-fueling, launching of the jet and loading and downloading live and simulated bombs.
"We wake-up the jet and follow it through the day every step of the way until shift change," said Master Sgt. Mike Sims, a maintenance crew chief. "It really gives us a sense of purpose because if the jet isn't ready the sortie can't be accomplished."
"Maintenance is critical to success at Red Flag, just as much as combat operations," said Hoose. "They ensure the aircraft is mission ready with all systems operational, weapons loaded and on time, ultimately helping us succeed in defeating aggressor forces with bombs on the right target at the right time."
"This exercise gives our Airmen the chance to train alongside our joint and coalition partners," said Col. Craig Baker, 180th Fighter Wing commander. "Red Flag is the Air Force's premier combat training exercise designed to expose the youngest Airmen to intensive combat sorties in the safety of a training environment."