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News | July 26, 2007

Elmendorf, coalition forces hone skills at RED FLAG-Alaska

By Tech. Sgt. Mikal Canfield 3rd Wing Public Affairs

One minute, you're listening to an Airman via video teleconference who is briefing you on today's threats. A short time later, you're in a C-17, skimming the tree tops of the rugged Alaska terrain, preparing to drop equipment to forces on the ground. This is just another day at RED FLAG-Alaska. 

RED FLAG-Alaska is a series of field training exercises for U.S. forces, providing joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. This is the third RF-A exercise this year. 

Although the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, has overall command of RF-A operations, Detachment 1, 353rd Combat Training Squadron at Elmendorf has been just as busy. The unit here works in coordination with the 353 CTS at Eielson to plan, support, execute, and evaluate RF-A exercises. 

"All Elmendorf participants are part of the 'blue forces' providing the bulk of the air-to-air assets (F-15), all airlift assets (C-17/C-130), all airborne command/control assets (E-3/E-767), half the 'suppression of enemy air defenses' assets (EA-6), and a Spanish B-707 tanker," said Lt. Col. Reggie Smith, Det. 1, 353rd CTS commander. 

"At Eielson, the professionally-trained aggressors provide 'red forces' - also known as the opposing force - in the form of specially painted F-15 and F-16 aircraft to simulate the whole gamut of potential enemy aircraft," he added. "In addition, Eielson 'blue force' participants comprise all of the strike aircraft (F-15E, F-16, F-18), remaining tankers (KC-135), remaining air-to-air players (JASDF F-15J), half the 'suppression of enemy air defenses' assets (Navy S-3), plus ground support teams." 

C-17s of the 517th Airlift Squadron - aircraft that have only been at Elmendorf since early June when they officially replaced C-130s at the base - are already getting valuable experience on Alaska's vast training ranges. 

"Today's mission for the C-17s was a two-ship airdrop, low-level ingress/egress to multiple drop zones for simulated and actual airdrops," said Capt. Chuck Morris, 517th AS Operations Flight commander. "Our scenario dealt with troop resupply as part of the strike package." 

The base's C-17s aren't the only local aircraft participating, as F-15Cs from the 19th Fighter Squadron and an E-3B from the 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron are also exercise participants. Aircraft and personnel from other Air Force bases, the U.S. Navy, NATO (multi-national), Spanish Air Force, Japan Air Self Defense Force and Royal Thai Air Force are also playing big roles in RF-A, giving personnel who typically don't work together a chance to garner valuable training in a coalition environment. 

"RED FLAG-Alaska provides an incredible opportunity to develop, refine, and train to those skill sets necessary for successful coalition warfare. Each of our coalition partners brings a unique set of perspectives, tactics, capabilities, and specialties to the fight," said Colonel Smith. "Through the RF-A venue, all participating countries gain a better understanding of each other and leave the exercise better prepared to face the next contingency as a cohesive team. RF-A fosters lasting multinational relationships, building coalition bonds between the United States and our worldwide partners." 

Approximately 25 aircraft and more than 600 personnel are participating in this particular Red Flag-Alaska, and many more took part in the first two RF-A exercises here. The fourth and final exercise is scheduled for October. These exercises provide participants an opportunity to do more than just refine combat flying skills. 

"Many of the 'fog of war' variables such as communication, coordination, tactical compatibility, and interoperability are addressed through the daily planning, interaction, and execution of RF-A," Colonel Smith added. "It's easy to think of RF-A as the scrimmage before the 'big game,' but it makes sense to practice like you are going to play. RF-A provides a safe, controlled environment where participants experience the stress of combat without the high risk of combat. Our goal is to provide eight-to-10 simulated combat missions with enough realism to develop those skill sets necessary to survive and win in actual wartime conditions." 

For Elmendorf's C-17s, the training provides a rare chance to hone skills aircrews wouldn't be able to practice otherwise. 

"RED FLAG-Alaska training is amazing, especially for heavy crews. It is a part of the Air Force's war-fighting capability that we seldom get the opportunity to train for," said Captain Morris. "Flying as part of a large force exercise is a challenge and most heavy crews don't get such a great opportunity. Integrating with international and coalition AF players highlights what aspects of training we need to work on as a community, and the training environment in Alaska is perfect for it."