Red Flag 16-2
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The second Red Flag exercise of 2016 took place February 29 through March 11 and included over 75 aircraft from 23 units of the US Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army and NATO partners which included the Turkish Air Force (TAF) and the Aeronautica Militare Italiana’s (AMI – Italian Air Force). Red Flag exercises take place day and night for two to three weeks at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, to conduct realistic combat scenarios across the domains of air, space and cyber space.
The Italian Air Force participated with 8 of their Eurofighter EF 2000 Typhoons from 4º Stormo (4th Wing) based at Grosseto Air Base, Gioia del Colle. This was the first Red Flag to include the Italian Eurofighter Typhoon.
4º Stormo is the oldest wing in the Italian Air Force, which spans in excess of 80 years of continuous activity from 1931 through present day. 4º Stormo has two gruppi (squadrons) equipped with EF 2000 Typhoons, the 9th fighter squadron and the 20th Fighter Squadron. The 20th Fighter Squadron flies the two seat variant for training new pilots.
On March 16th 2004 4º Stormo became the first unit in AMI service to fly the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon. Designated as the F-2000A (single-seat) and F-2000B (twin-seat) by the Italian’s. Italy has ordered 62 Eurofighters to date. The AMI was the first of any of the Eurofighter partner nations to establish a QRA facility. They were also the first to get NATO Quick Response Force certification and they were the first to provide air policing for NATO nations that were lacking the capability. The Typhoon replaces the F-104 Starfighters and F-16 Fighting Falcons that were part of the “Peace Caesar” program on a 10 year lease from the US Air Force. The Typhoon offers a huge advance in capability over its predecessors as the AMI Typhoons are dedicated air superiority fighters. 4º Stormo supports NATO’s ‘air policing’ role involving Iceland and the Baltic states in addition to providing air defence for Albania and Slovenia since early in 2010. 4º Stormo is also involved in supporting Switzerland’s limited QRA mission.
Besides its key partnership role in the Eurofighter program Italy is also a key player in the Lockheed Martin F-35 program assembling Italian F-35s at its Cameri Final Assembly and Checkout Facility. The first F-35 rolled out of the factory in March 2015 -. Italy has plans to order 60 F-35A and 15 F-35B 5th generation fighters.
F-15Es from the 4th Fighter Wing, 336th Fighter squadron, Seymour Johnson AFB along with F-16s from the 20th Fighter wing, 77th Fighter Squadron out of Shaw AFB worked with F-16s from the Turkish Air Force. The 6 Turkish AF F-16s that participated at Red Flag were from 132 Filo (Fighter Squadron) and 141 Filo (Fighter Squadron).
132 Filo operates F-16 Block 40/50 aircraft from the 3rd Main Jet Base at Konya. The Konya 3rd Main Jet Base Group Command was the base of NATO’s AWACS aircraft during the Iraq war. Konya was a Turkish F-100 base in the mid-1970s. Air forces from Israel, Turkey, and the United States conducted their first joint exercises at the air base, codenamed Anatolian Eagle, in June 2001. Konya hosts one of the country’s most active naval bases, where hundreds of pilots undergo initial training in flying F-16 fighter jets.
141 Filo also operates F-16 Block 40/50 aircraft and was the first operational F-16 squadron in the Turkish Air Force in 1989. The first order of the Turkish military was for 160 F-16s build under Peace Onyx I. The first aircraft were built to block 30 standards. After airframe no. 43, the production shifted to block 40 versions. All aircraft delivered to 141 Filo were rotated with 142 Filo so that the squadron could receive the newest block, with more advanced weapons at its disposal.
The F-16 replaced Turkey’s F-104G Starfighters, like most European NATO countries. The primary mission of the squadron was air defense, with a secondary attack role. It did not change with the introduction of the F-16. It just replaced the F-104 with a newer one with more capabilities. They also provide a dedicated strike role with Nuclear weapons are stored at Incirlik AB. The squadron is relocated there in case of such an emergency.
The Turkish Air Force currently operates some 240 F-16 Fighting Falcons and has plans to order as many as 116 F-35A fighter jets. Turkey is a level 3 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program. They are also thinking about developing their own fighter jet with Sweden’s Saab or South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) so they can be less dependent on the United States. The current Turkish Air Force fighter jet fleet consists of US fighter aircraft only.
The Turkish F-16s completed their long overseas trip to Nellis AFB with aerial refueling assistance from 2 KC-135Rs from 101ARS based at the 10th Tanker Base, Incirlik Turkey. The Turkish Air Force currently operates seven KC-135R aircraft.
During Red Flag 16-2 the U.S. Air Force and Turkish air force flew KC-135s together in formation for the first time in their histories. This took place on March 8, over the Nevada Test and Training Range northeast of Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. A 350th Air Refueling Squadron instructor pilot flew with a Turkish KC-135 crew and a Turkish Air Force 101st Air Refueling Squadron commander flew with an American crew during the second week of Red Flag 16-2. The exchange during the exercise allowed both countries’ tanker units to observe their differences and similarities in how their tanker crews perform their missions.
The Turkish Air Force is no stranger to participating in joint exercises. Every year, its air forces participate in numerous NATO, joint and bi-lateral exercises. Turkey itself is home to several exercises similar to Red Flag aimed at helping its own country build a more mature and capable force. However, Red Flag presents its own unique challenges.
U.S. Capt. Alex Durstein, 344th ARS pilot said: “The ability to interoperate air refueling operations with our Turkish allies showcases a distinct capability while demonstrating new methods of tanker employment. The lessons learned at Red Flag will help advance integration with our NATO partners and provide future coalition combatant commanders with increased operational flexibility.”
As always, I would like to say a special thanks to the public affairs office of Nellis Air Force Base.
Article by Eduardo Rivera