Red Flag 16-1
The first scheduled Red Flag of 2016 began on January 25, 2016 and concluded February 12, 2016. Aircraft from 24 different U.S. Air Force and Navy squadrons participated along with aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Air Force U.K.
A few of the more notable participants from U.S. forces included the F-16CJs from the 157th Fighter Squadron, F-16CMs from the 510th Fighter Squadron and the P-8A Poseidon from Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45)
The 157th Fighter Squadron, nicknamed “Swamp Fox” was among a number of F-16s to take part in the exercises. The 157th FS based at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Columbia, SC. The unit has been operating the F-16CJ since 1995 when they transitioned out of their F-16A/Bs. The squadron was one of only two ANG F-16 units to participate in Desert Storm and one of a few Air National Guard units operating the HARM Targeting System (HTS) equipped F-16C Block 52 Fighting Falcon.
The High speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) Targeting Pod System (HTS) allows the F-16 Block 50/52 pilot faster and more accurate target engagement when tasked with Suppression of Enemy Air Defense (SEAD) missions. The HTS pod is mounted on the side of F-16 aircraft providing the pilot essential combat identification capabilities for air patrols over the battlefield. The HTS can detect, locate and identify ground-based emitters. It incorporates a precision geolocation capability to target Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) into the AN/ASQ 213 Pod. F-16 Block 50/52s are able to carry both an AN/ASQ-213 HTS R7 Pod and an Advanced Targeting Pod, by relocating the HTS pod to the aircraft’s left inlet hard point. The system uses an integral GPS receiver, a digital receiver, and a new power supply. It incorporates new software to enable the user to pinpoint the location of hostile emitters using multi-ship techniques.
It is widely thought that the 157th Fighter Squadron will be re-equipped with the F-35A Lightning II early in its roll-out to active duty USAF units since the South Carolina ANG has had a history of receiving the latest equipment when it has become available.
Another notable F-16 participant at this Red Flag was the 510th Fighter Squadron, based at Aviano Air Base in Italy. The unit operates F-16CM Block 40 aircraft. The squadron, known as the “Buzzards”, are part of the 31st Fighter Wing along with the 555th FS and provide combat airpower to U.S. and NATO forces for NATO’s southern region. They are the only fighter wing south of the Alps. The unit performs air and space control and force application roles of counter-air, strategic attack, and counter-land including interdiction and close-air support. The 510th FS was the first to drop the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) during Operation Southern Watch in 2002. The weapon was then permanently cleared for operational use throughout the air force.
The 510th led the Tactical Air Forces with the first combat use of Night Vision Goggles in an F-16 during Operation Deliberate Guard. They were also one of the first F-16 units to become Forward Air Controllers (FAC-A), and first to employ as FAC-A’s in combat in F-16s.
The squadron presently employs a full range of the latest state-of-the-art precision ordnance in support of the joint, NATO, and combined operations.
One of the few U.S. Navy participants was Patrol Squadron 45 (VP-45), nicknamed the “Pelicans”. VP-45 operates six P-8As out of NAS Jacksonville, FL. The P-8A (Poseidon) was developed by Boeing as a replacement for the aging P-3 Orion fleet. Boeing adapted the 737-800ERX platform but used wings from the 737-900. Mission profiles flown by the P-8 include Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare, Maritime Patrol, High-Altitude Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Command, Control and Communications (C3) and providing standoff targeting for other U.S. Navy assets.
The United States has committed to acquiring 117 P-8s to replace their fleet of 196 P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft which are approaching the end of their operational lives. Australia has ordered eight aircraft, with four more on option. Delivery of the first P-8A to Australia will take place in 2017 and all eight aircraft will achieve full operational capability in 2021. These aircraft will replace the Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion that has served Australia so well for more than four decades. Other countries that will operate the P-8 include India and the U.K. which both have orders for the P-8 to replace aging aircraft in their fleets.
The P-8’s room for future growth includes increased capability known as Increment II and Increment III. This will add wideband Satellite Communications equipment, a High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) Air Launch Accessory (ALA), turning a Mark 54 torpedo into a glide bomb for deploying from up to 30,000 feet and inflight refueling capability. Needless to say, the P-8 will be a very capable aircraft.
A few of the more notable NATO participants at Red Flag 16-1 were the F/A-18F Super Hornets from No. 1 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force, F/A18A Hornets from 75 Squadron (RAAF) and Typhoons from 3(F) Squadron of the Royal Air Force U.K.
No. 1 Squadron Based at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Amberley, Queensland, forms part of No. 82 Wing and operates the F/A-18F Super Hornet. No. 1 squadron was the first to transition from the General Dynamics F-111C to the Super Hornet beginning in March 2010. They were also the first designated Super Hornet squadron outside of the United States of America. The squadron is nicknamed the “Fighting First”. The RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet gives Australia an upgraded air combat capability for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions until the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) comes into full service. Twenty-four Super Hornets replaced the F-111s at No. 1 and No. 6 Squadrons at RAAF Base Amberley. From September 2014 to March 2015, a detachment of Australian Super Hornets was deployed to the Middle East as part of the military intervention against ISIS.
In 2013, the Australian government had announced plans to purchase 12 EA-18 Growlers to supplement the Super Hornet fleet. No. 6 Squadron is expected to begin taking delivery of the Growlers in 2017, and its Super Hornets would then be transferred to No. 1 Squadron. The government also plans to purchase an additional 58 F-35s to replace the 71 “classic” Hornets the RAAF operates. According to Australian Aviation, continuing delays to the F-35 program have made it likely that the Super Hornets of No. 1 and No. 6 Squadrons will continue operations rather than being disposed of early as originally planned meaning that they will continue to operate well into their 20 year service life.
A second fighter squadron participating from the RAAF was No. 75 Squadron which operates F/A-18A and F/A-18B variants of the Hornet. The squadron has been operating from RAAF Base Tindal since 1988. They are the largest F/A-18 unit in the RAAF. The fleet has recently undergone a major avionics upgrade to ensure effective operations for the next 10 years. In March 2015 six F/A-18As deployed to the Middle East during Operation Okra in support of the military intervention against ISIS. No. 75 Squadron Hornets replaced a detachment of six F/A-18F Super Hornets from No. 1 Squadron. The Squadron was deployed to the Middle East until September 2015, when it handed over to the next rotation.
The U.K. sent No. 3 Squadron to Red Flag with the newest variant of the Eurofighter Typhoon known as T3, or “Tranche 3”. The squadron is based at RAF Coningsby, Lincolnshire. They were the first front-line RAF Squadron to be equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon. The Typhoon T3 appears to be the same as the T2 version. However, one of a few differences is a number of small panels on the fuselage which will accommodate the fitting of conformal fuel tanks. Once fitted, they will add greater range and free up positions under the aircraft for larger or additional weapons.
“Under the skin, at the nose, a new internal structure has been built and new power, cooling and electronics were fitted for the new E-Scan radar. The MBDA Storm Shadow missile which is an air-launched cruise missile can now be carried by the Typhoon T3. Also added to the weapons system was the Meteor which is the next generation Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) system. The Meteor is guided by an advanced active radar seeker. It provides all weather capability to engage a wide variety of targets from agile fast jets to small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and cruise missiles. It is capable of operating in the most severe of clutter and countermeasure environments. The weapon is equipped with data link communication and can be operated using third party data. The RAF will eventually have 40 T3 variants of the Typhoon.
The 21st century has been seen more and more electronic warfare which seems to be a dominant theme at Red Flag exercises which help the U.S. and its allies to hone their skills to defeat known and unknown future threats. I would like to thank the Public Affairs Office and their personnel.
Article and Pictures By: Ed Rivera