Red Flag Experience

RED FLAG Experience

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RED FLAG is held 4 times a year and this Exercise combine different assets. The purpose of the Exercise is to give pilots from the U.S., NATO and other allied countries an opportunity to practice and refine their skills for real combat situations. This includes the use of “enemy” hardware and live ammunition for bombing exercises within the Nellis complex. There are two teams, the good guys (Blue Team) and the aggressors (Red Team). The Red Team is composed of specialized squadron like the 64th Aggressors where pilots are specially trained for this purpose, flying the F-16 aircraft. Red flag 16-2 also involve for the 1st time 435th Fighter Training Squadron from Randolph AFB and 88th Fighter Training Squadron from Sheppard AFB flying the T-38C doing the red force. We are seeing a lot more T38 being use as Aggressors just like the Navy using the F5n in aggressor dedicated role squadron like the VFC-13 Saints and VFC-111 Sundowners. The F5 and T38 platform makes a good simulation of the MIG-21 that most of the aggressors are still flying.  Draken, a civilian own company was also contracted to do Aggressor role flying Ex New Zealander’s A-4 Skyhawks.  The Blue Team is composed of the various guest “players” in their native aircraft.

Generally, The red team sets up at the west side of the Nellis Ranges, while The Blue Team sets up in the east. Both teams usually meet in the airspace west and north of Rachel, where they engage in very realistic dogfights and other missions.

2016 started strong so far with Red Flag 16-1 and currently Red Flag 16-2 held from Feb 29 to Mar 11th. 16-2 is a considerable smaller Exercise than the 16-1 with 75 aircraft where there is almost more than 120 aircraft partition on the first one. We will concentrate on Red Flag 16-2 emphasizing on the different air assets and the different experience we could get when visiting Nellis AFB. Here are the Units listed for this Red flag 16-2.

– 53rd Wing, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, F-15C, Nellis AFB, Nevada ( Blue Force)
– 4th Fighter Wing, 336th Fighter Squadron, F-15E, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina ( Blue Force)
– 432nd Wing, MQ-9, Ellsworth AFB, S.D./Creech AFB, Nevada ( Blue Force)
– 12th Fighter Wing, 435th Fighter Training Squadron, AT-38C, Randolph AFB, Texas ( Red Force)
– 94th Airlift Wing, 700th Airlift Squadron, C-130H3, Dobbins ARB, Georgia ( Blue Force)
– 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Fighter Squadron, F-16CM, Shaw AFB, South Carolina ( Blue Force)
– 82nd Fighter Training Wing, 88th Fighter Training Squadron, AT-38C, Sheppard AFB, Texas ( Red Force)
– 552nd Air Control Wing, 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, E-3B/C/G, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma ( Blue Force)
– 2nd Bomb Wing, 96th Bomb Squadron, B-52, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana ( Blue Force)
– Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, MH-60, Naval Air Station North Island, California
– Italian Air Force, 4th Fighter Wing, Eurofighter F2000-A, Grosseto, Italy ( Blue Force)
– 22nd Air Refueling Wing, KC-135, McConnell AFB, Kansas
– Turkish Air Force 132 Fighter Squadron & 141Fighter Squadron, F-16, 3rd & 4th Main Jet Bases, Turkey ( Blue Force)
– Turkish Air Force, 101 Air Refueling Squadron, KC-135R, 10th Tanker Base, Turkey( Blue Force)
– 57th Wing, 64th Aggressor Squadron, F-16C, Nellis AFB, Nevada ( Red Force)
– 28th Bomb Wing, 34th Bomb Squadron, B-1B, Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota ( Blue Force)


Photographing Red flag from the inside.

2 runway runs parallel to each other for Nellis AFB ( KSLV)  03 ( L and R) and 21 ( L and R) of approximately 10,000 ft in length that can support from Fighter jets to the biggest bombes we have. We were in between two runway thus giving us a good perspective, distance in the varying afternoon Vegas sun.  All Red flag starts with the Heavies taking off at about 1230pm The tanker usually goes up 1st and while Red Flag 16-2 have quite a good support on the KC-135 both from the USAF and Turkish AF KC-135 units and we counted 4 tankers on the mass launch. B-52H took the center stage when 8 of those Smokey jet engine came to roar. The Unmistakable Las Vegas backdrop and a smokey BUFF coming at you is quite a scene. We counted 2x B-52H from 96th Bomb Squadron, B-52, Barksdale AFB do a slow and graceful take off and ended with black smoke on the North side of Las Vegas speedway.

Tanker by Serial number

KC-135 McConnell 58-0061, 62-3551
KC-135 Turkey 60-0326, 62-3563
KC-135 Utah 57-1435

B-52H by Serial Number

B-52 LA 20BS 60-0008/8AF, 61-0013

The Bones or B-1B came next and 4 of those GE F-101 engine thundering in your nose 30 to 40 yds away can be quite an experience. The roar, smell and concussion of those engine makes you feel the power of the Bones and have full respect of this bird.  The B1B have gone through a comprehensive upgrades so the cold war days of low level penetrating nuclear strike capability of this strategic bomber have been change to a more robust conventional and anti-terrorist warfare scenario of the 21st century. The notable mounting of the Sniper XR pod on the starboard side gives the Bones precision strike capability plus the Block D and E suite that enable the “Bones” to have upgrade added Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), ALE-50 Towed Decoy System, and anti-jam radios. Block E upgraded the avionics computers and incorporated the Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD), the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) and the AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air to Surface Standoff Munition). By 2019 the B-1B will have a new suite of upgrades including the vertical situation display upgrade (VDSU) shall replace existing flight instruments with multifunction color displays, a second display shall aid threat evasion and targeting, and act as a back-up display. Also adding to that the replacement of the APQ-164 radar with the Scalable Agile Beam Radar – Global Strike (SABR-GS) AESA radar.

B-1B by Serial Number

B-1 EL 34BS 85-0072, 85-0079
B-1 EL yellow/blue 85-0066/28BW

We were fortunate to have got the E-3G launching with the heavies on this mission which in the past, AWACS launch was usually left for the night mission. 552nd Air Control Wing, 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, E-3B/C/G, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma did a single ship launch which also shows a 2nd jet on the hot ramp.

The Fighter jets launch started with the Aggressors from 64th Aggressors of Nellis AFB. They currently fly the F-16C Blk 25 and 32 version simulating enemy gen 3 and 4 aircraft. The 64th Aggressors spot with the most color camouflage pattern and Eastern bloc BORD number whereby in this Exercise we have the Blue Flanker Camo, Desert Flanker Camo, Artic Camo, Blizzard and Lizard Camouflage pattern. These pattern mimic the Eastern Bloc MIG-29, SU27 and other adversaries. The camouflage pattern is discussed in detail in this article

The Turkish Air Force flew in 2 squadrons of F-16 of the Blk 40 and 50 variants coming from the 132 Filo (Fighter Squadron) and 141 Filo (Fighter Squadron).Two aircrafts with special demo markings was present during this deployment.

Turkish F-16 by serial number

88-0035, 89-0037, 89-0044, 90-0011 special paint, 91-0011 special paint, 92-0023

Italian Air Force deploy with Typhoon EF-2000 in different variants namely Tranche 1 and 2. 8 of their Eurofighter EF 2000 Typhoons from 4º Stormo (4th Wing) and 36° Stormo (Wing) based at Grosseto Air Base, Gioia del Colle Italy flew in with 2x 767 Tanker support. This is the 1st attempt of the Italian Airforce to participate in the Red Flag Exercise. Italian detachment commander Col. Marco Bertoli did indicate that the primary mission of the EF2000 was of AIR to AIR mission however during the launch we did see 2x EF2000 of Tranche 2 variant armed with GBU-16 and Rafale Ligtening III targeting pod. The detachment also include 5x EF2000 of Tranche 1 variants. One aircraft was photographed with the GBU-16 on the launch and on return with empty pylon shows multi role mission being tested in this red flag Ex.

Typhoon EF2000 by serial number

MM7272/36-14, MM7271/4-15, MM7276/36-05, MM7284/36-10,MM7300/4-44, MM7301/4-53, MM7302/36-25, MM55130/4-33

4th Fighter Wing, 336th Fighter Squadron, Rocketeers F-15E, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina came next with the Mud Hens…… F-15E. The F-15E shows its pure power laden with AIM-120, AIM9M and LGB or JDAMS. All of them spot with the Sniper XR and Lantirn pods

F-15E by Serial Number

336FS 86-0187, 87-0177 no flash, 87-0195, 88-1668, 88-1671, 88-1673, 88-1682, 88-1687, 88-1700, 88-1706, 89-0474, 89-0488/336FS, 89-0490

Probably this is the 1st time we get to see 2 Squadron of T-38C Talon participated in Red Flag. All 2 units are from the Great State of Texas Namely, 435th Fighter Training Squadron Randolph AFB and 88th Fighter Training Squadron Sheppard AFB.  We get to see 1st hand how aggressive these nimble “ MIG-21” like aircraft maneuvers. I have had a good chance of seeing these T38 in action being station in TX, but seeing them in Red Flag gives me lots of respect to these pilots. I have also see lots of aggressor roles being taken by T-38 aircraft like those from Whiteman AFB, Langley and Tyndall AFB! All having its own Black painted T-38 taking the role of Aggressors for our F-22A Raptor Squadrons.

T-38 Aircraft by Serial Number

88th FTS EN 88FTS 61-0848, 65-10322, 65-10358, 65-10457, 68-8138
435th FTS RA 435FTS 68-8157, 68-8189, 68-8201, 69-7079, 70-1564

Weapon School F-15, F16 and A-10 have been flying quite actively before and after the Red flag launches. Aircraft from 16th 17th and 19th Weapon School of F-16, F-15 and A-10C respectively been flying quite a bid of mission while we were on base.

Rotary Wing have been very active in Red Flag 16-2. We have the US Navy Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, MH-60, Naval Air Station North Island, California. They flew in their color bird which spots a beautifully painted Eagle on the tail.  Unfortunately we did not get to photograph much of the Chopper since she was either too far or did not fly through our path, US Marines brought in both the AH-1Z and UH-1Y from HMLA-169 from 15th MEU and been flying very active during the Exercise.

There were a few “ No Shoot “ list of aircraft units namely, the Draken A-4 , 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Fighter Squadron, F-16CM, Shaw AFB , OT tail coded Aircraft and 5th Generation Fighters like the F22A and F35A was off limits on this Red Flag 16-2 shoot . Therefore these aircraft will not be presented in this article except for those we photographed outside the base.

Article and Pictures by Dave Chng

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