Big year for ‘Red Flag’

Photo: USAF/R. Nial Bradshaw


Nellis AFB is gearing up for a busy year of ‘Red Flag’ exercises. ’19-1′ wraps up this week, with ’19-2′ scheduled for March 11-22 and ’19-3′ in the heat of July.

The first of the year is limited to US, Australian and UK participants. ‘We see units arrive at Nellis at varying levels of being prepared,’ comments Col Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander.  ‘By the end of three weeks, units are not just capable of executing their wartime mission with confidence. They are ready for combat.’

‘It starts with unit-level preparation, making sure that unit can function as a team.  It moves to package integration, which is making sure that functional teams, like strike fighters and bombers — can work together.  Then we get to Red Flag where multi-package integration comes into play, learning how to integrate different packages — superiority, strike and mobility aircraft — into one mission to achieve the same goal.’

‘We’re continuing to improve threat replication, how we focus on the supported commands and implementing improvements to our debrief process to make the training more effective and efficient,’ said Mathes. Despite the push towards synthetic training, which clearly has a big part to play in modern training, the live flying element remains extremely important. This is where aircrews learn airmanship, how to deal with unexpected weather and situations as they develop. Moreover, pilots want to be pilots — if live flying is minimal, and too much time is spent in the simulator — there’s a risk that the appeal of the job is diminished. ‘Red Flag’ is still all about the live flying.

‘I haven’t been flying that long. There are things that stand out in my career. My first solo flight, my first F-35 flight and my first ‘Red Flag’ mission. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those things,’ said 1st Lt Landon Moores, a new F-35A pilot with the 388th Fighter Wing’s 4th Fighter Squadron. Moores is one of a handful of young F-35A pilots who recently graduated their initial training and are currently deployed here as part of ‘Red-Flag 19-1’. ‘For the initial part of the first mission, I was just kind of sitting there listening. I was nervous. I was excited. Then the training kicked in.’

‘For us, the biggest difference between this Red Flag and our first with the F-35A two years ago is that we have a lot of pilots on their first assignment,’ said Lt Col Yosef Morris, 4th FS commander. ‘Putting them alongside more experienced wingmen is what Red Flag was designed for.’

Capt James Rosenau flew the A-10 in four previous ‘Red Flags’, but he’s brand new to the F-35. ‘I loved the A-10 and its mission. It’s like a flying tank. Like Chewbacca with chainsaw arms. A very raw flying experience,’ Rosenau said. ‘Obviously the F-35 is completely different. It’s more like a precision tool. After seeing the F-35 go up against the near-peer threats replicated here at Nellis, I’m a big believer.’

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