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RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 comes in for landing

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A U.S. Air Force 18th Aggressor Squadron F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from an 168th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2, June 17, 2019, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. RF-A, a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise, is designed to provide realistic training in a simulated combat environment for joint and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)

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A Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2 pilot assigned to the 3rd Air Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan, poses for a photo during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 10, 2019. Eielson has hosted U.S. and foreign units participating in RF-A since 1992 after the exercise was relocated from Clark Air Base, Philippines. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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An U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper flies during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2, June 19 2019, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. EXERCISE RED FLAG-Alaska exercises provide unique opportunities to integrate various forces in a realistic threat environment and dates back to 1975, when it was held at Clark Air Force Base, Philippines and called Exercise COPE THUNDER. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)

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U.S. Soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment land after jumping form a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-2 near Fort Greely, Alaska, June 13, 2019. The operation was executed in support of RF-A 19-2, one of a series of Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercises for U.S. and international forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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A U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk drops off an M119 Howitzer short gun during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-2 near Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 13, 2019. RF-A serves as an ideal platform for international engagement, enabling all involved to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures while improving interoperability. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Guerrisky)

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Members from the 700th Airlift Squadron look out the window of a C-130 Hercules during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 near Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, June 19, 2019. The 700th AS is one of various units, to include NATO partners, participating in exercise RF-A. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lotz)

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Japan Air Self-Defense Forces members prepare for takeoff during RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 11, 2019. RF-A is an annual U.S. Pacific Air Force field training exercise for U.S. and international forces to enhance combat readiness of participating units. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Kristen Heller)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

After two weeks, approximately 2,000 sorties, and more than 1,700 total flying hours, RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 has officially come to a close. 

Approximately 2,000 personnel from more than five countries and multiple branches of military service worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the exercise, the primary goal of which is to provide joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support and large-force employment training to new pilots in a simulated combat environment.

“I’ve personally seen a fairly exponential learning curve,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Anderson, 353rd Combat Training Squadron commander. “Even during week two when we ratcheted up the threat a little bit, they were already better able to cope with what we were throwing at them. They’re talking to each other better and learning what the other parties need as they execute the fight so they’re less likely to drop the ball.”

During RF-A, a Blue Air team consisting of relatively inexperienced pilots is pitted against a Red Air team of highly-experienced “aggressor” pilots. The 353rd CTS works closely with the Red Air team to plan and execute dynamic training scenarios and provide Blue Air pilots with the most realistic experience possible.

“From the planning perspective, what we generally see in the first couple days is they’re struggling to get together a plan that is safe,” said Anderson. “It’s a complex, moving machine to get 100 aircraft airborne to fight and back on the deck with a de-confliction plan in place. Eventually they learn how to do that and they can start worrying more about how to fight the problem CTS is presenting them. Once they start figuring that out, they can start worrying about contingency planning.

“I can really tell a group is getting it when they can ace the de-confliction right off the bat, they know how to figure out the problem we’re throwing at them, and they do all that in such a time it allows them enough time to start thinking about the ‘what ifs.’”

In addition to learning how to best combat simulated near-peer threats, RF-A provides opportunities for service members from allied and partner nations to gain experience working with their U.S. counterparts, enabling all involved to share tactics, techniques and procedures. Anderson said this “diversity of thought” provides valuable insight and enables the Blue Air team to create more effective solutions to complex problems.

“I’ve learned a lot of things, especially how important integration is,” said Japan Air Self-Defense Force 1st Lt. Jun Urabe, JASDF F-2 pilot. “No single country can ensure international security by herself; it’s important for each country to cooperate.”

In addition to members of the JASDF, RF-A 19-2 saw participation from personnel assigned to the British Army, the Republic of Korea Air Force, and the Royal Thai Air Force, and hosted observers from other partner nations. All personnel involved, regardless of nationality or branch of service, finished RF-A 19-2 better suited for combat than when they arrived.

“The bare minimum I want them to walk away from here with is some appreciation, knowledge, and experience of a combat-like scenario so that if they’re called upon to go to combat, they’ve seen something similar before,” said Anderson. “We hope that gives them an edge and more survivability. That was the whole rationale behind creating RED FLAG in the first place.”

RF-A 19-2 marked the first time MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft and JASDF F-2s participated in the exercise. It is also the first iteration of RF-A in which civilian aggressor pilots working for Draken International, Inc. worked alongside pilots assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron as Red Air.

Planning for RF-A 19-3 began in late 2018 and the exercise is scheduled for early August.