Eielson Airmen get aggressive about training

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  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Rosine
  • Air Force Print News
Maj. Robert Kelly is getting ready to try and shoot down Air Force aircraft.

But, the weapons officer from the 353rd Combat Training Squadron is not an enemy. He is becoming what is known as a Red Flag aggressor pilot, an invaluable training asset for any Red Flag exercise.

"As far as becoming an aggressor pilot, the main point is the way that you go out and replicate the threat for (pilots who comprise) the Blue Forces," Major Kelly said. "What I am excited about is just making sure that we are giving them the best training that they can receive prior to deploying overseas."

On a small scale, the major's transition is similar to the operational transition for the mission of Eielson Air Force Base following the findings of the most recent Base Realignment and Closure initiative.

"Currently we have A-10 (Thunderbolt II) and F-16 (Fighting Falcon) aircraft that are supporting the (Pacific) Command plan," said Col. Chip Thompson, deputy commander for the 354th Operations Group. "The Base Realignment and Closure committee has changed that mission somewhat. The A-10s are leaving. About half of them are gone so far. The rest should be gone by the July-August timeframe. The F-16s that are here are transforming into the aggressor squadron. So they will lose some of their wartime tasking and pick up the aggressor mission."

Following the BRAC committee findings, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley decided to transform the base's role as host of Cope Thunder exercises into host of Red Flag - Alaska. This exercise is expected to be on par with the Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

"Even in a time of budget constraints, we actually received money to renovate and upgrade the facilities here at Eielson (and at) the ranges, and the addition of the aggressors will make for a much better exercise on the equivalent standards of Red Flag at Nellis," said Colonel Thompson.

The base already has begun the transition. So far, they have seen changes like the reduction of its A-10 fleet, but several more changes will be made before the transition is complete.

"We are going bring in a lot more systems," Colonel Thompson said. "For example, the Air Force is going away from the Cold War mentality of iron bombs on target. Maybe the next big threat is a computer virus that attacks us, or something from space. We are going to end up adding a lot more space operations and information operations to this Red Flag exercise. That will be one of the new additions we will be working on."

Ultimately, the whole purpose of the Red Flag-Alaska mission is combat readiness for Air Force pilots.

"The purpose of Red Flag is to simulate the stress of the combat environment through the aggressors -- the enemy aircraft -- and through the surface-to-air missile simulators we have here so that when he gets to his first combat mission he has already felt that stress," Colonel Thompson said. "They have looked at statistics and the young wingman who can survive his first ten combat missions has a much greater chance of surviving the next 100."

But Red Flag-Alaska's combat mission goes beyond just an aerial mission.

"One of our missions here at Red Flag-Alaska is to train the groups in the AEF rotations that are going out to Afghanistan and Iraq. We can work with the close-air support capabilities so that when these units do go to Iraq and Afghanistan, they do have the training on the latest up-to-date technology for the in-war environment," said Colonel Thompson. "So an Airman who arrives is not only worried about dropping bombs on target, he is also worried about information security. He is worried about getting the pieces of the puzzle from the space world.

"For example, you have a time sensitive target, a target that changes places all the time, you can get that information possibly from space assets," he said.

While the Eielson mission is transitioning to meet the future needs of the Air Force, these changes bring new and exciting possibilities.

"I've been an operational pilot for the last ten years in the F-16, so seeing it from the other side is definitely going to be different," said Major Kelly. "What is going to be good about it is working here at Red Flag-Alaska. We'll be able to influence and build the exercises with the Red Air participants being a part of Red Air but then also seeing how that flows in and making a good transition or how the exercise flows to ensure that the Blue Forces get the appropriate training throughout."

So Major Kelly, like other Airmen at Eielson, is transitioning to be "the bad guy," an aggressor against the Air Force's air superiority.

"The best part about becoming an aggressor pilot is being able to see on the other side and to see what type of enemy tactics that we will be providing to the Blue Forces, preparing them to deploy overseas to wherever they might be going," he said. "Bottom line, aggressors give us the best training air-to-air and surface-to-air there is. At the same time they are a training aid for the overall exercise itself. Our number one objective here at Red Flag - Alaska is to prepare units to deploy, give them that combat experience."