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Transformation redefines multi-national exercise

  • Published
  • By Maj. Eric Hilliard
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
The US Air Force is transforming everything it does and the way PACAF conducts its combat training exercises is no exception.

By capitalizing our three core competencies - developing airmen, integrating operations and technology-to-warfighting, the US Air Force continually applies capabilities-based initiatives to develop "transformational" capabilities that will enhance Joint and Coalition Warfighting.

At the forefront of this effort is Pacific Air Forces' largest multi-national exercise Cooperative Cope Thunder (CCT).

Cooperative Cope Thunder...soon to be renamed Red Flag Alaska fully incorporates the transformational concepts associated with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century (AFSO21).

AFSO21 seeks to build on initial successes and work to fully integrate continuous improvement into all we do across the Air Force--especially in our operational, maintenance, logistics, and support environments.

The new initiative also aligns our Air Force to a culture of continuous process improvement with the ultimate objective of improving the combat capability we provide.

As the Air Force continues the transform and improve the way it does business by reaching out to other nations, PACAF's improved ability provide the best multi-national combat training opportunities in the Pacific is quickly becoming a reality---and the word is spreading. 

"We think Red Flag Alaska is going to be a real boost in how we prepare not only ourselves, but how we help prepare our allies in the Pacific and across the world to do the missions the nations will be called upon to do," said General Paul Hester, Pacific Air Forces Commander.

Other countries are also realizing the importance of transformation. Swedish air force detachment commander Lt Colonel Ken Lindberg said, "Of course...that is the future for every air work together for peace keeping." "We have to transform....we realize that our military needs to become more expeditionary and by bringing our new JAS-39 Gripen fighters to participate in this exercise, we are reaching out beyond our own borders and training with our multi-national allies," said Lindberg.

Similar to Japan Air Self Defense Force, who is also participating in the exercise for the 4th straight year, the Swedish military has traditionally been a force with the primary mission of protecting its own borders. Now, more than ever, many nations including the Swedes and the Japanese realize that international cooperation and achieving peace and stability throughout our collective region has to extend beyond national boundaries. Cooperative Cope Thunder provides nations a safe environment to practice working with a multi-national force and demonstrate a collective commitment to peace and stability in the Pacific Regions and areas around the world.

Lindberg also said, "We would like to continue our deployments to the states on a regular basis for exercises like this. Ideally, we would like to host an exercise like this on our Northern Training range in Sweden. We have a similar set up and ample training space. Additionally, we wouldn't have to travel so far," he said...jokingly referring to the Swedish Air Force five day and 5,000 mile journey to participate in CCT 06-3.

Canada is also realizing the importance of international cooperation and transforming its military. "Training like what we get here is invaluable to our military's development. To us, this is the only way to a multinational unit," said Capt Glenn Scott of the Canadian air force. "Whenever we deploy, it is always as part of a coalition or multi-national force," he said.

Even though they do not have any aircraft participating in the exercise, Mexico has sent an observer to view the training taking place in Alaska. 401st Fighter Squadron commander and F-5 pilot for the Mexican air force Lt. Col. Jose Antonio Sierra Amador said, "We have not participated in exercises like this in the past. We received an invitation to view the exercise from the PACAF commander General Hester."

"As observers this year, we hope to learn more about what we will need to do operationally and logistically in order to have the Mexican Air Force participate in future years,"said Amador.

The Observer Program
Approximately 1300 service members are participating in the CCT 06-3. In addition to the United States, partner nations having a role in the exercise include Australia, Japan, NATO, Korea, Germany, Canada, Sweden and the lists goes on to include observers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mexico and Mongolia. Each of them looking how they can fit into PACAF's largest multi-national exercise.

The fact that all participating realize that transforming the way they currently operative is essential in order to collectively meet the current and future challenges that the Long War presents speaks volumes about the US Pacific Command strategic engagement strategy.

USPACOM's goal is to provide for an environment of security and stability to support and foster freedom and prosperity in the region. Reaching out to other nations and collectively agreeing that through teamwork and a mutual commitment to peace and security helps to achieve that goal and will enable us to obtain victory over those who would rather see us fail.

A big part of this exercise with respect to Strategic Engagement and Theater Security cooperation is the Executive Observer Program.

The EOP directly supports PACOM's primary Theater Security Cooperation objective of developing Asia-Pacific countries into potential coalition partners. The primary objectives of the EOP are to positively influence and inform foreign air force leaders of US philosophy on coalition operations, the need for improved interoperability, discuss coalition operations at a very high level, and to encourage selected nations to actively participate in future CCT exercises.

The EOP supports the following Theater Security Cooperation pillars.
-- Build relationships and strategic partnerships
-- Promote US Interests
-- Support strategic communication
-- Support access for future contingencies
-- Build partnership capacities
-- Advance partner nation interoperability
-- Facilitate partner nation military transformation

During the exercise EOP participants took part in a number of engagement opportunities to include visiting exercise operations at both Elmendorf and Eielson Air Force bases.

More on the Merger
The merger of Cooperative Cope Thunder and Red Flag was not an easy one. Even the name change was a challenge. Suggestions from Red Flag North to Cooperative Red Flag to Red Flag Thunder were being bounced around as potential names for the redesigned exercise. However, when it was all said and done, the name Red Flag-Alaska won out. Like wise, the exercise in Nellis will be called Red Flag- Nellis.

I know...sounds too simple to be true.

Along with the name change, Red Flag Alaska will carry with it all the training capabilities that Red Flag Nellis currently has-- to include a dedicated aggressor squadron assigned Eielson.

Essentially, the new Red Flag Alaska will be the same as the Red Flag held in Nellis with two very key differences...the weather and the terrain.

The merger also enhances the unique characteristics and strengths of both exercises and improves the quality of training for the participants. Additionally, this merger increases the number of training opportunities for both US and international forces. 

Gen. Hester said, "Red Flag Alaska is a wonderful opportunity for us to use the great air, land and even sea space around Alaska to afford exercise scenarios we can't get in other places."

F-16 pilot Lt Col Mike Poggi from the 466th Fighter Squadron out of Hill AFB, Utah has participated in Red Flag Nellis before and has been numerous US-led coalition operations. He is excited about the new opportunities that Red Flag Alaska will bring. "The multinational aspect of this exercise will help us minimize the "fog of war." By training and practicing with our international partners we essentially weed out the guess-work on what how our friendly forces will fight together," he said.

Additionally, with regards to the terrain, "This is very different, he said. In Nellis, you had definite visual reference points to aid you in attaining positional awareness but out here in the ranges over Alaska, there are mountains and one rolling hill after another... this is going to be a challenge," he said.

On top of that, Red Flag Alaska uses state of the art technology to debrief the pilots after the missions are complete. Col Rusty Cabot, 35th Air Expeditionary Wing commander said, "The most valuable part of the training here occurs after all the aircraft are on the ground. The technology used to support the exercise debriefs will enable the aircrews to see first hand what they did right or wrong and then discuss how to do it better next time."

"Everything we do here goes to support the ultimate training goal...effective execution of air to air and air to ground combat tactics by a coalition force," Cabot said.

All in all, Cooperative Cope Thunder/Red Flag Alaska helped the participating nations build the trust and teamwork necessary for them to work more effectively and efficiently in all phases of conflict...from peacekeeping to all out combat. The difference this time is that they are all fighting the battle together and as a coalition of forces equally dedicated to peace and stability in the region and around the world.