EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 16-3, a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored, Joint National Training Capability accredited exercise, officially started Aug. 4 with familiarization day, followed by 10 days of simulated combat sorties.
Originally operated under the name COPE THUNDER, the exercise moved to Eielson in 1992 from Clark Air Base, Philippines, after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991. The exercise was re-designated RED FLAG-Alaska in 2006.
“RED FLAG-Alaska enables joint and international units to sharpen their combat skills by flying simulated combat sorties in a realistic threat environment,” said Lt. Col. Travis Ruhl, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron commander. “The focus of RF-A is to train combat avionics in stressful advanced threat scenarios against near-peer adversaries by integrating a diverse set of joint and coalition capabilities. In addition, the training allows them to exchange tactics, techniques and procedures while improving interoperability.”
All RF-A exercises take place in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex (JPARC) which has a total operating area of more than 67,000 square miles.
The range, roughly five times the size of the airspace available in its sister-exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., is approximately the size of Florida. It includes one conventional bombing range and two tactical bombing ranges containing 510 different types of targets and 45 threat simulators, both manned and unmanned.
“The large amount of space forces pilots to figure out the logistical problem of working in such a large scale, similar to an entire theater of operations,” said Lt. Col. Julio Rodriguez, the 18th Aggressor Squadron commander. “The multiple uses the JPARC provides is imperative to the success of our training. We can go faster here than any blue force has ever trained, almost to Mach 2 to show the pilots what it’s like if the enemy were to do use that as one of its tactics”
That unique terrain, coupled with the vast airspace, also allows the U.S. Army to train its units in a variety of different environments while they participate in RF-A.
Aircrews aren't the only Airmen who benefit from the RF-A experience. The exercises provide an operations training environment for participants such as unit-level intelligence specialists, maintenance crews, and command and control elements and sustainment personnel who provide logistics, lodging food services and personnel support for contingency operations.
“For us, the tempo more than doubles, and even triples, in some facilities such as lodging,” said Lt. Col. Erin Hancock, the 354th Force Support Squadron commander. “With an influx of approximately 1,000 personnel during RED FLAG, we have the opportunity to focus on large-force sustainment support similar to what is provided in a deployed environment. While the primary focus is on feeding and lodging, services personnel are also able to get training and experience planning community events to provide off-duty entertainment along with resiliency options.”
The free exchange of ideas between forces during RF-A enhances not just partners and sister-service relationships, but also their operational efficiency.
RF-A 16-3 welcomes more than 80 aircraft and hundreds of participants to include the local 18th Aggressor Squadron, pilots, service members and aircraft from Misawa Air Base, Japan, Kunsan AB, Republic of Korea, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Royal Canadian Air Force 409th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Cold Lake, Canada, MacDill, Fla., the local 168th Air Refueling Squadron, Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., Schriever AFB, Colo., Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Fort Wainwright, Alaska.