Nellis AFB Red Flag Report

Monday 3rd March - Friday 14th March 2014

Nellis AFB, Nevada is perhaps one of the best known US Air Force bases in the United States thanks to its almost symbiotic relationship with a tourist Mecca, Las Vegas. Each year the base plays host to a variety of different exercises but most notable of these is Red Flag, known the world over for the sheer variety and number of aircraft that take part. There is no spectacle quite like Red Flag anywhere else on earth.

Rod McDonough attended Red Flag 14-2 for UKAR and provides us with this report from the world's most famous exercise.

During a few weeks of the year, Nellis AFB near Las Vegas plays host to the famous Red Flag series of exercises and war games. Utilising the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) - a vast 12,000 square mile range with over 5,000 square miles of restricted airspace - the Red Flag exercises are considered by many to be the most realistic and intensive training environment that pilots can be exposed to. It is little wonder then that these exercises don't just attract units and aircraft from within the United States military but also other allied air forces in great numbers to take part in these infamous manoeuvres.

Red Flag 14-2 proved to be no exception with participation from a number of foreign nations including Denmark, Belgium, and the UAE operating F-16s, Saudi Arabia operating F-15s and the NATO AWACS wing making a welcome rare appearance on US soil. Held over the period of 3rd March to 14th March 2014, Red Flag 14-2 involved over 104 aircraft and upwards of 2,000 personnel making these exercises some of the largest in the world. In total, the Red Flag air armada consisted of 18 individual squadrons ranging from aggressor aircraft to fighter units and strategic bombers to special operations aircraft; nowhere else in the world do these units get to work together so closely outside of a real war.

Early in 2013, UKAR published a series of articles that went into great detail about Red Flag and its history, it would only be repeating these words again to provide you with this information again. Indeed, instead of listing every unit and aircraft taking place, making this article a carbon copy of many others published on the web, what follows is an extract of the media briefing giving you an insight into what the participants think of the exercise. Also included below is an audio recording of the briefing should you wish to hear this in full.

To anyone that has experienced the power and majesty of Red Flag, one thing is clear. Whilst the United States and many other nations are facing difficult financial decisions regarding their future military spending, Red Flag is so important to developing the future network-centric battlefield that it will remain a major annual event for years to come.

"Why is it important for each one you to attend Red Flag?"

"From a Red Flag planning perspective, what we do here is to give an aircrew and just about anybody involved in an air-war an opportunity to do things that they can't do at home. We have the ability to add a level of threat here at Nellis that they can't see or fight against back home."

Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Grant,
Deputy Commander of 414th

"You have the Air Force's only professional Adversary Force here at Nellis. We have subject matter experts that know their systems in and out and can replicate those systems for the individuals and units that show up here to train. Ultimately we take four domains as aggressors that's the Air Domain, Air Defence - which are the missiles on the ground and different components, radars and such - and then Cyber and Space. We put all that together to provide to give a realistic and relevant replication of potential threats that you may encounter in actual combat."

Lieutenant Colonel John Berardienlli,
Commander of the 57th

"Being that Red Flag was born out of the Cold War, and with recent tensions with Russia and Ukraine, is that in that back of anyone's minds while doing these exercises?"

"That is always on the back of our minds when doing these exercises, one of the more recent examples was Operation Unified Protector [Libya, 2011]. One of the things we talk about in the value of Red Flag is those folks went to war with very little notice, on the order of hours. They had to put everybody together and go execute a mission together and if it was the first time they had ever flown or fought together with NATO partners like Belgium even into UAE or Saudi Arabia like we have here. If it was the first time they have ever done that, that would have been a lot messier. But since we come to Red Flag we do these exercises together, we already speak somewhat of the same language, we already have the same process down and we know how to do it. It's just a matter of executing when its time to do it."

Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Grant,
Deputy Commander of 414th

"Is there a particular theme to this Red Flag?"

"There has been a impression in the past that we train to get specific adversary counties. That's not really the case here, we took a entirely fictitious country. We literally made it from the ground-up in order to present a realistic and credible threat and also at the same time also addresses multiple concerns."

First Lieutenant Chris Clements
547th Intelligence Squadron

"Because Red Flag has been waylaid by budget cuts before, and with future big cuts on the cards, are you worried about the future of this exercise?"

"I'm not actually, because everyone recognises the value of Red Flag. It's even more important that if you're going to have even a smaller force, it's even more important that you invest in the right places in training. If you look at the numbers at what it costs to put on a good Red Flag, it's fairly small compared to buying another platform. So it's money very well invested, because we have all this money invested in the equipment that you have around the Air Force and that costs a lot of money. It doesn't do you any good if you're not trained to use it and that's what happens here is you get your value out of all those other investments by a little bit more investment in Red Flag."

Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Grant,
Deputy Commander of 414th

Nellis AFB Press Briefing

[To the Danish crews] "You're operating a lot further from home. What are the logistics of bringing your aircraft over here and supporting them while they are deployed?"

"Being in this Red Flag has been a tremendous challenge for us. We deployed from Denmark to the Azores. Initially we were to bring around 10 aircraft, but only 5 of them made it because the tanker broke down. I got my first four on Wednesday and was supposed to get the next four on Thursday. The first two touched down on Nellis AFB and then took off again and all four got diverted to Luke AFB because of the weather conditions here. Two jets broke down so I had to send some of maintainers down to Luke have the jets fixed. Then finally on Sunday morning 10am the remaining jets landed, so I had all 8 of my jets just in time for the exercise to begin. On top of that, all my C-130 equipment, all my test equipment and the rest of my spare parts did not come in Sunday afternoon so I wasn't able to fix anything that broke down along the way."

Major Laris Stockholm
Fighter Wing Skrydstrup Maintainer
Royal Danish Air Force

Rod and UKAR would like to extend their thanks to the personnel at Nellis AFB for their continued hospitality during Red Flag exercises.