(in) the Flag: Maple Flag XXXIII
Exercise 'Maple Flag' is an international air combat exercise held annually at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, taking place during a six week period in the months of May and June. For 2000 it was held between 15 May and 23 June, and participating countries included Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden. Observing this year's exercise were Hungary, Slovakia, Denmark, and South Africa.
The aim of 'Maple Flag' is to provide aircrew with realistic training in a modern simulated air combat environment. By using the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), it is possible to combine large-scale air operations with airborne and ground-based electronic threats in a relatively unrestricted environment. The exercise promotes leadership, initiative and self-discipline in the air. On the ground, it provides the opportunity for tactical development and validation. Operations Allied Force and Desert Storm demonstrated the importance of combined air operation between allied countries, 'Maple Flag' being dedicated to the practice of such combined operations.
Exercise 'Maple Flag' is a Canadian adaptation of the United States Air Force Red Flag Exercise held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. In Vietnam, ninety percent of American aircraft losses took place during the first ten combat missions - aircrew who survived the first ten missions were more likely to survive the remainder of their combat tour. In order to enhance the survivability of aircrew and improve their performance, Exercise Red Flag was created in 1975, Canadians first participating in 1977. The Canadian Commander of Air Command invited the United States Air Force to hold a northern Red Flag in Cold Lake in the spring of 1978, the four week long exercise called 'Maple Flag' being a great success and was held twice annually thereafter in the spring and fall, until 1987. Since then the exercise has been held during one six week period each spring.
'Maple Flag' XXXIII (2000) marks the twenty-second year that the exercise has been conducted at 4 Wing Cold Lake, only two having been previously cancelled. 'Maple Flag' XXIV (1991) was cancelled due to Operation Desert Storm and 'Maple Flag' XXXII (1999) because of Operation Allied Force in Kosovo.
The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR)
The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR) covers an area of 1.17 million hectares straddling the Alberta/Saskatchewan border. Several factors unique to the CLAWR make it an ideal choice for combined air operations training. The heavily forested terrain with numerous lakes resembles European topography, and differs from the desert conditions in south-western Nevada.
Inert Weapon Targets on the Range are generally of plywood construction, built to resemble tanks, missile launchers, aircraft and vehicles. Several mock runways have also been constructed. There are approximately 350 targets positioned throughout the western side of the Range and five programmable state of the art surface threat electronic warfare (STEW) which are fully powered realistic threat simulations which can be manned or fully automated. Also available is an Academic Bombing Range that is licensed for NEQ of 1000 pounds. The south-west side of the range features manned civilian industrial sites (no-drop) that have been hardened to withstand supersonic shock-wave concussion.
Harriers over Canada
4 Squadron was deployed for the third period of Maple Flag, the following aircraft based in Cold Lake for the last two weeks of the exercise: ZD347/14, ZD433/45, ZD469/59, ZG477/67, ZG506/77, ZG511/82, ZG531/85, ZH664/112. The callsign "Poison" was used, and about five aircraft were used for each of the two pushes per day.
Flying (in) the Flag
We deployed from Geilenkirchen on 9 June via Island to Edmonton. Our E3A went 'tech' the following day so we had to drive by car from Edmonton to Cold Lake. This was important as we had to participate in the mass briefing on base. Two days later our aircraft was repaired and we finally flew into Cold Lake.
For the first week we had lot of problems in flying our missions as the visibility was to bad, the cloud ceiling being too low. Some missions were flown, but not as many as planned, and with less aircraft to be on the safe side. After the second weekend the weather improved until it became too hot! Opposite taxiing was required due to the use of two runways. The friendly 'Blue' forces used the southern runway while the enemy 'Red' forces used the smaller northern runway for their unscheduled take offs.
The third period was held from 12 to 23 of June. It was not as interesting as the second which had had F14s and more different aircraft. Every morning, as I drove onto the main ramp, I saw more Vipers than Hornets. For an F16 fan it looked good, with C and D models present, but I myself like more mixed exercises, using as many different aircraft as possible. The 414th CTS brought six F-16s for the Red forces; 86-0220, 86-0271, 87-0267, 87-0321 '414th CTS CO', 91-0467 and 92-3927, all 'WA' in different camo. They worked together with 176th FS and 63rd FS, using the callsign "Mig". 115th FW/176th FS WI ANG were part of the Red forces too, arriving with 87-0242/252/262/266/280/289/298/300 and 343. Our missions took about four to five hours and we flew one push per day, the other usually flown by E3B 79-0001.
On our first real day, 21 June, we flew two complete pushes. Later, an F16 was lost (87-0357 from 421st FS), it crashing during a second push. S**t!! I was sitting in a CF-188B on the ramp, preparing for a back-seat ride (my first!) and then all movements were cancelled, my flight too. But, more importantly, the pilot of the F16 ejected and was rescued by a CH146 of 417 Squadron. After two days we expected attacks by the Red forces. Their goal was to shoot down our E3A, but it never happened to us because we knew our procedures - we used the Luftwaffe F4Fs as back-up CAP to help us. F4Fs 37+11 JG73, 37+67 JG74, 37+83 JG71, 37+88/89 38+58, all JG73, were flying CAPs for Blue forces using the callsign "Smoke".
Germany provided three C160Ds based in Cold Lake for the whole Maple Flag exercise. Only the crews changed. 50+49 LTG61 and 50+76 LTG62 were the only cargo aircraft participating in the third period. They had a bad time, being shot down all the time. Maybe it was a young crew and not used to flying in that kind of exercise!
Apart from the obligatory Hornets, Canada provided CT133Es from 414 Squadron. They flew for Red forces and were simulating SU-27s, believe it or not! Their home base is Comox, but all CT-133s will be retired next year although most of them got a cockpit update last year.
Left: EA-6B 159584 CY-03 of VMAQ-2, flown by a VMAQ-4 crew. It is taxing out for the second push of the day supporting the Blue forces with its SEAD capability. We always used two of those aircraft. They were supported by F16Cs of the 20th FW. Other Prowlers noted were 162230 RM-00, 166437 RM-02, 162939 RM-04, all VMAQ-4.