Mark Rouse reports on winter Flags in Alaska
Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Bases are the home to 'Red Flag Alaska', an exercise held up to four times a year. Normally lasting up to ten days in duration, the exercise is an air combat multi-nation, multi-service affair designed to correspond to the operational capabilities of the units taking part.
Red Flag Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces' event, originally know as 'Cope Thunder', originally based at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines - it was moved to its current home at Eielson in 1992 after a volcanic eruption curtailed operations from Clark AFB. Eielson was the logical choice as the 353rd Combat Training Squadron already controlled the three major military training ranges in Alaska; within these ranges there are seventeen permanent military operational areas, including high-altitude areas as well as two restricted ones, all in all covering more than 67,000 square miles across Alaskan and western Canadian airspace.
Red Flag Alaska is organised in the same way as Red Flag at Nellis, in which the participants are organized into 'Red' defensive forces, 'Blue' offensive forces and 'White' forces, the latter representing the neutral controlling agency. 'Red' forces would potentially include ground-control intercept and surface-to-air defence to simulate the threat that may be incurred by hostile nations - these threats are generally replicated from range threat emitters, electronic devices that send out signals to simulate anti-aircraft artillery and surface to air missile launches. All these are operated by civilian contractors directed by the 353rd CTS technicians. The 18th Aggressor Squadron provides the realistic and combat adversary for the 'Red' force to employ enemy tactics, procedures and techniques to give a realistic simulation of air combat - it currently uses the F-16 to carry out this role.
The ensured safety of this mock war falls to the 'White' forces - where Red flag Alaska differs to Red flag Nellis is that the exercise is run from two bases. To some this may seem strange, but operating from separate bases means it is more like a real war simulation where forces from different nations operating from more than one base can be co-ordinated to work together to achieve the same goal. Alaska also offers a greater range of terrain to simulate different theatres of operation - not only does the exercise test the aircraft and the forces involved, but it makes sure the communications are up to speed between the two operational bases. In the past Red Flag Alaska has had participants from all four of the US military arms as well as the armed services of Sweden, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, the Republic of Singapore, Australia, as well as the United Kingdom. Participation in Red Flag Alaska 08-02 came in the form of the air forces from the USAF, USN, Canada, Australia and United Kingdom.
The F-22A Raptor is playing more of a major role in Red Flags as more units come on line; not only is it being used in its air-to-air role, but it is now used in the air-to-ground role as well as a type of mini-AWACS with the pilot not only focusing on his own job but also controlling other types of aircraft in the missions. With the ever-changing role of the training exercises, Red Flag Alaska will go from strength to strength.
The author wishes to thank TSgt John Gott and 1st Class Jonathan Snyer, TSgt Jared Marquis, TSgt Mikal Canfield, the crew of 'Gas 06' and Paul Filmer who planned the trip.