F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, the 35th and 80th Fighter Squadrons, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, perform pre-flight checks at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 10, 2019. The 13th FS and 35th FS “Pantons” are participating in Exercise Red Flag-Alaska 19-2, which allows units from around the Pacific to train in an air space roughly the size of Oklahoma. (Photo by U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)
A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot prepares to take off in preparation for RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-2 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 6, 2019. The aerial portion of RF-A takes place in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, which has an airspace of more than 67,000 square miles. (Photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Larue Gue)
Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-2s from the 3rd Air Wing, Misawa Air Base, Japan, taxi down the runway at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, June 10, 2019. The 3rd Wing is participating in Red Flag-Alaska, a large-scale training exercise, with units and allied nations' air forces from around the Pacific. (Photo by Senior Airman Stefan Alvarez)
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon, assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing (FW), receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 909th Air Refueling Squadron, Aug. 21, 2018, during RED FLAG-Alaska 18-3 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The 35th FWs mission is to provide worldwide deployable forces, protect U.S. interests in the Pacific and defend Japan with sustained forward presence and focused mission support. (Photo by U.S Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Eric M. Fisher)
KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 19-2, a training exercise hosted at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, began June 6 and is scheduled to continue through June 21.
RF-A is held several times each year and typically involves allied nation's air forces in collaboration and training alongside the U.S. Air Force. Countries like Japan, Korea, and Thailand often participate in the exercise which enables the pilots and aircrew to learn and grow together.
The 35th Fighter Squadron from Kunsan AB traveled from across the Pacific to participate in training with other units from within and outside the Air Force, giving them a wide variety of experience and tactics to both share and gain in an environment that simulates war-time operations.
"What they found in previous conflicts is that pilots were dying within their first 10 flights in-theater," said Capt. James Carson, 354th Operations Group, Detachment 4 range flight commander and RF-A 19-2 team chief. "That’s the idea behind RF-A; we try to provide similar flights to what pilots can expect to see when they actually deploy, but in a safe environment."
Alaska's Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex is what sets RF-A apart from other exercises. The massive 67,000 square mile range is far from any civilian population, allowing the 35th FS to conduct more realistic training than they normally would be able to at home station. The pilots can go through the motions of actually deploying munitions and the aircrew can get a feel for making their aircraft truly "combat-ready."
"We’re providing combat-level experience in a safe environment to prepare every single pilot and person on the ground to be ready to fight safely and survive," said Carson.
The 35th FS trains with Republic of Korea Air Force counterparts at home station, but RF-A allows them to train with units from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Thai Air Force. The inclusion of foreign training partners is a mutually beneficial aspect of RF-A, since modern combat has increased the need for teamwork and interoperability between allies.
"Any chance we get to work with our partner nations is always a great experience," said Capt. John Welch, 35th FS pilot and operations project officer. "We all do things a little bit differently, and sharing even the smallest details can help streamline processes or change the way we do things to be more efficient. It really makes us better as a whole."
Traditionally, the 35th FS participates in exercises that happen closer to the Korean Peninsula within Pacific Air Forces Command, such as Exercise Pitch Black in Australia or Exercise Cobra Gold in Thailand, but RF-A provides a unique training opportunity to train in the U.S. while giving pilots, aircrew, and maintenance a new environment in which to hone their skills.