After two weeks, approximately 2,000 sorties, and more than 1,700 total flying hours, RED FLAG-Alaska 19-2 has officially come to a close.
Approximately 2,000 personnel from more than five countries and multiple branches of military service worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the exercise, the primary goal of which is to provide joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support and large-force employment training to new pilots in a simulated combat environment.
“I’ve personally seen a fairly exponential learning curve,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Anderson, 353rd Combat Training Squadron commander. “Even during week two when we ratcheted up the threat a little bit, they were already better able to cope with what we were throwing at them. They’re talking to each other better and learning what the other parties need as they execute the fight so they’re less likely to drop the ball.”
During RF-A, a Blue Air team consisting of relatively inexperienced pilots is pitted against a Red Air team of highly-experienced “aggressor” pilots. The 353rd CTS works closely with the Red Air team to plan and execute dynamic training scenarios and provide Blue Air pilots with the most realistic experience possible.
“From the planning perspective, what we generally see in the first couple days is they’re struggling to get together a plan that is safe,” said Anderson. “It’s a complex, moving machine to get 100 aircraft airborne to fight and back on the deck with a de-confliction plan in place. Eventually they learn how to do that and they can start worrying more about how to fight the problem CTS is presenting them. Once they start figuring that out, they can start worrying about contingency planning.
“I can really tell a group is getting it when they can ace the de-confliction right off the bat, they know how to figure out the problem we’re throwing at them, and they do all that in such a time it allows them enough time to start thinking about the ‘what ifs.’”
In addition to learning how to best combat simulated near-peer threats, RF-A provides opportunities for service members from allied and partner nations to gain experience working with their U.S. counterparts, enabling all involved to share tactics, techniques and procedures. Anderson said this “diversity of thought” provides valuable insight and enables the Blue Air team to create more effective solutions to complex problems.
“I’ve learned a lot of things, especially how important integration is,” said Japan Air Self-Defense Force 1st Lt. Jun Urabe, JASDF F-2 pilot. “No single country can ensure international security by herself; it’s important for each country to cooperate.”
In addition to members of the JASDF, RF-A 19-2 saw participation from personnel assigned to the British Army, the Republic of Korea Air Force, and the Royal Thai Air Force, and hosted observers from other partner nations. All personnel involved, regardless of nationality or branch of service, finished RF-A 19-2 better suited for combat than when they arrived.
“The bare minimum I want them to walk away from here with is some appreciation, knowledge, and experience of a combat-like scenario so that if they’re called upon to go to combat, they’ve seen something similar before,” said Anderson. “We hope that gives them an edge and more survivability. That was the whole rationale behind creating RED FLAG in the first place.”
RF-A 19-2 marked the first time MQ-9 Reaper remotely-piloted aircraft and JASDF F-2s participated in the exercise. It is also the first iteration of RF-A in which civilian aggressor pilots working for Draken International, Inc. worked alongside pilots assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron as Red Air.
Planning for RF-A 19-3 began in late 2018 and the exercise is scheduled for early August.