Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Focus on Red Flag 15-3: how U.S. forces learn to fight in the unseen battle space

We have also taken part in an aerial refueling mission: “nobody kicks ass, without tanker gas!”

Red Flag is well known as the world’s premier aerial warfighting exercise. Featuring the broad expanse of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), (1000+ potential targets, surface to air missile sites etc.) as well as Air, Space (surveillance, communication) and Cyber assets, the exercise is designed to challenge participants with cutting edge and real world warfighting experience.

The civilian observer notes only those battles that are seen with their eyes or overheard on scanner frequencies. However the warfare is dramatically impacted by what cannot be seen or heard by the outside observer. Beyond the theatres of land, sea, & air – the new theater for battle is “cyberspace.” Closely associated with cyberspace is warfare in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. Wireless signals, jamming radars, or GPS all have formidable impact on the success of any modern military campaign. Though capabilities are seldom discussed in any detail, “cyberspace” is as real as any physical theatre. As civilians we utilize cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum each day through gps, satellite radio, car remotes, smartphones, wireless routers and corporate networks. Military devices utilize variants of the same technologies, and yet these technologies can be disrupted, and these disruptions must be accounted for and overcome. The ability to fight in and control cyberspace and the related “electromagnetic spectrum” is critical to the success of an effective military campaign against a well prepared adversary.

EA-18G Growler VAQ-138 Yellow Jackets on launch for Red Flag 15-3 sortie.

EA-18G Growler VAQ-138 Yellow Jackets on launch for Red Flag 15-3 sortie.

 

“…be advised, we are not receiving surveillance.”

“Baron copies, we are working on it.”

Red Flag not only calls on the traditional assets of air and ground, but utilizes space assets, as well as cyber and the electromagnetic in the exercise. Virtual participants participate on some level, networks are attacked, navigation systems interfered with and the attacks are countered. This is likely behind the radio chatter monitored one day between what was clearly command and control personnel and aircraft flying for Red Air “..be advised, we are not receiving surveillance.” “Baron copies, we are working on it.” Radars and weapon systems may be jammed or spoofed, and through it all, participants must react, complete their missions and live to fight another day. In this space, Red Flag is like no other exercise on the planet.

F-16CM 55th FS Shaw AFB departs Nellis on Red Flag 15-3 sortie. RC-135V/W Joint Rivet in background.

F-16CM 55th FS Shaw AFB departs Nellis on Red Flag 15-3 sortie. RC-135V/W Joint Rivet in background.

Now in its 40th year, and the latest Red Flag wrapped up Jul. 31, 2015 (the third of four exercises planned for 2015). This session was a 3 week exercise with participation from a wide variety of primarily USAF units, with participation from the Navy & Marines (unit list here). While Red Flag typically involves international participants, Red Flag 15-3 featured such only on an exchange basis.

A successful air campaign in today’s environment requires careful coordination of specialized assets to ensure success. –Red Flag involves “Red Air” (the bad guys) against “Blue Air” (the good guys). Reflecting development of a trend that started some time ago more and more visiting units are rotated through “Red Missions.” This certainly increases the complexity and realism of the exercise, as well as the opportunity to learn – with crews playing and experiencing many more scenarios. Each day brings new challenges that reflect what one might run into in the real world, from confrontation with a global power, to dealing with a rogue nation, a terrorist enclave, precise targets, and/or targets of opportunity.

F-16C 64 AGRS departs Nellis For Red Flag 15-3 Sortie

F-16C 64 AGRS departs Nellis For Red Flag 15-3 Sortie

The value of Red Flag must be seen through the context of maintaining a capable, experienced military force, even while military personnel is constantly changing through attrition and recruiting. The need to train personnel cannot be under estimated, and there is no better place then Red Flag for personnel of all disciplines to complete their first 10 combat missions.

F-15E 57 WG, 17 WPS Nellis AFB returns to Nellis after Red Flag 15-3 sortie

F-15E 57 WG, 17 WPS Nellis AFB returns to Nellis after Red Flag 15-3 sortie

As was made clear by Capt. Britt, aircraft commander of a B-52H bomber in the 69th Bomb Squadron (Minot AFB) units prepare for Red Flag vigorously prior to arrival to ensure they are ready to participate effectively. 1st Lt. Joseph added that their unit considers participation in Red Flag as their “superbowl.” They compete among aircraft and among crews to push each other to greater excellence.

B-52H of the 69th Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB lands at Nellis AFB after Red Flag sortie

B-52H of the 69th Bomb Squadron from Minot AFB lands at Nellis AFB after Red Flag sortie

 

“Ivan one, target the bomber 040, 35, 35,000” (Ivan One).

Participants in Red Flag indicated that the greatest value of the exercise is the integration with the other units in the exercise. As indicated by Capt. Britt, it is one thing to have theoretical knowledge of assets such as the EA-18G Growler, it is altogether another to work with it in the air, and understand the capabilities of what it can do to jam enemy radar and protect the big bomber (fighting in the EM spectrum).

Make no mistake about it, as much as Red Air wants to take out Strikers (such as F-16s or F-15E Strike Eagles on ground attack missions) the big bomber is a desired target as noted by monitoring Red Air radio channels, “Ivan Two, you are going to be targeting the heavy bomber 035 – 35,000” (Ivan). “Flanker 4, your targeting is going to be low striker groups 085 – 20 miles, 7,000” (Flanker 4). “Ivan one, what luck?” (Ivan one clean). “Ivan one, target the bomber 040 35, 35,000” (Ivan One). “Ivan Two, target strikers 030 – 19,000 two ship” (Ivan Two). “Ivan One, what luck on the bomber?” (targeted). “Locked hostile, continue there. Ivan Two snap 030 heavy bomber. Ivan Two” (Fox three, nose 8 mile). “Ivan One, skip it retarget 040 – 35,000 beam west Ivan One” (One).

I suspect the B-52 crew, along with its own electronic warfare (EW) team is thankful to have Growlers and Raptors in the air on and at their side! Having “real” experience to understand the role and capabilities of the assets on your team is critical to build trust in each other, and clear the “fog of war” so the mission can be executed successfully.

F-15C 159 FW, 122 FS US ANG NAS JRB New Orleans.  In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

F-15C 159 FW, 122 FS US ANG NAS JRB New Orleans. In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

A flight in one of Blue Air’s assigned KC-135 tankers exposes yet another dimension of the exercise. Departing early and orbiting in a racetrack pattern far to the east air, they are a very real part of the exercise (Red Air may have a tanker of their own on the western side of the range). Manned by aircraft commander, pilot and boom operator the 3 person crew (in this case from the 92nd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) of Fairchild AFB) keeps busy optimizing their own fuel burn, while being at the ready to fuel fighter aircraft both before, during, and after the peak of the exercise. More than just fuel, the KC-135’s are a real part of the exercise and are often pushed close to the battle, in which case the tension increases dramatically as Red Air may target them and attempt to “shoot them down.” That would be a bad day as the tankers are a vital asset to the USAF global strategy, as is often said in tanker communities, “Nobody kicks ass, without tanker gas!”

F-22A Tyndall AFB, 325 FW incoming.  In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

F-22A Tyndall AFB, 325 FW incoming. In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

It is striking to see the level of responsibility shared with youth (as with all branches of the military services). The boom operator could well be 18 years old, and once the aircraft pull into formation for fuel during flight (typically lined up to the left side of the tanker), the boom operator becomes air traffic control. It is the operators responsibility to contact with the aircraft to start the refueling process, and breaks it off if uncomfortable with the situation (such as heavy turbulence or other). It is inspiring to see hundred million dollar aircraft slide up and count on the boom operator to keep them in the air. Once fueled, they move to the right side of the tanker and wait for their wingman or flight to fuel, and then back to the battle as a team.

F-15C 159 FW, 122 FS US ANG NAS JRB New Orleans.  In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

F-15C 159 FW, 122 FS US ANG NAS JRB New Orleans. In Flight Refueling from KC-135 by the 92 ARS Fairchild AFB during Red Flag 15-3.

Midair refueling appears to be difficult – particularly if one has ever tried it on a flight simulator! However the pilots and boom operator make it look easy. The system is surprisingly resilient, remaining connected even as the tanker and fighter bounce through turbulence together. Through it all the pilot looks as comfortable as any guy in his lay-z-boy recliner watching TV. In this case refueling took place at just over 20,000 ft, and more appreciation for the scope of the exercise is realized as the F-22A Raptor leaves the tanker full of fuel and departs up, up and away. Typically flying close to 50,000 feet (often at supercruise) – the Raptor owns the expansive skies.

F-22A 325 FW 95 FS from Tyndall AFB taking on fuel and then back to the fight. Red Flag 15-3.

F-22A 325 FW 95 FS from Tyndall AFB taking on fuel and then back to the fight. Red Flag 15-3.

Red Flag runs two sorties a day, mid afternoon and evening. At night the exercise takes place under stars and moonlit skies – with very few navigation lights. While battles rage overhead at altitude, strikers pass by low, their identification friend or foe (IFF) strips aglow. HH-60G helicopters fly just above the ground in total darkness, counting on their night vision equipment to complete their missions safely.

F-22A 325 FW 95 FS from Tyndall AFB just opening refueling doors and getting ready to slide in for fuel.

F-22A 325 FW 95 FS from Tyndall AFB just opening refueling doors and getting ready to slide in for fuel.

The scope and complexity of the exercise ensures that participating personnel experience the best possible training, and as Capt. Britt referenced, “I would say at the unit level there is no better training than this in the world. It’s definitely one of those things where there are people who have been to Red Flag and there’s people who haven’t.”

Better to be the one who has.

Special thanks to the entire 99th ABW Public Affairs team and the KC 135 crew, primarily from 92nd ARS.

Todd Miller lives in MD, US where he is an Executive at a Sustainable Cement Technology Company in the USA. When not working, Todd is an avid photographer of military aircraft and content contributor.

 

Watch a U.S. Air Force F-15E drop a dummy Nuclear Bomb on Nevada range during a test

The U.S. Air Force tested a B-61 on the Nevada Test and Training Range.

Between Jun. 29 and Jul. 1, the Air Force Nuclear Weapons center tested a (dummy) B61 nuke weapon on the Nevada Test and Training Range to the northwest of Las Vegas.

It was the first development flight test of the B61-12, the latest update to the nuclear gravity bomb that has been used since the 1960s.

According to the U.S. Air Force, “the B61 is in the process of a life-extension program, which includes upgrading aging components and a new tail kit assembly. When the program is completed, the B61-12 will replace four different B61 variants in the inventory.”

The video below shows preparation and drop of the bomb from an F-15E Strike Eagle out of Nellis Air Force Base. Pretty interesting to see is the release of the nuke, with the spin rockets activating shortly after separation for free fall weapon stabilization.

 

Cool shot of a B-1 bomber departing the tanker like a boss during air strike on ISIS

This is how you depart the tanker like a boss!

Taken on Jul. 23, during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, this cool shot shows a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer (“Bone” for the pilots community), depart after refueling from a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker from the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron.

The bomber belongs to the 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota.

The actual location where the picture was taken has not been disclosed but most tanker tracks are located over Iraq.

The B-1 have taken part in the air strikes on IS since the beginning of the air campaign: according to a story published by the AFP news agency earlier this year, in the previous 6 months, the U.S. Air Force Lancers had accounted for 18 percent of all the strike missions against the ISIS and for 43 percent of the total tonnage of munitions dropped in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Stunning images show U.S Air Force A-10s operating on a dry lake bed at Fort Irwin

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is still one of the toughest planes around.

On Jul. 16, two U.S. Air Force A-10s belonging to the 75th Fighter Squadron, from Moody Air Force Base, performed austere landing operations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California.

This event marked the very first time Warthog pilots in a Green Flag-West training exercise landed at the NTC and to meet face-to-face with an Army ground commander: after the two aircraft landed sending up clouds of dirt, the two pilots met with the combat controllers who called them in. Then, according the Air Force, they got into separate Humvees and left the site to meet with an Army brigade commander and his staff in another location on the range.

‘Thunder’ rolls at Fort Irwin

“This meeting established rapport with the brigade and reassured them that the Air Force will be there for them when they call. By meeting with the commander and his staff and seeing the battlefield from the ground, the pilots gained an appreciation for what our ground forces go through during a Green Flag rotation,” the Air Force said in an official release.

The A-10s proved their unique capability to perform their Close Air Support, Combat Search And Rescue and Forward Air Control mission, then land in an unprepared field, to refuel and take off again to continue the fight.

Even though an airborne tanker would support real operations, the landing capability allows the “Hogs” to land to refuel on the ground if necessary: in a contested environment, the threat could be too high to have aerial refuelers support the attack planes.

Landing close to the battlefield provides additional on-station time for the A-10s.

The A-10 was built to land on an unprepared runway: the dirt won’t negatively affect the engine or tires. Thunderbolts deployed in Europe as part on an Air Force Theater Security Package have demonstrated austere landing capability at an abandoned Cold War-era airfield in Poland.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

Video shows U.S. A-10s conducting austere landing training at an abandoned Warsaw Pact airfield in Poland

US Warthogs Land At An Abandoned Warsaw Pact Airfield in Poland.

US A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft deployed to Europe as part of a U.S. Air Force TSP (Theater Security Package) conducted rough field training in Poland.

Territory of Poland is scattered, besides the highway strips, with old, abandoned Warsaw Pact military airfields which have not been in use since the Cold War.

Since Jul. 20, according to the Air Force Times, the Warthogs from the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron temporarily based at Lask to strengthen the U.S. presence in eastern Europe amid growing tensions with Russia, have practiced landings and operations at Nowe Miasto, where the runway, unused for years, is far from pristine conditions:  not a problem for the A-10 which is practically immune to FOD (Foreign Object Damage) thanks to its engines mounted far from the surface of the runway.

The operations conducted by the American pilots included night operations.

In his interview to Air Forces Times, Lt. Col Ryan Hayde, commander of the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, stated that the operations at the airfield were conducted with the help of the US Special Forces CCT’s (Combat Controllers), who acted as the air traffic control during the exercise, since the airfield has no ATC provided on regular basis.

Interestingly, the Polish Ministry of Defense kept the whole event in secrecy until the news was spread, post-factum by American sources. Even after the event, Lt. Col. Artur Goławski, spokesperson for the Polish General Command of the Armed Forced, denied the operation.

 Image credit: U.S. Air Force