More than 70 combat planes involved twice a day in world's most realistic training exercise: welcome to the Red Flag 12-3

Taking place from Feb. 26 to Mar. 16, 2012, Red Flag 12-3 at Nellis AFB, Nevada, was attended by combat planes belonging to 12 different U.S. Squadrons and from the 75 Sqn of Royal Australian Air Force and 2 Sqn of the UK’s Royal Air Force.

The Red Flag (RF) is a realistic training exercise, organized several times a year at Nellis AFB and conducted by the 414th Combat Training Squadron on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a military training area of more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land where 1,900 possible targets and anti-aircraft systems are dispersed.

The drills, whose aim is to train pilots from the U.S. and allied air forces to operate, survive and win together in the most demanding current combat scenarios, feature also a “Red Air”, an opposing air force with fighters from the Air Force’s 64th and 65th AGRS capable to threaten strike packages in the same way a modern enemy would do in a real war.

During the last two RFs, U.S. Air Force Weapons School instructor pilots served as “tactical mentors” to participants, providing advanced knowledge to steepen the learning curve for participating units and help them to fully exploit the training opportunities provided in the NTTR.

“Today the United States Air Force operates in both contested and uncontested combat arenas; however, in the future, airpower, space and cyber domains will be both contested and denied and we must be prepared,” said Col. Robert Garland, U.S. Air Force Weapons School Commandant in the official news release on the Nellis AFB website. “Through the Weapons School’s support of Red Flag and our tactical mentoring program, we are able to help build, teach and lead participants, training at the highest level ensuring victory against any competitor.”

RF 12-3 featured two daily waves with the scheduled departure of more than 70 aircraft,  involved in missions of all types (lasting up to 8 hours), including:  MC-12Ws, EP-3 ARES (Airborne Reconnaissance Integrated Electronic System), EA-6Bs, E-2D s, F-15Cs , F-22s, B-2s, F-16CMs and  F-16CJs, F-18Cs, E-8 JSTARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System), E-3s, F-15Es, and RC-135V/W Rivet Joint, as well as RAAF F-18s and RAF Tornado GR4s.

The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock had the opportunity to attend the RF 12-3 Media Day and take the following interesting pictures of the most interesting aircraft departing or returning from Nellis AFB on Feb 13 – 14, 2012 (please note that the Thunderbirds F-16D did not take part to the exercise).

All images: Tony Lovelock for The Aviationist

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.