Tag Archives: Red Flag exercise

Red Flag’s air combat maneuvering as seen from the Nevada Desert

Climb with us to the top of Coyote Summit to see some real Red Flag 17-2 action!

Red Flag is a major event in the military aviation community, known by both pilots, spotters and other fans. In a nutshell, it is the most important exercise in the world, both in terms of realistic training and participating units, and it’s held 4 times a year. It is staged from one of the world’s biggest and most famous airbases: Nellis Air Force Base, north of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Much has already been written about Red Flag so I won’t come back to the origins, dating back to the Vietnam War; nor will I describe the Nellis Test and Training Range (NTTR), where the wargame takes place, nor the 64th Aggressor Squadron whose involvement as a realistic opposition makes Red Flag what it is.

Aircraft parked on the apron at Nellis AFB during RF 17-2

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Nevada, during Red Flag 17-2, and watch these machines around the base. The unit panel consisted mainly of F-16C squadrons :

  • the 55th FS from Shaw AFB with few jets from 77th and 79th FS;
  • the Alabama ANG 100th FS with two jets decorated with beautiful red Tuskegee tails;
  • the Colorado ANG 120th FS;
  • RNLAF 322nd sqn F-16s based in Leeuwarden, with some jets from Tucson (with mixed Arizona ANG and dutch markings).

The only other jet players were Spanish Ala 111 with their Eurofighters, supported by KC-130H from Ala 312, and 493rd FS Eagles from Lakenheath.

An Aggressor F-16 about to start “flexing” after take off

After two days of shooting tons of pictures (you can have a glimpse here), and wanting more than take-offs and landings at the base, I was looking for some more action. My plan was to go and see and hear the aerial war in the high desert of Nevada, the natural habitat of these metal birds.

The place is known as Coyote Summit and is a two hours drive from Sin City, heading north. Passing Hancok Summit on the E.T. Highway (also known as US 375), one can see the vastness of the USAF playground. On the left, there’s a trail leading to Area 51, invisible behind a small ridge. Thirty miles ahead is Rachel, and my plan is to stop at a small gap, up the road where most of the Blue players (Blue air are the participant units of Red Flag, while Red air with their Aggressor F-16s simulate the enemy) should fly by, low or high.

Around Coyote Summit

So here I am, on this clear Nevada weather morning, sitting on top of Coyote Summit, a 200 ft hill at the “gate” of the Range (aka the NTTR), and waiting.

This particular place is very well-known among spotters and by noon, we’re 5 people there, chatting about aviation, and catching in a hurry our cameras at every engine sound we hear above the wind.

At around 1PM, things start moving with 2 white pickups driving fast accross the desert south of our vantage point. They’re not going to set up a simulated Roland SAM as we initially believe. They just drop a guy alone in the bushes and carry on their drive and stay in a deep creek 2 miles away. Radio chatter begins, after a long silent morning, between the pickups and some range controller. We understand that they should have gone to “Red gate”, instead of “Blue gate”, but it seems to be a bit late to fix so the guy on the ground will stay there.

At 2:20PM, we hear some tactical comms on the radio: U.S. F-15Cs and Spanish Typhoons are setting up their Combat Air Patrol (CAP), well east of our position. Cylon flight will take New York CAP (should be above Hiko as we see the contrails) and Pulsar flight will go to Alaska CAP, above Worthington Peak.

F-15s contrailing above Coyote Summit

“Vul time” has been delayed because some players are still on the tarmac at Nellis, and now, according to “Words Bravo,” this Vul time is 2245Z (or 2:45PM). And that’s precisely then that we see “the Wall”, formed by 4 F-15Cs and their contrails, pushing west towards the Red players. The opposition is now just a pair of F-16Cs Aggressors. But soon, as the fight develops, more aircrafts from both sides will converge above Rachel and fight at high altitude.

To the merge!

An F-15 during the engagement

Shots are called on the radio, e.g. “Pulsar 1, Fox 3, bullseye 080 10 23 thousand!”
“Copy shot” says a controller, and a few seconds later some voice confirms the shots as kills (“Mig 3 dead”), or misses (“Pulsar 1, shot trashed).

A Spanish Typhoon contrailing at high altitude

The action never stops, some Aggressors come back (“Cylon 3, pop-up single, BRA 250, 15 miles, 26 thousand, regen”), some Blue players get shot, but mostly Red Air gets hurt and regens regularly. Spanish Typhoons and Dutch Vipers drop flares every now and then, calling out “Spike” or “SAM” based on what their RWR gear tells them.

Spanish Typhoons flaring

Plenty of flares were used during the mock air combat training we observed from Coyote Summit.

While these jets fight overhead, sometimes with an impressive double sonic boom, we can hear some choppers approaching low from the southeast.

MH-60 approaching

Two Navy MH-60S from HSC-21 turn for a few minutes before converging toward our lonely guy, not far from us.

I’m as close to the action as I’ll ever be and soon, we hear jets coming for help as the Sandy fighters used to fly in Vietnam. These are 2 F-16Cs from the 120th FS, with their Colorado ANG tails, circling about 1,000 feet above us and protecting what is now clearly a “downed pilot extraction.”

One of the choppers involved in the CSAR mission

Two F-16s circling above provided cover to the downed personnel extraction operation.

F-16 “Sandy”

This lasts for 10 minutes and the Vipers even simulate an attack on the hidden white pickups. The choppers take off with their precious cargo in and head to the southeast.

MH-60s egressing

The fighter jets activity now seems to subside a bit.

Some are already calling “RTB” (meaning Return to Base) and some sanitize the area while the strikers egress. I haven’t seen any striker as they must have flown through a route north of Rachel. It is also interesting to add that all the air combat seen today, at least the kills, were BVR (Beyond Visual Range) or nearly – no WVR (Within Visual Range) dogfights were spotted.

At about 4:15, two hours after the first thunderous noises, we hear on the frequency “All players, all players, knock it off, knock it off”: this is the end sign and everybody now RTB.

This was a long day and pretty intense afternoon which I’ll never forget. Hundreds of photos were taken. But what’s most important when coming here, is the possibility to listen to the air-to-air communications with a UHF scanner: the best way to be immersed into the action.

Thanks to Aviationist Todd Miller for all the precious info about aviation photography and Coyote Summit area.

Salva

Total air superiority with a bit of swing role: the Italian Typhoons have completed their first Red Flag

The Italian F-2000s have conducted 115 missions logging 180 flying hours in the Nevada Test and Training Range.

On Mar. 11, RF 16-2 came to an end.

Among the more than 70 combat planes that took part in the exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, there were, for the first time ever, also 8 Eurofighter Typhoons of the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force).

The F-2000s (as the aircraft are designated in Italy), belonging to the 4° Stormo, based at Grosseto, and 36° Stormo (Wing) based at Gioia del Colle – even though personnel taking part in the mission was from all the units flying the Typhoon, including the 37° Stormo, based at Trapani, had left Italy on Feb. 19, accompanied by two KC-767A tankers with the 14° Stormo from Pratica di Mare, and three C-130J Super Hercules with the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) from Pisa.

The Italians mainly focused in the air-to-air role taking part to the RF sorties with a typical configuration that saw the pilots wear the Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS) and the aircraft carry the double 750 kilograms wing tanks and one Airborne Instrumentation Subsystem (AIS) pod used for ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation) activities.

Typhoons Red Flag pilot

In the air-superiority mission, the Italians enjoyed the opportunity to train in a scenario made particularly deadly by the presence of F-15, F-16, AT-38 and A-4 playing the Aggressors role as part of “best Red Air in the world,” as well as some cutting edge anti-aircraft warfare.

Typhoons Red Flag night

Furthermore, the complex scenario foreseen by the Red Flag exercise provided an opportunity to further develop the swing-role capability of the aircraft: three of the Typhoons deployed at Nellis AFB were Tranche 2 examples that embedded the P1E(B) upgrades and were loaded with the latest SRP (Software Release Package).

Indeed, these Typhoons carried also two inert GBU-16 Paveway II LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and the Litening targeting pod in order to validate the tactics being developed since the aircraft started the OT&E (Operational Testing and Evaluation) last year.

Typhoons Red Flag taxi

However, as explained by the Italian detachment commander Col. Marco Bertoli, the Italian Air Force does not plan to employ the Typhoon is the air-to-surface role but in particular scenarios: the swing role is being primarily developed to support the platform’s export capabilities and help the industry promoting the aircraft in particular regions (like Kuwait).

This is the very first participation of the ItAF Typhoon fleet to the Red Flag exercise, even though the aircraft have taken part in real combat operations in Libya and have undertaken air defense duties in Iceland and the Baltic States.

Image credit: ItAF

Here are the photos of the Italian Eurofighter Typhoons departing for their first Red Flag exercise

Eight Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon are about to attend Exercise Red Flag 16-2.

On Feb. 19, seven Italian Air Force Typhoon jets left Grosseto airbase, Italy,  for Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, where they will attend Ex. RF 16-2, their first ever Red Flag.

The Aviationist’s photographer Giovanni Maduli was there to take the images you can find in this post.

Red Flag departure 1

The aircraft, belonging to the 4° Stormo, based at Grosseto, and 36° Stormo (Wing) based at Gioia del Colle – even though personnel taking part in the mission come from all the units flying the Typhoon, including the 37° Stormo based at Trapani, will join the two-seater Eurofighter that took part in the “F-35 trail,” accompanying the first Italian JSF in the type’s first transatlantic crossing.

Red Flag departure 2

The aircraft, divided into two flights, are supported by two KC-767A tankers from the 14° Stormo and three C-130J Super Hercules with the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade) from Pisa.

Red Flag departure 3

This is the very first participation of the ItAF Typhoon fleet to the Red Flag exercise, even though the aircraft have taken part in real combat operations in Libya and have undertaken air defense duties in Iceland and the Baltic States.

Red Flag departure 4

The F-2000s (as the aircraft are designated in Italy) will focus in the air-to-air role during RF 16-2, employing the Typhoon’s latest software package and the HMDS (Helment Mounted Display System).

Red Flag departure 5

Red Flag departure 6

Check out these cool photos of U.S. F-22 Raptors refueling over Nevada during Red Flag

Red Flag 16-1 is underway and here are some cool images.

The images in this post show two F-22 Raptors assigned to the 95th Fighter Squadron, from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker over the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) on Feb. 4, 2016, during an Exercise Red Flag 16-1 training sortie.

An F-22 Raptor assigned to the 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., flies a training sortie over the Nevada Test and Training Range Feb. 4, 2016, during Exercise Red Flag 16-1. The full spectrum training Red Flag provides is designed to incorporate multi-domains of warfare to include command and control, real-time intelligence, analysis and exploitation, and electronic warfare. (U.S. Air Force still frame by Master Sgt. Burt Traynor/Released)

Along with approximately 30 other aircraft, the Raptors are participating in the advanced training program administered by the United States Warfare Center and executed through the 414th Combat Training Squadron, that is considered the world’s most realistic: Red Flags include both day and night missions that give aircrew an opportunity to experience advanced, relevant, and realistic combat-like situations in a controlled environment with the purpose to improve their ability to complete complex missions.

Red Flag 16-1: Raptor duo

The NTTR is “the largest contiguous air and ground space available for peace time military operations in the free world, offering 5,000 square miles of air space and more than 1,200 targets and threat simulators.”

An F-22 Raptor assigned to the 95th Fighter Squadron, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., connects to the boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker to refuel during Exercise Red Flag 16-1 Feb. 4, 2016. F-22 Raptors, along with approximately 30 other airframes, are participating in the advanced training program administered by the United States Warfare Center and executed through the 414th Combat Training Squadron, both located at Nellis AFB. (U.S.  Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Burt Traynor/Released)

Red Flag 16-1-back to the mission

Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Burt Traynor/Released

Cool photos of Tyndall’s F-22 Raptors taking part in Red Flag 16-1

F-22 Raptors at Red Flag 16-1.

Taken at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nev. on Jan. 25, 2016 the following interesting images feature 95th Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptors from Tyndall AFB during Red Flag 16-1.

Tyndall's F-22s

The presence of U.S. Air Force fifth generation fighter will bring the exercise to a new level: in fact the jet’s stealth, advanced avionics, communication and sensory capabilities will further enhance the capabilities of the other aircraft taking part in the drill.

F-22 at Nellis AFB

Held at Nellis AFB from Jan. 25 to Feb. 12, the first of 2016 Red Flags is one of the largest ever as explained by Senior Master Sgt. Richard McCorkle, 95th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Superintendent: “It’s one of the biggest Red Flags ever, and anytime we can train at this large of a scale, and make ourselves better for when we deploy, it is a great opportunity. It’s a good feeling to be here, we’re eager to showcase our abilities and what the F-22 Raptor really can do.”

F-22 fifth gen fighter

More than 130 aircraft and 3,000 support personnel from 24 U.S. Air Force squadrons and 4 squadrons each from Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force are involved in Red Flag 16-1.

95th Fighter Squadron F-22

Image credit: U.S. Air Force