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NEWS | Sept. 10, 2015

JB Charleston Engages In Red Flag Exercise

By Capt. Brian Walker 437th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

This past August, members from all branches of the US military in conjunction with international allies met at Nellis Air Force Base to hone their air combat capabilities by participating in the Red Flag exercise. Red Flag was established in 1975 to help maximize the readiness, skills and survivability of airborne assets in a combat environment. For the first time since 2001, members from the 437th Airlift Wing were involved in Red Flag, sending four aircrews and a C-17 Globemaster III to contribute to the two week, $3-million exercise. This year's Red Flag included military units from Israel, Singapore and Jordan.

Red Flag is designed to simulate a large scale air war incorporating all types of aircraft, from fighters and bombers to cargo and reconnaissance. These aircraft practice various combat roles such as close air support and combat search and rescue. The entire exercise takes place in the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a relatively small 120 -mile by 80-mile airspace, at times filled with more than 100 aircraft.  Red Flag incorporates 40 aggressor "enemy" aircraft and a vast array of simulated surface-to-air defenses making the scenarios as realistic as possible.

Capt. Matthew Weinberg, the Mission Planning Cell Chief for mobility aircraft at Red Flag, a C-17 Weapons Officer, and a Special Operations Low Level II (SOLL II) pilot, commented on training provided at the exercise. "Red Flag teaches all the players how to better interact and fully utilize other assets. It's all about integration and learning how to communicate your specific requirements to other key players, such as the Combat Air Forces, which allow you to complete your mission," he said. Red Flag used the lessons of history to build a venue that forces players to communicate in ways that are required for survival in the real world. "Fighters and bombers didn't know how to talk to us and we didn't know how to talk to them," he continued, "Red Flag is designed to change that."

During Red Flag 2015, the 437th AW crews provided airdrop capabilities, performing high and low altitude deliveries of Special Operations forces, supplies and Survival Specialists.

"The flying experienced at Red Flag provided training that is unmatched anywhere," said Capt. Patrick Griffin, one of the 437th AW SOLL II pilots. "It was incredible to see so many aircraft performing their missions in such a small airspace while in a realistic ground and air threat environment."

The NTTR is filled with steep mountainous terrain, adding extra complexity to an already challenging mission scenario.

Beyond the aircraft and aircrew, the exercise includes all aspects of a deployed unit. The exercise incorporated the full spectrum of aircraft support including a Combat Air Operations Center, Maintenance, Aircrew Flight Equipment, Squadron Aviation Resource Management, Survival Specialists and Intelligence.

Weinberg believes the 437th AW will likely continue to partake in future exercises citing the significant training benefits.

"Participating in this exercise will change a lot about how we operate," said Weinberg. "The exercise shows us how the Air Force, Joint and Coalition partners fight and how we must adapt our training to fit that methodology. In the future we hope to incorporate other aircrews from the rest of the C-17 community to experience the crucial lessons learned during Red Flag."