NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. --
Since the earliest military operation in American aviation history, air bombardment has been a valuable asset to gain unique strategic and tactical advantages over opposing forces. This capability has helped to counter everything from enemy advancements in World War I to terrorist activities during our current overseas operations.
Over the years, due to the nature of the threats and adversaries in today’s contingency operations, the way the military conducts warfare has drastically evolved. To keep up with these changes, the Department of Defense is constantly developing ways to maximize the combat readiness, capability and survivability of U.S. military forces.
While the aircraft and technologies utilized to conduct these global air strikes has evolved over the years to meet new demands, the one variable that may dictate a mission’s success or failure is the human element.
In order to mitigate any potential for error while conducting current or future missions, the operators and maintainers of this vital sector of national defense constantly train and refine their skills to ensure mission readiness.
One of these training opportunities is the 414th Combat Training Squadron’s Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.
Recently, Airmen assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota and the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, both part of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Strike Command, participated in the most recent iteration of the exercise, Red Flag 16-2, spanning two weeks between February 29 to March 11, 2016.
“Red Flag 16-2 is an exercise built on years of research and training by the 414th Combat Training Squadron to refine the way we train our U.S. and allied forces to conduct the contingency operations of the future,” said Col. Andrew Bernard, Red Flag 16-2 Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “This exercise not only incorporates the usual threats across the domains of air, space and cyberspace, but also emphasizes total joint-force integration. This is made even more apparent through our incorporation of Army special forces elements, Naval Command and Control and our allied partners’ forces.”
Red Flag accurately replicates the same conditions and threats each of our U.S. and allied military members may encounter while conducting air, land, space and cyber space operations overseas. These minor details prove vital to the delicate mission that the bomber Airmen and maintainers need to ensure they are prepared for real world combat situations.
“The goal of Red Flag 16-2 is to challenge our U.S. and allied forces to properly react to and overcome simulated threats in order to maximize the combat readiness, capability and survivability,” Bernard said. “In order to do this, the exercise provides realistic training in a combined air, ground, space and electronic threat environment.”
Exercise scenarios, which previously focused on aerial dog fights , have now evolved into complex missions involving air interdiction, combat search and rescue, close air support, dynamic targeting of simulated high value targets such as mock airfields, vehicle convoys, tanks, parked aircraft, bunkered defensive positions and missile sites. This complexity also makes the capabilities that the bombers provide even more important to the participant’s integration, which in-turn enables mission success.
“The U.S. Bomber Fleet continues to remain an integral part of maintaining our nation’s air superiority,” said Capt. Ryan Kerns, 34th Bomb Squadron B-1 pilot. “Throughout the years, the way operations are conducted has changed. However, the need for a trained and prepared bomber fleet is a necessary tool for combatant commanders to have. Its support for ground troops and ability to use munitions in support mission objectives remains valuable.”
The first Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Carl Spaatz, once said that air control can be established by superiority in numbers, by better employment, better equipment, or by a combination of these factors. According to Kerns, the U.S. Air Force’s bomber fleet continues to operate by these principals.
Red Flag was established in 1975 as one of the initiatives directed by General Robert J. Dixon, then commander of Tactical Air Command, to better prepare our forces for combat. However, since its original conception as a predominantly air to air combat exercise, it has grown to include ground, air, space and cyberspace threats.
“During Red Flag, the bombers are generally charged with providing support for our Army or Special Forces members on the ground or eliminating the simulated threats on the Nevada Test and Training Range,” Kerns said. By conducting these simulated operations in a training environment, we are able to provide our aircrew valuable experience they will need to effectively carry out similar missions in real world scenarios.”
The 2.9 million NTTR also allows bomber aircrews the opportunity to practice in both low and high level flying in a unique and realistic arena scattered with simulated threats that may be present during current and future operations.
While the AFGSC’s bomber fleet continues to innovate to meet the needs of combatant commanders, Red Flag remains a valuable asset in training our aircrew for the next generation of operations.