report by: Thierry Letellier
Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, are home to RED FLAG-Alaska, a realistic, 10-day air combat training exercise held up to four times a year. Each RED FLAG-Alaska exercise is a multi-service, multi-platform coordinated, combat operations exercise and corresponds to the designed operational capability of participating units. RED FLAG-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored exercise. Originally COPE THUNDER was moved to Eielson AFB from Clark Air Base, Philippines, in 1992 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991, forced the curtailment of operations. COPE THUNDER was re-designated RED FLAG-Alaska in 2006.
When the decision was made to relocate COPE THUNDER, Air Force officials viewed Eielson as the most logical choice. That decision was based partly on the fact that Eielson’s 353rd Combat Training Squadron already controlled and maintained three major military flight training ranges in Alaska. Initiated in 1976, COPE THUNDER was devised as a way to give aircrews their first taste of warfare and quickly grew into PACAF’s “premier simulated combat airpower employment exercise.” The goal of RED FLAG-Alaska is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat environments.
RED FLAG-Alaska participants are organized into “Red” defensive forces and “Blue” offensive forces. “White” forces represent the neutral controlling agency. The defensive force includes ground-control intercept and surface air defense forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These forces generally employ defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters — electronic devices which send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches — provide valuable surface-to-air training and are operated by a civilian contractor as directed by 353rd Combat Training Squadron technicians. The offensive force includes the full spectrum of U.S. and allied tactical and support units. RED FLAG-Alaska has the assets, range, and support structure to train to joint and combined war fighting doctrine against realistic and robust enemy integrated threat systems, under safe and controlled conditions. During this edition 2015-3 a full mission was dedicated for Search And Rescue with the goal to recover a ‘downed’ pilot.
For this edition 2015/3, RED FLAG-Alaska Blue Forces saw the JASDF F-15J/DJ from 203 Hikotai coming from Chitose AB. The South Korean KF-16s from the 19th Fighter Wing at Cunju / jungwon AB took also heading to Eielson AB. Comming also from south Korea but representing the Pacific Air force, the 51 Fighter Wing was present with his 2 squadrons. The 36FS with F-16 CM / DM and the 25 FS with A-10C. Then the 148 FW / 179 FS MN ANG representing the Air National Guard, also equiped with F-16 CM / DM seems, due to their weapon loads, to have been employed in SEAD missions. Took part also, sent by the US NAVY Reserve, EA-18G from VAQ-209. The EA-18G Growler is the U.S. Navy’s newest electronic attack aircraft now replacing the ageing EA-6B Prowlers in the service’s fleet. Based on the F-18 E/F Hornet airframe, the two-seater, twin-turbofan aircraft integrates the latest electronic attack technology, including the ALQ-218 receiver, ALQ-99 jamming pods, communication countermeasures, and satellite communications. Along with the electronic attack suite, the Growler also features the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar
Representing the major part of Red Forces, the 18th Aggressor Squadron with F-16 Block 30 is the only Agressor squadron for all the PACAF. On Aug, 2007, the 18th FS was officially redesignated the 18th Aggressor Squadron. Formed from an initial cadre of experienced 18th FS pilots and 64th Aggressors from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., these individuals were hand-picked experts in adversary weapons systems and tactics. On Jan. 17, 2008, the 18th AGRS received its first F-16 Block 30 from Kunsan AB, Korea, with the new advanced Flanker (arctic) aggressor paint scheme. With its change in status came a new mission for the 18th Agressor Squadron; it is to prepare and train the rest of the combat air forces during complex exercices.
As during my first time in Alaska, the weather was not cooperative at all . Despite of that, Globalairpower had the great honor to participate to the media-day of this RED FLAG-Alaska 2015-3 edition, under the responsability of the 354 Fighter Wing at Eielson AFB. I would like personnaly to thank: 1st LT. Elias Zani and Msgt. Karen Tomasik for their constant attention and great professionalism .