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Red Flag ramps up - Raptor debuts with stealth sisters

NELLS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- The first Red Flag exercise this year, dubbed "Colonial Flag," will begin at Nellis Tuesday, marking the 32nd year for Red Flag operations.

This is the first of three scheduled Red Flags for this year, and for the first time, the F-22/A Raptor is participating.

More than 200 aircraft, including the F-22/A and about 5,200 military personnel from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, are taking part in the training. There will be two periods scheduled during this exercise with each period lasting two weeks.

Capt. James Govin, 414th Combat Training Squadron flight commander and team chief for this Red Flag, said everyone is looking forward to this particular exercise because new training has been built into the combat scenarios.

"We have some pilots who have never been exposed to the concept of Red Flag, and they will certainly gain experience working with other airframes and crews," he explained. "But, there will be some pilots returning after a two-year absence, and it's going to be different for them. The scenarios will be the same, but we've included close air support training and dynamic targeting. We always remind ourselves that Red Flag is designed to fight the next big war so these new additions to the exercise will really prepare them for their aerospace expeditionary force deployments."

Captain Govin explained the F-22's role in its first Red Flag exercise.

"The Raptor will be flying in Red Flag for the first time, and its role will be primarily air-to-air fighter escort for the Flag's air-to-ground strike aircraft, but will also demonstrate its air-to-ground capabilities," he said.

"The strike aircraft will include the B-2 Spirit, the B-1 Lancer, Royal Air Force Tornadoes, F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-111 Aardvark and the F-117 Nighthawk," noted Captain Govin.

Captain Govin also reported that the AH-64 Apache Army helicopter is returning after several years' of absence in Red Flag.

"It's been some time since we've had the Apache here, and the Utah National Guard will be flying them for the exercises," he said.

The Nevada Test and Training Range is the best location for an exercise of this caliber because of the range's size and remote position, according to Red Flag participants.
Its sheer vastness has the size to accommodate many aircraft at one time, allowing for a realistic training experience for the more than 200 aircraft scheduled.

Red Flag has been a major player in training U.S. forces and American allies since 1975 after the former Tactical Air Command commander, Gen. Robert Dixon, was provided evidence suggesting a pilot who successfully made it through his first 10 combat missions had a much higher chance of survival in all subsequent sorties. The general proposed the idea of new pilots attending Red Flag to complete 10 rookie missions in a realistic but controlled environment, giving them a greater chance for success and survival in a real-time war environment. This is still the primary focus of Red Flag today. The Air Force later invited allies to join in the Red Flag exercises.

"This upcoming exercise has been nicknamed "Colonial Flag" because both the United States and Australia were once colonies of the United Kingdom," said Captain Govin. "This is the second year for Colonial Flag, and we always enjoy the esprit' de corps and camaraderie we have established with our colony allies."

This Red Flag operation will continue through the second week of February, with a one-week break between the two periods of the exercise. The break will provide time for various pilots and aircraft rotating in and out of Nellis to prepare for the exercise.

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