RED FLAG is a contested combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States and its allies. It is coordinated at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). It is one of a series of advanced training programs administered by the United States Air Force Warfare Center and Nellis Air Force Base.
RED FLAG was established in 1975 as the brain child of Lt. Col. Richard “Moody” Suter and one of the initiatives directed by General Robert J. Dixon, then commander of Tactical Air Command, to better prepare our forces for combat. Lessons from Vietnam showed that if a pilot survived his first 10 combat missions, his probability of survival for remaining missions increased substantially. Red Flag was designed to expose each “Blue” force pilot to their first 10 “combat missions” here at Nellis, allowing them to be more confident and effective in actual combat. This same principle continues to guide Red Flag today, with the goal of preparing Air Force, Joint, and Coalition pilots, aircrew and operators to fight against a near-peer adversary in any combat environment.
Tasked to plan and control this training, the 414th Combat Training Squadron's mission is to maximize the combat readiness, capability and survivability of participating units by providing realistic, multi-domain training in a combined air, ground, space and electronic threat environment while providing opportunity for a free exchange of ideas between forces.
Aircraft and personnel deploy to Nellis for RED FLAG under the Air Expeditionary Force concept and make up the exercise's "Blue" forces. By working together, these Blue forces are able to utilize their diverse capabilities and weapons systems to execute specific missions, such as offensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defense, combat search and rescue, dynamic targeting, and defensive counter air. These forces use various tactics to attack NTTR targets such as mock airfields, vehicle convoys, tanks, parked aircraft, bunkered defensive positions, missile sites, and conduct personnel recovery efforts. These targets are defended by a variety of simulated "Red" force ground and air threats to give participant aircrews the most realistic combat training possible.
The Red force threats are aligned under the 57th Operations Group, which controls seven squadrons of USAF Aggressors, including fighter, space, information operations and air defense units. The Aggressors are specially trained to replicate the tactics and techniques of potential adversaries and provide a scalable threat presentation to Blue forces which aids in achieving the desired learning outcomes for each mission.
A typical RED FLAG exercise involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft (F-15E, F-35, F-16, F/A-18, A-10C, B-1B, B-2A, B-52H, FGR4, MQ-9, etc.), reconnaissance aircraft (MQ-4B, RC-135, U-2S), electronic warfare aircraft (EC-130H, EA-18G and F-16CM), air superiority aircraft (F-22A, F-15C, etc), airlift support (C-130, C-17A), Search and Rescue aircraft (HH-60G, HH-60W, HC-130J, CH-47), aerial refueling aircraft (A330, KC-130, KC-135R, KC-10A, KC-46A, etc), multi-domain Command and Control platforms (E-3, E-8C, E-2C, E-7A, R1, etc) as well as ground based Command and Control, Space, and Cyber Forces.
Four U.S. military services, their Guard/Reserve components and the air forces of numerous other countries participate in each RED FLAG exercise. Since 1975, 29 countries which includes (EPAF a consortium of Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway) and NATO (AWACS) have joined the U.S. in these exercises and several other countries have participated as observers. RED FLAG has seen 30,268 aircraft and has provided training for more than 529,722 military personnel, of which 164,724 are aircrew members flying more than 423,248 sorties and logging more than 783,907 hours of flying time.
(Current as of October 2022)