Red Flag adjusts for today’s challenges

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Bryan Guthrie
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The 414th Combat Training Squadron (CTS), which oversees Red Flag, is making changes to the exercise for improved efficiency. 

Red Flag is a realistic multi-domain training exercise that maximizes the combat readiness and survivability of participants by providing a robust, accurate training environment.

“We see units arrive at Nellis at varying levels of being prepared,” said Col. Michael Mathes, 414 CTS commander. “By the end of three weeks, units are not just capable of executing their wartime mission with confidence. They are ready for combat.” 

While prior Red Flag exercises focused on survivability of combat pilots, Red Flag now integrates the five core functions of the Air Force: Intelligence Reconnaissance Surveillance (ISR), Command and Control, Air Superiority, Strike, and Personnel Recovery to ensure Airmen are ready for today’s fight.

“The value of integration exercises like Red Flag is in the building block approach,” said Mathes.  “It starts with unit-level preparation, making sure that unit can function as a team. It moves to package integration, which is making sure functional teams, such as strike fighters and bombers, can work together. Then, we get to Red Flag, where multi-package integration comes into play, learning how to integrate different packages – superiority, strike and mobility aircraft – into one mission to achieve the same goal.” 

According to Mathes, Red Flag exercises enable the Air Force to harness readiness through exposure to professional adversaries, also known as the red force, collaboration with coalition and joint partners, and integration of the personnel recovery mission into a singular environment and scenario. Red Flag must continue to evolve to meet tomorrow's challenges.

“We’re continuing to improve threat replication, how we focus on the supported commands, and implement improvements to our debrief process to make the training more effective and efficient,” said Mathes. 

Expanding on the latter, Mathes explained the importance of debriefs – the process of examining a completed mission to assess what went well and what could be improved – and why they are critical to the training.

“We are leveraging new technology to validate mission effects and compile data, so we can quickly give facts to the mission commander, tactical mentors and air expeditionary wing leadership,” said Mathes. “This facilitates a more efficient and effective process of providing information for the human-to-human debrief, where the learning really happens.”

Additionally, Mathes envisions further improvements for the exercise, especially with the integration of international partners. 

Roughly 2,900 personnel assigned to 39 units are participating in Red Flag 19-1. Ninety-five aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force are scheduled to complete 26 missions over a three-week period. 

Mathes said the partnership with U.S. allies and other nations will become the most important part of the exercise because a strong coalition will be critical to the success of future conflicts.

Although the aircraft in the sky are visible reminders of airpower, Mathes recognizes the impossibility of success without the tireless work behind the scenes. 

“It’s important to give thanks to the Airmen and joint participants and not just to the operations personnel, but also the maintenance and support,” said Mathes. “The real facilitator (for Red Flag) is the human element that chooses to sacrifice their time and energy to come together for unity of purpose. Airmen make airpower.”

While U.S. adversaries are constantly changing, Red Flag will adjust. The legacy of the exercises remains a commitment to giving aircrews the best odds of survival, while adapting to make U.S. and coalition forces as lethal as possible.