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BLUE FLAG exercise prepares Pacific Air Forces for pacing challenge

  • Published
  • By 505th Command and Control Wing Public Affairs
  • 505th Combat Training Squadron

Airmen from the 505th Combat Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Florida, executed exercise BLUE FLAG, which tested Pacific Air Forces' ability to prevail in conflict against a strategic competitor as well as the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command air component's ability to ensure command, control, communications, and computer, or C4I, systems resiliency against escalating cyberspace attacks, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 28 – Feb. 3.

We need to be prepared for any conflict in this theater and across the globe. In this exercise, we are simulating the pacing threats' capability to degrade and deny us in cyber and other communications methods.''
Col. James McFarland, 613th Air Operations Center commander
BLUE FLAG – Air Component Training Exercise 23 delivered Pacific Air Forces Command and INDOPACOM's air component realistic, operational-level, multi-domain command and control environment specifically oriented against a Department of Defense pacing challenge. The five-day exercise built upon lessons learned during BLUE FLAG 22-1 and is part of a broader PACAF operational-level training strategy implemented over several years and multiple exercises to deter aggression across the Indo-Pacific region.

"We need to be prepared for any conflict in this theater and across the globe," said Col. James McFarland, 613th Air Operations Center commander. "In this exercise, we are simulating the pacing threats' capability to degrade and deny us in cyber and other communications methods."

The 505th CTS was joined by members of the 157th Air Operations Group, Missouri Air National Guard, who operated as observers to document the actions taken by both the 613th Air Operations Center operators and the PACAF Battle Staff in response to the exercise injects. The combined team designed a complex scenario to achieve more than 9,000 targeted cyber effects against 329 air component workstations and recorded 142 detailed observer inputs, which were used to debrief PACAF leadership on the air component's readiness to maintain Continuity of Operations Planning, or COOP, amidst a sustained attack in the cyberspace domain. 

"Our strategic competitors are well aware that the U.S. military has used C4 systems to create asymmetric advantages across domains," said Lt. Col. Michael Power, 505th CTS director of operations, Hurlburt Field, Florida. "From competition to crisis, such systems will be targeted, and our warfighters must be prepared to continue operations in a degraded environment."

As the 505th CTS planners steadily increased the amount and complexity of the simulated cyber-attacks throughout the exercise, the Airmen and joint team from the 613th AOC and the PACAF Battle Staff successfully advanced tactics and procedures to apply innovative solutions. When system degradation threatened the effective C2 of airpower, the air component warfighters successfully demonstrated the ability to distribute operations.

"We have many incredibly talented Airmen looking at these problem sets (contested communications), and they wouldn't have the opportunity to navigate these challenges if we didn’t execute BLUE Flag 22 and 23," said Col. Jeff Jarry, PACAF deputy chief of staff. "Because they are generally not so restricted in major exercises."

Jarry continued, "we basically trained to fight with our hands tied behind our back, from a communications and logistics perspective, so we had to work harder and get more creative because the challenges we faced were not our everyday challenges, not even close."

Just as BLUE FLAG 23 was linked to its predecessor exercise, it also sets the baseline for future operational-level exercises in INDOPACOM.

This approach is part of a paradigm shift in the BLUE FLAG exercise program, which aims to provide air component commanders and their staffs, both area of responsibility-defined and functional, a venue to conduct focused continuation training in a robust Joint All Domain Command and Control, or JADC2, operational environment focused on a pacing challenge and acute threats to prepare Airmen better to fight and win.

"BLUE FLAG exercises designed by the 505th CTS offer a way to exercise the innovative planning approaches required in strategic competition. This training is critical in readying our air components to deter aggression and meet growing multi-domain threats across the globe.''
Col. Aaron Gibney, 505th Combat Training Group commander
Initially conceived in 1976 as an extension of the RED FLAG exercise, the BLUE FLAG exercise program began as a framework to improve the C2 of aviation. As technology advanced, the program transitioned from a live-fly exercise into a computer-driven model incorporating theater-specific contingency plans. In 2014, the BLUE FLAG exercise program evolved further, integrating real-world threats in the operational environment to tailor the event to the specific air operations center and Air Force Forces' training audiences. Today, 505th CTS exercise planners invite all air components to participate in an annual BLUE FLAG, with even-year exercises focused on a pacing challenge and odd-year exercises focused on an acute threat.

"BLUE FLAG exercises designed by the 505th CTS offer a way to exercise the innovative planning approaches required in strategic competition," said Col. Aaron Gibney, 505th Combat Training Group commander, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. “This training is critical in readying our air components to deter aggression and meet growing multi-domain threats across the globe."

The 505th CTS reports to the 505th CTG, Nellis AFB, Nevada, and the 505th Command and Control Wing, headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Florida.

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