Royal Air Force excel in US air combat exercise

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mage shows Typhoons from 2 (AC) Squadron, RAF Lossiemouth, leading in a US Navy EA-18G Growler after a successful mission at Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag 23-1. Photographer: AS1 Tom Cann RAF - UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

A Royal Air Force detachment, operating from Nellis Air Base Nevada, is honing its cutting-edge air combat skills in the largest scale Exercise Red Flag to date.

Exercise Red Flag is the pre-eminent annual air combat training exercise run by the United States and has been a regular fixture on the RAF Exercise programme since the late 1970s.

The objective of the exercise for participants is to develop capabilities in a high threat and contested environment against a near peer adversary.

During the exercise RAF Typhoons and Voyager join with combat aircraft from the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps and the Royal Australian Air Force.  As part of the exercise the pilots and aircrew face simulated ground-based air defence systems, as well as aggressor aircraft that simulate a peer adversary, together with cyber and space-based threats as combat missions are planned conducted and debriefed.

The United States Air Force has expanded this long-established exercise to include a vastly increased geographical area to challenge participants to overcome what USAF planners are calling the ‘Tyranny of Distance’ in addition to the traditional combat air missions of previous exercises.

The Exercise has previously been run over the Nevada Test and Training Range and area of 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land.  Now training areas in Utah and California have been added, as well as missions being flow out over the Californian Pacific Coast.  The exercise area has therefore become vast and is aimed to reflect the challenges of conducting air operations at range 

Image shows a. RAF Voyager from RAF Brize Norton landing at Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag 23-1. Photographer: AS1 Tom Cann RAF – UK MOD © Crown copyright 2023

The RAF detachment of around 300 personnel currently taking part on the exercise is operating seven Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth based II (Army Co-operation) Squadron, plus a Voyager operated from 10 and 101 Squadron based at RAF Brize Norton. 

In addition, aircrew from 51 Squadron based at RAF Waddington have been integrated into the flight crew of a USAF RC-135 Rivet Joint intelligence gathering aircraft. Australia is the only other nation participating, reflecting the close Defence partnership between our three countries.

Air Commodore Howard Edwards, the RAF’s Combat Air Force Commander during a visit to Ex Red Flag said:

“This is the most important exercise that the RAF participates on each year.  There are a number of reasons for this.  First and foremost, the scale and complexity of the exercise tests all of the participants in a way that just does not exist anywhere else in the world.  

“The original intent of the exercise was to seek to replicate the first 10 combat missions a fast jet aircrew will face in combat, as to survive those missions meant, they were more likely to survive sustained combat missions.  Now the exercise has developed and evolved to what it represents today and recognises the threats that have evolved and so the exercise has evolved to represent them.”

Colonel Jared Hutchinson, the commander of the USAF’s 414th Combat Training Squadron that runs Exercise Reg Flag said:

“In this iteration, the allied force will be presented with many new and emerging real-world tactical problems that enables them to learn in the world’s best combat training environment while writing the next chapter of our resilient heritage.  Our allies are one of the greatest strategic assets we have in protecting our nations.”

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