by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/5/2015 - NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- For
40 years, Red Flag exercises have sharpened the "tip of the spear" for
its participants. While in the beginning that meant exposing warfighters
- specifically aircrew - to their first 10 combat sorties as a way to
increase their survivability in aerial combat, the exercises have
evolved to now include overcoming advanced electronic threats in more
contested combat environments.
Red Flag's evolution continues in the exercise's second iteration of 2015, taking another step into the virtual world.
"Red Flag 15-2 is the first time we will do the 'v' part of the live,
virtual and constructive, also known as LVC," said Col. Jeffrey Weed,
414th Combat Training Squadron commander.
What that means, Weed said, is for the first time during a Red Flag
exercise, hundreds of virtual participants in simulators at their home
stations or in simulators at the Distributed Mission Operations Center
at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, will participate in taking down
enemy "Red Forces" by providing ground surveillance to support attack
operations and targeting to delay, disrupt and ultimately destroy the
Combining elements from Virtual Flag exercises, executed out of Kirtland
AFB, with Red Flag exercises will usher in a whole new age of
integrated "Flags," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Voigt, 505th Test Squadron
"The benefits to the warfighter of integrating 'virtual' into Red Flags
are that it allows us to bring in more of the combat-realistic threat
envelope, and we're now able to maximize the air tasking order with the
most amount of 'Blue Forces' in both the virtual and live sides of a
joint air operations area that is 1,200 by 1,100 nautical miles,
compared to the Nevada Test and Training Range which is about 100 by 100
nautical miles," Voigt said.
Although operating in the virtual theater's expanded area of
responsibility allows more friendly forces to be deployed on the ground
and air, the addition of more virtual enemy forces greatly increases the
complexity of training missions; however, Weed said it's not a new
concept to Red Flag exercises.
"For the last three years, we've operated significantly in the
constructive aspect of LVC, so for players at the operational level -
whether that's command and control in an AWACS (or E-8C Joint Stars), or
command and control in the (Combined Air Operations Center-Nellis) -
they've already dealt with a much larger war than just the (NTTR)
ranges," Weed said.
While the ability for live assets to see virtual assets is still in its
infancy, integrating all three elements of LVC will be on full display
during Red Flag 15-2.
"What we're going to do is take a virtual Joint Stars, or VSTARS, to
pick up movers - live trucks on the range - and broadcast that to live
strike assets, F-16 (Fighting Falcons) or F-15 (Eagles), to go employ on
a dynamic target mission," Voigt said. "The Nellis Test and Training
Range personnel on the range are a crucial partner for LVC integration.
The ability to track and send location data to the VSTARS is due to
U.S. Army Patriot missile units will also make their first trip to Red Flag to join in the LVC integration.
"It will be a little complicated, but we'll have live Patriots on the
range playing constructive and we'll have virtual Patriots in the
constructive and virtual battlespace playing as well," Weed said.
While Weed said most future Flags will feature only virtual Patriots -
it costs more than $1 million to bring a live Patriot unit to Red Flag -
the biggest benefit of virtual training doesn't come from financial
savings, but from increased mission readiness for participating units
across the board.
"I think over the course of time, if it can adequately replace the live
play we'll save money. But from the Red Flag perspective, this is about
advanced training and the more opportunities we give aircrew, Patriot
operators and Joint Stars teams to participate and learn to fight
together, the better off our forces will be," Weed said. "And it's that
training focus that's driven us to this LVC arena in great detail."
Although the DMOC will serve as the hub or "brain" for all things
virtual during the exercise, the 505th TS and Combined Air Operations
Center-Nellis will serve as the "belly-button".
"The air operations center plays a critical role during Virtual Flag and
a critical role during the integrated Virtual and Red Flag," Voigt
said. "What we provide is the operational-level command and control -
the node that connects the virtual players to live players and the
With Red Flag now in its 40th year, Voigt said the integration of the
virtual aspect will keep the 'Flags firmly entrenched as the service's
premiere combat training exercise.
"By combining LVC training, we'll be able to show how we can maximize
our footprint in LVC, push the technology envelope, see where we need to
go in the future with our end-goal being able to integrate
fifth-generation fighters and bombers with our fourth-generation assets,
while being able to provide them with realistic threats to go against,"
Voigt said. "The combined efforts in the months leading up to 15-2 will
pay huge dividends for all the participants, as they're going to get
the most combat-realistic environment in the Air Force."