by Airman 1st Class Kelsey Tucker
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
8/13/2015 - SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Airmen
from the 77th Fighter Squadron here are participating in Red Flag 15-4
at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Aug. 11 to 17.
Red Flag, executed through the 414th Combat Training Squadron at Nellis,
is a realistic combat training exercise conducted at the Nevada Test
and Training Range by the United States and its allies.
The exercise traces its roots back to the Vietnam War, when it was found
that a pilot was most at risk during their first 10 missions before
they had developed the skills and experience needed to become more
capable. Thus Red Flag was established in 1975, as a way to get pilots
through those crucial first missions without being in any significant
"The Red Flag mission is to take people from all types of different
assets and platforms, bring them together, learn how to execute your
particular mission set, and integrate with others against a very
advanced threat that is fighting back throughout the entire period,"
said Lt. Col. Michael Horlbeck, 55th FS commander. "It gets us ready for
a much more advanced adversary, which is something that you can't try
to do when it's upon you. That's something that takes an incredible
amount of investment both in time and effort."
For an Airman who has never been to a Red Flag exercise, the difference in operations tempo can be astounding.
Horlbeck remembers watching a young lieutenant sitting in a mass
briefing for the first time, and seeing his eyes as he realizes the
magnitude of how many different assets are playing.
"You go from home station training where you may have six to eight
aircraft when we do a training sortie," said Horlbeck, "to all of a
sudden now you've got 70 on one side and 30 on the other - more than a
tenfold increase in the number of players."
Held four times annually, the exercise consists of diverse missions
ranging from close air support, dynamic targeting, and even combat
search and rescue.
Working together, allied forces are able to utilize the myriad capabilities of their aircraft to execute these missions.
A benefit of this diversity is that the units that work together at Red
Flag are usually the same units that will deploy together. This allows
Airmen to build trust and rapport with other Airmen that they would
normally never have a chance to interact with.
"Having built that relationship, we know what each other's systems and
capabilities are, what kind of techniques we like to apply," said
Horlbeck. "And on a personal level, we've got a relationship that allows
us to work together and trust each other."
During a typical Red Flag, 20th Fighter Wing forces are in charge of the
suppression of enemy air defenses such as surface-to-air missiles,
however this time around they have another responsibility on their plate
- for Red Flag 15-4, Shaw's Airmen have taken on the role of the "core
Being the core wing means that Airmen from the 20th FW will form the
"skeleton crew" that the participating units fall under, and Col.
Stephen Jost, 20th FW commander, will act as the Air Expeditionary Wing
commander for the entire exercise. Even though each unit may have their
own mission commander for each sortie, Jost will be in charge of the
mission as a whole.
For most, a Red Flag exercise is the only opportunity they will have to
realistically train under these conditions - not only working with
unfamiliar people and terrain, but also the movements that it takes to
get to a new location - before they have to do it for real when lives
are at stake, said Horlbeck.