Military News

Monday, August 24, 2015

Seven countries participate in exercise

by Staff Sgt. Wes Wright
JBER Public Affairs

8/24/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The Pacific Air Forces' area of responsibility is home to 60 percent of the world's population, comprising 36 nations spread over 52 percent of the Earth's surface. PACAF is charged with promoting peace, prosperity and stability across the entire domain.

Enter Red Flag Alaska: a coalition exercise testing the capabilities of air forces from around the world in high-stakes aerial combat situations. Red Flag gives aircrews their first 10 simulated combat missions. During the Vietnam War, studies showed that the first 10 combat missions for aircrews were the ones where they are most likely to be shot down.

Red Flag Alaska 15-3 is the largest of the year and one of the most complex ever conducted.

The exercise includes more than 80 different aircraft spread between Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson Air Force Base, with seven Pacific flags represented: the United States, Australia, Britain, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.

"Everyone has to work together to get the mission done," said Master Sgt. Phillip Sawin, 354th Operations Group Detachment 1 maintenance superintendent. "You'll see not only are we helping all the foreign units, but you'll see the foreign units helping each other. It's really a great visual of the interoperability and cooperation that happens here."

This year, that cooperation links the ground and the skies. Japanese paratroopers jumped out of U.S. C-130 Hercules for the first time and U.S. Army Soldiers honed their skills jumping out of Australian C-130s.

One of the U.S. Soldiers to fly with the Aussies was Staff Sgt. Colton Hurley, a jumpmaster with B Company, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division.

"I like the way they interacted with us. Communication was top-notch. They showed us how they did things and then asked us what we needed to make sure we executed our mission according to our standards," Hurley said. "As a Soldier about to jump out of an aircraft, it gives me a lot of confidence to know they know what they're doing and that our procedures are so similar. It builds trust, which is critical for real-world mission success."

The Red Flag deployed forces commander, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Campbell said the scale of the exercise offers unmatched training opportunities.

"One of the great things about Red Flag 15-3 is the number of international partners we have here," Campbell said. "Our ability to come out here, join forces and operate in a high-end combat environment with everything the Red Flag infrastructure offers us is an incredible opportunity to theater security out here in the Pacific."

The U.S. and its international partners are conducting several different types of scenarios designed to improve interoperability.

"We have defensive counter-air scenarios where they practice defense against a large-scale air attack," said Lt. Col. Dylan Dylan Baumgartner, 354th Operations Group Detachment 1 commander. "There are also offensive counter-air scenarios, practicing taking the fight to the enemy: taking down their air defenses and fighting their way into enemy airspace, while protecting themselves from enemy air defenses."

Several of the participating nations' aircrews spoke highly of the opportunity to come together with coalition partners to hone their skills.

"One of the biggest things we're looking for is the interoperability we get with the other pacific nations," said Squadron Leader Scott Harris, Detachment C, 84th Wing, Royal Australian Air Force, commander. "That is very important when it comes to things like humanitarian assistance and natural-disaster relief. It's been good for the Royal Australian Air Force. We've learned a lot of lessons. Our crews have done really well. They've pulled their socks up on the operational and maintenance side as well."

"It's a capability test for us," Harris continued. "What we're looking for is to really test the guys in a radar-threat environment. We want to make sure the maintainers can support our rate of effort that we fly when we're here."

Building integration, interoperability and cross-cultural competence is one of the primary goals of Red Flag and other multinational PACAF exercises.
Red Flag is a culmination of exercises like Cope North and Cope Tiger that happen every year, with many of the same countries and faces in attendance.

Those exercises, while smaller in scale, help everyone execute at a much higher level during Red Flag Alaska, Campbell said. Everyone comes together and practices their craft in a world-class training facility with a much larger force to capitalize on all those lessons learned.

That facility includes the Joint Alaska Pacific Range Complex, composed of 67,000 square miles of what Campbell called "the best training space in the world for anyone who flies airplanes in combat."

Participating in an exercise the size of Red Flag affords many unique opportunities to all countries in attendance, but particularly to those not used to flying in large formations or with a multitude of advanced and dynamic aircraft like the U.S.'s fifth-generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor.

"The most interesting thing for us is learning how compose a large flying package that involves many different types of aircraft," said Senior Group Capt. Wachira Roengrit, Royal Thai Air Force's Red Flag 15-3 Detachment commander. "The big takeaways for us are the improvements to our low-altitude flying techniques and knowledge on how to best build packages for airdrop. This large force employment is the biggest we participate in. We have many exercises in our country, but Red Flag is the most important one for our C-130 guys."

Working together to ensure seamless integration of tactics, techniques and procedures is a goal set from day one at Red Flag Alaska. 

"Over the years we've done a lot of work to make sure our doctrine is pretty similar," Harris said. "So, it's actually quite an easy thing for us to operate with each other. Procedures are very similar."

Those similar procedures were crucial to the success of the Australian-led drop of U.S. Army Soldiers.

"Quite a bit of planning went into the front end of it," said Warrant Officer Ken Rodney, Royal Australian Air Force C-130J loadmaster. "It was a unique experience to get to brief with our the U.S. jumpmasters and jump safeties. It was great to do it with another nation like the United States. It really showcased our interoperability to have U.S. Army Soldiers jumping out of our birds. It went quite smoothly."

While the airborne contingent of the exercise is working through their hurdles and challenges, the same interoperability and cross-culture cooperation is happening on the ground with maintenance. With many nations traveling great distances to attend, only so many parts and supplies can travel with them.

"They try to bring as much as they can, coming from distant lands," Sawin said. "A lot of the small parts and pieces we can get for them. Bigger things like props and engines have to be shipped. That's when our travel management office and supply guys step in and help get supplies shipped. The maintenance piece is very much a joint multinational effort to make sure everyone's planes stay in fight."

The success flying and maintenance operations are enjoying is made possible largely by the personal relationships forged between the men and women, hailing from different corners of the world, according to many of the countries spokespersons.

"Exercises like Red Flag support theater security cooperation, particularly with regard to personal relationships we develop," Campbell said. "The relationships we build throughout the year at these other exercises enable us to have success during real world operations."

Campbell's Australian counterpart, Squadron Leader Harris, agreed with that assessment.

"The interrelations are very important," Harris said. "From the mission planning side of the house, good relationships are absolutely a key enabler to making this thing work. A lot of the time, it's the personalities in the room that make the missions come off without a hitch.

"Around the Pacific rim, when we have things go wrong like in the 2013 Philippines disaster, we see each other all the time. The relationships we make in exercises like Red Flag pay massive dividends later when we need to talk to each other and provide assistance around the world," Harris said.

Some of the JBER Airmen are going so far as to help advise partner nation participants on the best fishing holes for their off duty time.

"My favorite part is the camaraderie," Sawin said. "Everyone is happy. People seem to really enjoy Alaska. I advised the Australians on what river to go to for the best fishing and which lures work best. They came back the next day and were excited they had caught a fish. The Thais even cooked it up for them. That spirit of friendship is just awesome."

Red Flag organizers are planning an end of exercise party to help cement relations.

"We're going to cook up a big feast," Sawin said. "We not only talk about work, but we talk about our respective countries and heritage. It's really great to see. All the different units will bring an assortment of food from their native country. It's a great experience."

While aircrews from all the nations are honing their skill, fostering interoperability and improving cross-cultural competence, while at the same time having fun, the bigger strategic picture of why Red Flag exists is not lost on them.

"I absolutely believe these kinds of exercise like Red Flag and all the others PACAF and PACOM put together where we go out and engage with our Pacific partners are the foundation of the peace, prosperity and stability millions of people enjoy."

Red Flag began Aug. 6, and is slated to conclude Saturday.

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