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Transformation redefines multi-national exercise

  • Published
  • By Maj. Eric Hilliard
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs
As the Air Force transforms the way it does things, Pacific Air Forces is changing the way it conducts combat training exercises.

At the forefront of this effort is PACAF's largest multi-national exercise, Cooperative Cope Thunder, soon to be renamed Red Flag Alaska. The exercise incorporates the transformational concepts associated with Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century.

"We think Red Flag Alaska is going to be a real boost in how we prepare not only ourselves, but how we help prepare our allies in the Pacific and across the world to do the missions the nations will be called upon to do," said Gen. Paul V. Hester, Pacific Air Forces commander.

Other countries are realizing the importance of transformation.

"That is the future for every air force to work together for peacekeeping. We have to transform," said Swedish air force detachment commander Lt . Col. Ken Lindberg. "We realize that our military needs to become more expeditionary, and by bringing our new JAS-39 Gripen fighters to participate in this exercise, we are reaching out beyond our own borders and training with our multi-national allies."

Similar to the Japan Air Self Defense Force, which is participating in the exercise for the fourth year, the Swedish military has traditionally been a force with the primary mission of protecting its own borders. Now, more than ever, many nations realize that achieving peace and stability has to extend beyond national boundaries.

"We would like to continue our deployments to the states on a regular basis for exercises like this," Colonel Lindberg said. "Ideally, we would like to host an exercise like this on our northern training range in Sweden.

"We have a similar set-up and ample training space. Additionally, we wouldn't have to travel so far," he said, referring to his force's five-day, 5,000-mile journey to participate in the exercise.

Canada is realizing the importance of international cooperation and transforming its military as well.

"Training like what we get here is invaluable to our military's development. To us, this is the only way to train, as a multinational unit," said Capt. Glenn Scott of the Canadian air force. "Whenever we deploy, it is always as part of a coalition or multi-national force."

Even though they do not have any aircraft participating in the exercise, Mexico has sent an observer to view the training taking place in Alaska.

"We have not participated in exercises like this in the past. We received an invitation to view the exercise from the PACAF commander General Hester," said Mexican air force Lt. Col. Jose Antonio Sierra Amador, 401st Fighter Squadron commander and F-5 pilot. "As observers this year, we hope to learn more about what we will need to do operationally and logistically in order to have the Mexican air force participate."

Approximately 1,300 service members are participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder 06-3. In addition to the United States, Sweden, Canada and Japan, other participants include NATO, Australia, South Korea and Germany. Observers from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Russia, Mexico and Mongolia are seeing how they can fit into PACAF's largest multi-national exercise.

Red Flag Alaska will have all the training capabilities that the original Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB, Nev., has, including a dedicated aggressor squadron being formed at Eielson AFB, Alaska.

Red Flag Alaska will have two key differences: the weather and the terrain. 

"Red Flag Alaska is a wonderful opportunity for us to use the great air, land and even sea space around Alaska to afford exercise scenarios we can't get in other places," General Hester said.

Lt . Col. Mike Poggi, and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot from the 466th Fighter Squadron at Hill AFB, Utah, has participated in Red Flag Nellis before and has been in numerous U.S.-led coalition operations. He is excited about the new opportunities that Red Flag Alaska will bring. 

"The multinational aspect of this exercise will help us minimize the 'fog of war.' By training and practicing with our international partners we essentially weed out the guess-work on what how our friendly forces will fight together," he said.

The terrain presents other opportunities.

"At Nellis, you had definite visual reference points to aid you in attaining positional awareness, but out here in the ranges over Alaska, there are mountains and one rolling hill after another," Colonel Poggi said. "This is going to be a challenge." 

Red Flag Alaska uses state-of-the-art technology to debrief the pilots after the missions are complete.

"The most valuable part of the training here occurs after all the aircraft are on the ground," said Col. Rusty Cabot, 35th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. "The technology used to support the exercise debriefs will enable the aircrews to see firsthand what they did right or wrong and then discuss how to do it better next time."

"Everything we do here goes to support the ultimate training goal: effective execution of air to air and air to ground combat tactics by a coalition force," Colonel Cabot said.