Red Flag-Alaska wraps up

  • Published
  • By Capt. Aaron Wiley
  • Red Flag-Alaska Public Affairs
More than 84 aircraft and 1,500 Air Force active duty, Reserve, and National Guard Airmen here and at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, wrapped up the first Red Flag-Alaska, held April 24 through May 5. Until this year, the exercise had been known as Cope Thunder.

Pilots, maintainers, weapons loaders, intelligence specialists, joint terminal attack controllers, pararescuemen and support personnel were joined by Sailors and Soldiers. Together, they generated more than 1,600 sorties and airdropped more than 1,000 Soldiers in an exercise designed to get servicemembers combat-ready for upcoming deployments.

“The plan was for about 1,650 sorties to fly. Ninety-seven-plus percent of planned sorties flown over a two-week period at two geographically separated locations in two areas of operation is pretty impressive,” said Capt. Ron Strobach, Red Flag-Alaska project officer from the 353rd Combat Training Squadron.

The commander of the air expeditionary wing in charge of the exercise recognized more than 130 top performers from 20 different Air Force units here and at Elmendorf during the closing ceremony.

Col. John Dobbins, the Red Flag-Alaska AEW commander, credited the success to the “amazingly talented active duty, Reserve and Air National Guard Airmen who melded into a team focused on the exercises’ training objectives along with a staff that provided the exercise backdrop and support.” He thanked the host wings at Eielson and Elmendorf for “spectacular support” and the airfield infrastructure which he said was another “key component to success.”

“We met the primary objective of making aircrews more capable, survivable and knowledgeable. Everyone will take away something different as most valuable to them -- new knowledge, new friends, better ways of doing things or more understanding of how all the different parts must work together,” Colonel Dobbins said.

“What it has reinforced for me is how well the Air Force and our sister services do their mission. We can assemble a hodgepodge of units from around the world, and in less than a week form a cohesive unit that can generate highly effective airpower,” he said. 

The inaugural participation of the 64th Aggressor Squadron from Nellis AFB, Nev., was the biggest difference for the exercise, the colonel said. The squadron's mission is to study and replicate enemy flight tactics.

“Having the Aggressors here was obviously a big plus to threat replication,” Colonel Dobbins said. “But we still need to determine if Red Flag-Alaska is meant to be a large-force employment exercise or a spin-up for air expeditionary force rotations. That decision will determine where to focus limited resources to improve facilities and infrastructure, and for units, in planning future Red Flag training objectives.”

From the Aggressor perspective, the exercise was a complete success, said Col. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, 57th Adversary Tactics Group commander at Nellis.

“The feedback we received from the participants was that the addition of the Aggressors brought the training level of this exercise to a new level,” Colonel O’Shaughnessy said. “We view this as a very positive first step in Aggressor participation and look forward to the next Red Flag-Alaska when we can participate with not only our air aggressors, but also our space and air defense aggressors.”

The exercise also allowed the 64th AGRS to build strong relationships between the Red Flag staffs at Nellis and Alaska that will ultimately improve the quality of both exercises.

"We learn from each other and build on each of our strengths,” Colonel O’Shaughnessy said.

For future exercises, Captain Stobach said it is hard to say what will change.

“(We are) always fine-tuning our process, but each exercise has its own requirements based on participant goals,” he said. “We’ll continue to tailor the exercise to their goals. Customizing the exercise to participant needs is one positive comment that always comes back to the staff after each exercise.”