Blue Flag exercise marks 40th Anniversary
By Senior Airman Andrea Posey and Staff Sgt. Katherine Holt, 1st Special operation Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 25, 2016
HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- Airmen from 505th Combat Training Squadron are the creators and controllers of a live, virtual and constructive world that takes air operation centers (AOC) and Air Force forces (AFFOR) staff through a quest to sharpen their skills at planning, executing and controlling war and relief operation scenarios. The exercise, Blue Flag, takes place here July 21-28 and is currently in its 40th iteration.
Blue Flag provides doctrinally correct air, space, and cyberspace crisis action planning. It also provides command and control training for joint and coalition air components and operational-level headquarters in a constructive environment.
Throughout history, Blue Flag exercises have played a major role in preparing commands for various wars including the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield and various humanitarian operations.
These exercises attempt to duplicate real-world theater conditions and procedures as closely as possible. The goal is to train commanders and staff officers so that, in a war emergency, they can immediately participate in directing an air war and make smart decisions during the critical first days of an engagement.
The construction of a virtual world such as Blue Flag is an extensive affair, said Lt. Col. Merrick Green, the 505th CTS commander. There are five divisions in an AOC that collaborate to produce this event: combat plans, combat operations, strategy, air mobility, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“I like to equate it to ‘Voltron,’” Green said. “’Voltron: Defender of the Universe,’ an American animated television character, is a giant robot formed by five pilots fusing their smaller separate robots together.”
Combat plans develop the operation, and combat operations execute the plan. Meanwhile, intelligence supports these divisions during the exercise. Strategy ensures the plan of the joint force air component commander, the leader of the AOC and AFFOR staff, is executed. The final component is the air mobility division which determines how supplies and manpower are utilized and delivered.
“This is why it is so complex when you talk about having a Blue Flag,” Green said. “It takes up to a year to plan and executes in seven to 10 days.”
Once the exercise launches, the 505th CTS operates a 24-hour battle rhythm to ensure the scenario is meeting the training audience requirements. Green describes this time as the calm before the storm.
“Everyone is calm and focused when the exercise first kicks off, but chaos soon ensues after the first day or two as the training audience goes through the scenario,” Green said. “There will always be road blocks and hiccups, but after a couple of days the training audience gets their battle rhythm.”
While a scenario is playing out, anything the 505th CTS or the joint force air component commander wants to change to challenge the audience is possible at the click of a button.
“A lot of the times we operate in an environment where we’re the Air Force, so everything is going to go our way – no planes are going to get shot down, nothing’s going to break,” Green said, “but in a constructive scenario (we) can stress a training audience with some of those artificial realities.”
At the end of an exercise the 505th CTS and the participating AOC debrief so organizations can take the lessons learned and apply them to internal training.
“Completion of one of these events, knowing we did all we could to prepare the warfighter for the mission at hand, is one of the highest feelings of job satisfaction we achieve throughout the year,” said Todd Nusbaum, the senior modeling and simulations analyst of the 505th CTS. “Distributing the information to the training audience at their actual location is an added bonus (because) they are able to work on the actual systems that they would be using if they were called upon during a crisis.”