The Air Force’s two simultaneous Red Flag training events are set to wrap up this week, with the F-35 participating for the first time in the Alaska version.
Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and Red Flag-Alaska at Eielson Air Force Base are ending Aug. 14, following about two weeks of intense flying at each location’s training ranges. Both events began in late July and early August, as organizers worked to counter the spread of COVID-19 while still bringing together flying units from across the Air Force for high-level training.
“Our team built a great plan to keep our service members safe without compromising the rigorous training Red Flag is known for,” Col. William Reese, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander, said in a Nellis release. “We know our enemies won’t call a ‘time-out’ for this pandemic, so we’ve focused on warfighting integration and strengthened our partnership with our professional aggressor forces to ensure we are ready to defeat any threat.”
In Alaska, newly arrived F-35s from the 356th Fighter Squadron and Joint Strike Fighters from the 4th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force, Utah, are flying together. This event is the first time the fifth-generation fighter has participated in the exercise.
“The F-35 brings more information to the airspace than we’ve had in previous generations of aircraft,” Lt. Col. James Christensen, commander of the 356th Fighter Squadron, said in a release. “This Red Flag is really unique because we now have all fifth-generation fighters on the blue side. When we combine those forces together, we can be more lethal.”
In the Alaska version, the F-35s are flying along with F-22s from nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, with F-16s from Eielson’s 18th Aggressor Squadron providing Red Air. The 356th Fighter Squadron received its first F-35s in April, and had to fly “as much as we possibly could” to prepare for the exercise, Christensen said.
“For us, this is kind of the intro to the airspace and an intro to four-ship tactics,” he said in the release. “This is the first time we’ve flown four aircraft together at the same time and we are combining the other F-35s and F-22s to make a large force exercise.”
In Nevada, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft are training together for Red Flag 20-3. To prepare for the exercise, the base’s 99th Mission Support Group and 99th Medical Group created steps to mitigate COVID-19, including social distancing during mission briefings.
“The heart of the exercise—rigorous integrated training scenarios that challenge all participants and demand excellence—remains unchanged,” Reese said in the release.