Despite ongoing issues with antiquated electronic warfare systems at the 67,000-square-mile Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Red Flag-Alaska 19-2 was able to challenge the pilots who took part, according to the Air Force.
But that may have been because U.S. Air Force fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s, were noticeably absent from the proceedings.
The two-week multinational training exercise is meant to provide realistic combat experience to pilots in a controlled environment, which increases their survivability on actual combat missions, Senior Airman Eric Fisher, with the 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at Eielson Air Force Base, said in an email.
The exercise is also an opportunity for airmen from partner nations to improve interoperability and exchange tactics, techniques and procedures, he said. About 2,000 airmen from the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, South Korea and Thailand took part in the exercise, which wrapped June 21.
In April, the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office released an audit report skewering the Alaska range and others in U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, saying they were antiquated and unable to prep units for conventional war.
“As a result, the aviation units in the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility could not train as they would fight,” which is a key tenet of the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, according to the report.
IG investigators determined that the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex’s electronic warfare systems are so past their prime that the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II jets don’t even see them as a threat. That’s because the aircraft technology is more advanced than the range electronic warfare systems, according to the report.
The complex replicates Soviet missile systems from the 1980s, and Air Force officials told investigators that the current systems “do not replicate near-peer threats.”
Army AH-64 Apache pilots also voiced concerns about the Alaskan range, saying that the dumpsters used as targets there “were of poor quality.”
But Capt. Kay Nissen, spokeswoman for the 354th FW, which is part of Pacific Air Forces, said the training range and exercise scenarios “sufficiently challenged” participating aircraft and units.
“There continues to be opportunities to improve the capabilities of the training range to ensure participants receive the most realistic combat-like experience to prepare for future operations,” she acknowledged. "This is why the 354th Fighter Wing has prioritized investing in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, to include standing up a new detachment specifically designated to find those opportunities for improvement, so warfighters are ready for the high-end fight.”
Aircraft used in the exercise included F-16 Fighting Falcons, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, KC-135 Stratotankers, Mitsubishi F-2s, C-130 Hercules, UH-60 Black Hawks, HH-60 Pave Hawks, and the MQ-9 Reapers, Fisher said. Airmen were able to use live ordnance and dropped 681,505 pounds of munitions, said Senior Airman Isaac Johnson.