The 53rd Wing has consolidated its series of large-scale tests at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada into a new event called Black Flag.

Black Flag aims to be the testing equivalent of the Air Force’s Red Flag training exercise, the wing said in a Sunday press release. Instead of building readiness, as Red Flag does, Black Flag is designed to build capability.

It seeks to do this by focusing on operational test and tactics development in an environment that realistically simulates massed forces in a high-threat environment, the release said. Black Flag is also the third in a trio of test events, alongside the multidomain test exercises Orange Flag and Emerald Flag.

“Black Flag is essential to national defense,” 53rd Wing commander Col. Ryan Messer said in the release. “Instituting a Flag-level exercise is the result of both the dedication of professionals in the 53rd Wing and also the support of senior leaders who acknowledge the importance of, and are investing in, testing like we fight.”

Air Combat Command head Gen. Mark Kelly signed an order Dec. 15 formally wrapping the tests up into Black Flag.

“Black Flag accelerates months of work and combines it into a high-end, large force testing event,” Kelly said. “Because combat is large force employment, test must also include large force employment.”

Kelly’s order said that the testing done as part of Black Flag will allow Combat Air Forces to find new capabilities and ways for fighters, bombers, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and classified programs to work together.

Other benefits of the new event will be to “foster a culture of Test Like We Fight that complements [Red Flag’s] Train Like We Fight,” among others, Kelly’s order said.

The 53rd Wing, which is the only wing responsible for operational test and tactics development for fighters, bombers and remotely-piloted aircraft, conducted beta tests of the Black Flag concept during recent large force test events in August and November.

One beta test was held Nov. 17 at the Nevada Test and Training Range, and included F-15Es, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s from the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, as well as refueling from a KC-135 and KC-46.

Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.

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