WASHINGTON ―The Air Force and Army partnered with NATO allies during exercise Red Flag-Alaska, displaying a joint capability for the first time in Red Flag-Alaska history.
The 18th Field Artillery Brigade partnered with the 353rd Combat Training Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base to execute a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rapid infiltration mission. HIMARS are mobile ground systems that can strike targets over 160 km away.
The Army and Air Force sent one C-17 to transport two HIMARS to Fort Greely, where they were driven to their firing location. At the same time one HIMARS launched its payload, F-15s, F-16s and E/A-18s were fighting in the same airspace.
According to Lt. Col. Ronald Crabtree, the 353rd chief of weapons for Red Flag-Alaska, this air-land collaboration broke new operational ground.
“In the past, from what I’m told, when the Army shoots these rockets they just clear the air entirely,” he said. “So the idea that we’re doing it during a large-force exercise with upwards of 20 to 30 aircraft in the air is a big deal. It demonstrated we are able to do it tactically and safely.”
At the same time the Army and Air Force were working on their coordination, NATO airmen from 15 different countries practiced cuing up unreported ground and air targets to mitigate fighter jet losses. Flying in a E-3A Sentry, an American airborne early warning and control aircraft, the NATO crew identifies targets from over 50 miles away flying at 10,000 feet above the simulated dogfight.
Red Flag-Alaska offers these crewmen a unique training opportunity to hone their skills in a more realistic operational environment.
“Red Flag-Alaska provides the type of training that is only replicable in real-life combat situations. It’s a really good example of the air-to-air component,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Goll, a radar technician. “Tracking enemy fighters and actually getting our communications gear jammed — this is more than your typical sortie or exercise; Red Flag is the most realistic training you’re going to get.”
Capt. Noel Conrard, an air battle manager, compared the exercise and normal training to playing on a full sized field instead of in the backyard. “When we are at home station [training] it’s like a backyard football scrimmage; we just don’t have as many players,” said Conrard. “But at a large force exercise like Red Flag-Alaska, it’s like playing on a regular sized football field. We execute different tactics and integrate with more assets. It allows the E-3 to be used to the fullest extent of its capabilities.”
The exercise, which ran from April 30 to May 11, was the first of four scheduled for 2018. Red Flag-Alaska 18-2 will begin June 11, 18-3 on August 11 and 19-1 on October 8.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.