Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) Las Vegas, Nevada. Home to the USAF Weapons school, 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron (422 TES), world famous USAF Thunderbirds and the largest and most realistic aerial combat training exercise in the world, Exercise Red Flag. Held four times a year the second Red Flag exercise of 2016 (RF 16-2) took place from February 29 - March 11. Executed by the 414 Combat Training Squadron (414 CTS) and utilizing the massive Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) covering an area of 60 nautical miles by 100 nautical miles Exercise Red Flag was originally designed in the mid 1970’s to simulate a pilots first ten combat missions. However, over the years the battle zone has seen a number of drastic changes and this has forced Exercise Red Flag to adapt and change as well. As a result, todays Red Flags are much much, more than it’s original concept.

Integration across a number of different aspects has always been the core objective of Exercise Red Flag. One of the most important aspects of those in todays era of Red Flags is integration with allied countries and they’re units. Quite often in todays battles integration with coalition forces happens for the first time in theatre so Red Flag aims to bridge the “operational gap” between allied forces to ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes time to work together in live operational environments.

Red Flag 16-2 saw foreign participants from both Turkey and Italy. The Turkish airforce (Türk Hava Kuvvetleri) participated in Red Flag 16-2 with F-16’s from 3rd Main Base, Konya, and 141 4th Main Base, Ankara. Acompaning the F-16’s in the exercise were Turkish KC-135’s from 101 Filo, Incirlik. The Turkish F-16’s attending Flag were block 40/50 models and two of the F-16’s were the SoloTurk Demo aircraft (and backup jet) sporting spectacular paint schemes. The demo jet was supposed to fly at the NAF El Centro Airshow following the end of the exercise but due to complications with the U.S FAA, this unfortunately didn’t pan out.

The Italian Air Force, known as the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, brought 8 of their Eurofighter EF-2000’s from the 4th Fighter Wing based in Grosseto, Italy. This is the first time Italy has brought Eurofighters to Red Flag. Col. Marco Bertoli, Italian Air Force commander for the Typhoon detachment at Nellis expressed his excitement on bringing the Eurofighter to Red Flag 16-2 during an interview panel: “I’m very proud to be the commander of the first Italian Eurofighter squadron to take part in Exercise Red Flag and I’m very thankful to the U.S Air Force for having us here and putting together this exercise to benefit our training". When Col. Bertoli was asked about some of the challenges the Italians faced at Red Flag he was quick to point out that it started with planning and execution for the trip itself, "Bringing 180 personal and 8 aircraft 6000 miles presented it’s own challenges and forced us to show a great deal of developmental deployment capabilities". Col. Bertoli went on to state,“of course we are facing a lot of training challenges because the guys here put together a very realistic scenario so depending on the adversary we find in the air and on the ground our pilots will be ready to participate in any future situation with our NATO allies and partners”. Col. Bertoli also noted that while the Eurofighters primary role at Red Flag 16-2 was air to air, during the exercise the Italians looked to utilize the swing role capability of the Eurofighter to promote other perspective buyers and stated, “We are developing a swing role capability which is mostly to support the Typhoon’s export capabilities for other countries and we have actually dropped inert bombs during the exercise”.

Bringing up the heavy metal component in RF 16-2 were both B-52’s from the 96th Bomb Squadron based at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana and B-1B Lancers from the 34th Bomb Squadron based at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota. B-1B pilot Capt Ryan Kearns emphasized the importance of utilizing all roles that the B-1 is capable of during RF 16-2: "We're doing our full mission set, close air support (CAS), pre planned targets, low level, high level and dynamic targeting. We're using what we've taken from previous deployments with the B-1 and applying it in the overall strike package here with all of our allies".

Other notable participants were T-38 Talons from both Randolph Air Force Base, Texas and Sheppard Air Force Base. Texas. Col. Andrew Bernard, Red Flag 16-2 AEW Commander stated, “The T-38’s our out here to support our advisory force. We have a core aggressor unit based out of Nellis that fly’s the F-16 but, to increase the number of advisories we have two detachments of T-38’s who came out to support us”.

With Red Flag 16-3 set to kick off Jully 11th, the 414th CTS is well under way planning the next exercise ensuring yet again that the most realistic combat training environment anywhere in the world is provided to the units and crews attending.

Full Unit Participation List:
- 53rd Wing, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, F-15C, Nellis AFB, Nevada
-336th Fighter Squadron, F-15E, Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina
-432nd Wing, MQ-9, Ellsworth AFB, S.D./Creech AFB, Nevada
- 12th Fighter Wing, 435th Fighter Training Squadron, AT-38C, Randolph AFB, Texas
- 94th Airlift Wing, 700th Airlift Squadron, C-130H3, Dobbins ARB, Georgia
- 20th Fighter Wing, 77th Fighter Squadron, F-16CM, Shaw AFB, South Carolina
- 82nd Fighter Training Wing, 88th Fighter Training Squadron, AT-38C, Sheppard AFB, Texas
- 552nd Air Control Wing, 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, E-3B/C/G, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma
- 2nd Bomb Wing, 96th Bomb Squadron, B-52, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana
- Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21, MH-60, Naval Air Station North Island, California
- Italian Air Force, 4th Fighter Wing, Eurofighter F2000-A, Grosseto, Italy
- 22nd Air Refueling Wing, KC-135, McConnell AFB, Kansas
- Turkish Air Force 132 Fighter Squadron & 141 Fighter Squadron, F-16 3rd & 4th Main Jet Bases, Turkey
- Turkish Air Force 101 Air Refuelling Squadron, KC-135R, 10th Tanker Base, Turkey
- 57th Wing, 64th Aggressor Squadron, F-16C, Nellis AFB, Nevada

Report and Photos Stuart Sanders