USAF’s Red Flag 21-1 Exercise Involves Air Combat, Space, Cyberspace Elements

A B-2 bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., touches down at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., to participate in Red Flag 21-1 combat exercises. Photo by Airman Thomas Cox/U.S. Air Force

The “Red Flag 21-2” combat scenario training exercise brought aircraft from seven NATO nations and detachments from across the U.S. Air Force together, the branch said.

Over 100 aircraft were involved in the weeklong event at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., held earlier this month, notably including F-16 Fighting Falcons and a NATO E-3A AWACS surveillance plane stationed at Geilenkirschen NATO Air Base, Germany.

The exercises were designed to provide aircrew experience in realistic situations.

F-16 Fighting Falcons and Gripen Single Engine Fighters in Formation.

“Red Flag is aligned with our National Defense Strategy,” Col. William Reese, 414th Combat Training Squad commander, said in an Air Force press release on Sunday.

“Using complex mission scenarios against a powerful and unrestricted aggressor team, participants get the best high-end training available,” Reese said.

The event involved 2,500 participants from 12 states and nine countries, including non-NATO allies Singapore and Sweden. F-35, F-16, EA-18G, B-1, KC-135, AWACs, and HH-60 aircraft were among those represented.

The focus was on aerial combat, with tactics simulating what the Air Force statement called “great power competition problem sets” and involving input relating to space and cyber threats.

“In order to ensure we challenge our participants even further, we concealed our targets and forced scenarios, driving Red Flag participants to think critically during the fight, including potentially re-attacking targets that were struck but desired weapons effects were not met,” Reese said.

In a concurrent exercise, Green Flag-West is underway at the U.S. Army Combat Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. Led by the 57th Wing of the Air Force Warfare Center, the training involves air support of ground forces executing combat operations.

“We’ve employed space electronic warfare capabilities that support full-spectrum national security objectives, along with offensive cyber capabilities across adversary data networks affecting that network’s ability to pass data or function properly,” said Capt. Kaylee Taylor of the 414th Combat Training Squadron.

Forces serve as adversaries in “red-team”/”blue-team” standoffs, with “white teams” as neutral players who steer exercises. GPS and satellite communications are used to recognize, counter and defeat threats.

First held in 1975, Red Flag exercises bring together aircrews from U.S. service branches and those of allies.

The exercises are typically presented four to six times per year at Nellis Air Force Base, with up to four more — Red Flag Alaska for example, in August 2020 — in other locations.

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