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  • Writer's pictureFrank Visser

2011 The Last Frontier Red Flag Alaska with a Dutch flavor

Updated: Feb 3, 2018

This year's first Alaskan edition of 'Red Flag' took place in the last two weeks of April. For the very first time Dutch 'Vipers' landed at Eielson Air Force Base to participate in the exercise. Frank Visser visited the detachment to report for Combat Aircraft magazine.

Red Flag Alaska

A multi-disciplinary exercise organized by the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), 'Red Flag Alaska' sees participation by American and foreign units, with editions taking place up to four times a year. In addition to Eielson, the exercise also makes use of Elmendorf AFB. 'Red Flag Alaska' originates in Exercise 'Cope Thunder, which took place at Clark AFB in the Philippines from 1976. However, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991 forced Americans to look for another location. Alaska was examined and eventually chosen for several reasons. The vast training area of the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex measures over 67,000 square miles. In comparison, the ranges of Nellis AFB, where 'Red Flag' is also held, offer some 15,000 square miles. Another major advantage is that the area is sparsely populated and had high-altitude training areas that include various military facilities, such as airfields and surface-to-air missile sites. Thus, the 'Last Frontier' has become the stage for 'Red Flag Alaska'. The goal of the exercise has remained unchanged since 'Cope Thunder', namely to provide each aircrew with their first, vital training to increase their chances of survival in the first 10 combat missions.

An F-16CG of the 35th FS/ 8th FW from Kunsan AB take-off for it's 'Red Flag Alaska' mission.

RF Alaska 11-01

The planning of 'Red Flag Alaska' is similar to that of 'Red Flag' at Nellis and consists of two major components: the Red defensive forces and the Blue offensive forces. In addition, there is a third party: the White forces, representing a neutral controlling agency. For 'Red Flag Alaska' the Red defensive forces are provided by the F-16C/Ds of the 18th AGRS. Red Air also has at its disposal KC-135Rs for aerial refueling and an E-3C for airborne early warning. As well as Red Air assets, the defensive forces have control of ground-control intercept (GCI) and surface-to-air forces to simulate threats similar to those of potentially hostile countries such as China and North Korea.

The Aggressors of the 18th AGRS fly in three different color shemes.

Lt Col Bert 'Vidal' de Smit, the RNLAF detachment commander.

RNLAF F-16 pilots and Intell officers planning their next "Red Flag Alaska' mission.

Lt Col Bert 'Vidal' de Smit inspects the inert GBU-12 loaded on his F-16AM.

A RNLAF F-16AM just left his shelter to depart for another mission. Clearly visible is the inert

GBU-12 loaded on the left wing.

The first "Red Flag Alaska' was held in April. At that time the Winter in Alaska come to an end. Still temperatures can drop below zero. This F-16CG of the 35th FS/ 8th FW is ready for take-off.

Offensive forces for the exercise comprised the 11 F-16AMs drawn from various RNLAF squadrons, 12 F-16CG/DGs of the 35th FS and the 80th FS from the 8th FW from Kunsan AB in South Korea, and 12 F-15C/Ds of the 44th FS and 67th FS from the 18th FW at Kadena AB, Okinawa. For AEW, the Red and the Blue forces each had at their disposal an E-3C, provided respectively by the 961st AACS at Kadena AB and the 962nd AACS at Elmendorf AFB. One of the F-15Cs of 67th FS/18th FW from Kadena AB lifts off from Eielson AFB.

Alaska's Aggressors

Aggressors are the mainstay of both 'Red Flag' exercises. 'Red Flag' at Nellis employ two Aggressor Squadrons, the 64th AGRS equipped with F-16C/Ds and 65th AGRS with F-15C/Ds. 'Red Flag Alaska' utilizes the 18th AGRS, which is part of PACAF.

Aggressor pilots of the 18th AGRS at their briefing.

Contrary to the two squadrons stationed at Nellis, the Alaskan Aggressors specialize in the tactics of nations around the Pacific Ocean, such as North Korea and China, and simulate aircraft including the Su-30 and J-10. For this role, the F-16C/D Block 30s are equipped with AN/ALQ-188 jamming pods. According to Lt Col Andrew 'Popeye' Hansen, commander of the 18th AGRS the sole purpose of the Aggressors is to improve the performance of the combat forces.

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