Eielson Air Force Base and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson are the home of RED FLAG-Alaska. Each exercise is a joint/coalition, tactical air combat employment exercise which corresponds to the operational capability of participating units. In other words, exercises often involve several units whose military mission may differ significantly from those of other participating units. RED FLAG-Alaska planners take these factors into consideration when designing exercises so participants get the maximum training possible without being unfairly disadvantaged during simulated combat scenarios.
RED FLAG-Alaska is a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored, Joint National Training Capability accredited exercise. Originally named COPE THUNDER, it was moved to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, from Clark Air Base, Philippines, in 1992 after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991 forced the curtailment of operations. COPE THUNDER was re-designated RED FLAG-Alaska in 2006.
When the decision was made to relocate COPE THUNDER, Air Force officials viewed Eielson as the most logical choice. That decision was based partly on the fact that Eielson's 353rd Combat Training Squadron already controlled and maintained three major military flight training ranges in Alaska.
Initiated in 1976, COPE THUNDER was devised as a way to give aircrews their first taste of warfare and quickly grew into PACAF's "premier simulated combat airpower employment exercise."
Prior to Operation Desert Storm, less than one-fifth of the U.S. Air Force's primary fighter pilots had seen actual combat. While the percentage of combat-experienced pilots has increased in recent years, at the time, a high percentage of pilots had no combat experience. Analysis indicates most combat losses occur during an aircrew's first eight to 10 missions. Therefore, the goal of RED FLAG-Alaska is to provide each aircrew with these first vital missions, increasing their chances of survival in combat environments.
RED FLAG-Alaska participants are organized into "Red" aggressor forces and "Blue" coalition forces. "White" forces represent the neutral controlling agency. The Red force includes air-to-air fighters, ground-control intercept, and surface air defense forces to simulate threats posed by potentially hostile nations. These forces generally employ defensive counter-air tactics directed by ground-control intercept sites. Range threat emitters -- electronic devices which send out signals simulating anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missile launches -- provide valuable surface-to-air training and are operated by civilian contractors as directed by 353d Combat Training Squadron technicians. The Blue force includes the full spectrum of U.S. and allied tactical and support units. Because the Red and Blue forces meet in a simulated hostile, non-cooperative training environment, the job of controlling the mock war and ensuring safety falls to the White neutral force.
On average, more than 1,000 people and up to 60 aircraft deploy to Eielson, and an additional 500 people and 40 aircraft deploy to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, for each RED FLAG-Alaska exercise. Most participating RED FLAG-Alaska units arrive a week prior to the actual exercise. During that time, aircrews may fly one or two range orientation flights, make physical and mental preparations, hone up on local flying restrictions, receive local safety and survival briefings, and work on developing orientation plans.
During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. Scenarios are shaped to meet each exercise's specific training objectives. All units are involved in the development of exercise training objectives. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 jet fighters can be operating in the same airspace at one time. Typically, RED FLAG-Alaska conducts two combat training missions each day.
All RED FLAG-Alaska exercises take place in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex over Alaska as well as a portion of Western Canadian airspace. The entire airspace is made up of extensive Military Operations Areas, Special Use Airspace, and ranges, for a total airspace of more than 67,000 square miles.
Since its inception, thousands of people from all four branches of the US military, as well as the armed services of multiple countries from around the world, have taken part in RED FLAG- Alaska and Cooperative COPE THUNDER exercises. Last year, more than 5,000 people deployed to RED FLAG-Alaska, and participating aircrews flew over 4,000 missions.
Aircrews aren't the only ones who benefit from the RED FLAG-Alaska experience. Exercises provide an operations training environment for participants such as unit-level intelligence experts, maintenance crews, and command and control elements.
By providing generic scenarios using common worldwide threats and simulated combat conditions, RED FLAG-Alaska gives everyone an opportunity to make the tough calls often required in combat.
RF-A executes the world's premier tactical joint and coalition air combat employment exercise, designed to replicate the stresses that warfighters must face during their first eight to ten combat sorties. RF-A has the assets, range, and support structure to train to joint and combined war fighting doctrine against realistic and robust enemy integrated threat systems, under safe and controlled conditions.