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RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3 officially begins at Eielson

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron takes off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015, as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The Aggressors are participating as opposing forces during this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron takes off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015, as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The Aggressors are participating as opposing forces during this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-15J/DJ Eagle lifts off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015, as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The JASDF is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) F-15J/DJ Eagle lifts off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015, as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The JASDF is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, lifts off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015 as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. Osan units are is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II assigned to Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, lifts off from the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015 as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. Osan units are is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-16D taxis down the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015 as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The ROKAF is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

A Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-16D taxis down the Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flightline Aug. 10, 2015 as part of the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3. The ROKAF is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen prepare F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 179th Fighter Squadron from Duluth, Minn., for the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3 Aug. 10, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Minnesota ANG is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

U.S. Air Force maintenance Airmen prepare F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned to the Minnesota Air National Guard’s 179th Fighter Squadron from Duluth, Minn., for the first simulated combat sortie of RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3 Aug. 10, 2015, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Minnesota ANG is participating in this Pacific Air Forces commander-directed field training exercise for U.S. and partner nation forces, providing combined offensive counter-air, interdiction, close air support, and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kyle Johnson/Released)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- RED FLAG-Alaska 15-3, a Pacific Air Forces-sponsored, Joint National Training Capability accredited exercise officially started here Aug. 6.

Originally called COPE THUNDER, the exercise moved to Eielson in 1992 from Clark Air Base, Philippines, after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 15, 1991. COPE THUNDER was re-designated RED FLAG-Alaska in 2006.

"Our primary mission is to expose pilots to real-life stressors they will experience in the first eight to 10 combat sorties." said Maj. Derrick Vincent, the 353rd Combat Training Squadron director of operations. "We have historically seen most combat losses from our side of the house occur during the first 10 combat sorties."

On average, more than 1,000 personnel and up to 60 aircraft deploy to Eielson, and an additional 500 people and 40 aircraft deploy to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, for each RF-A exercise.

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.

All RF-A exercises take place in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex with a total operating area of more than 67,000 square miles, roughly five times the size of the airspace available at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.

"Our RED FLAG exercise is different than Nellis' mostly due to terrain and space available," Vincent said.

That unique terrain, coupled with the vast airspace, also allows the U.S. Army to train its units in a variety of different environments while they participate in RF-A.

"We're dropping over 600 paratroopers into a drop zone," Vincent said. "That's one of the largest [airdrops] we've ever done."

The paratroopers will depart from JBER, jump into their drop zone, seize an enemy airfield, and set it up to begin receiving coalition aircraft.

"We want to capture that airfield so we can use it later on and bring C-17s, C-5s, and eventually A-10s, F-16s, and F-18s in," Vincent said. "That's just one day; every day is a little bit different."

During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, aircrews are subjected to every conceivable combat threat. At the height of the exercise, up to 70 fighter aircraft can operate in the same airspace at one time.

Aircrews aren't the only ones who benefit from the RF-A experience. The exercises provide an operations training environment for participants such as unit-level intelligence specialists, maintenance crews and command and control elements.

The 354th Civil Engineer Squadron helps out on the range and the 354th Logistics Readiness Squadron processes the cargo. The 353rd CTS can't do anything without finance, military personnel, maintenance, and other support elements, Vincent said.

By providing generic scenarios using common worldwide threats and simulated combat conditions, RED FLAG-Alaska gives every participant an opportunity to make the tough calls often required in combat.

Another benefit of hosting RF-A at Eielson is the number of allied nations that can reach the training location conveniently.

"It's important to build relations with our coalition forces and strengthen them," Vincent said. "On a tactical level we are trying to make the warfighter better, and operationally, we are trying to make those relationships stronger."

This free exchange of ideas between forces enhances not just those relationships, but also their operational efficiency.

"We're mission planning together, we're briefing and debriefing together, and we're executing what we could potentially do in a crisis," Vincent explained. "It's all about building partnerships that will last. When that crisis does happen and we are called upon to act, we know each other, we know their tactics, and we can execute a smart plan to destroy the enemy and meet the commander's intent."