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Ex Red Flag 14-1

There we were on a cold winter’s morning in the office cuddled around a heater, when the call came telling us that we were to deploy to Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, Nevada, to participate in Ex RED FLAG 14-1. Obviously, the disappointment of having to depart cold, wet Lincolnshire for five weeks is all part of the job!

Exercise RED FLAG is the largest and most complex air warfare exercise in the world, with USAF, RAAF and RAF making up over 3000 personnel taking part. The mighty E-3D was to be joined by RAF Tornados from 9 Sqn and Typhoons from 6 Sqn to make up the numbers, totalling around 500 personnel. On the ground, personnel from the JFAC, AWC and space and cyber experts were fully integrated into the exercise.

Two crews from 8 Sqn, augmented by 54(R) Sqn, deployed a week prior to the start of the exercise in order to acclimatise and try to locate the Advon, who had gone deep and silent and were last seen doing a shark watch recce on the Strip. Numerous briefings were held at Nellis AFB in order to fully prepare for what was to be an extremely busy and complex three weeks of flying. This was a great opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the capabilities of the aircraft taking part and integrate with the Crews. The 8 Sqn personnel were split into day and night crews, with mission planning taking place the day or night before. These planning sessions were  often very drawn out and the final A & F brief resulted in the Weapons team having to stay to the bitter end: heroes!

Each mission involved over 80 aircraft of varying types and nationalities, all wanting to be in the same air space at the same level at the same time, accidently or on purpose, to further test the heroes. Each mission had a different intelligence scenario leading to varying objectives; however, it is important to note that the airborne aspect of the exercise was only a small part as there were personnel deployed on the ground, including the CAOC, a mobile CRC and Joint Personnel Recovery along with cyber and space operations.

The E-3D was tasked with Command and Control of the airborne assets in conjunction with the US E-3B. In addition, they provided a Recognised Air Picture and the fusion of information from other ISTAR assets for onward transmission in order to support the mission commander. These missions were extremely intense and took place over a short time period. Although both crews were mainly of a high level of experience, there were numerous LCR personnel that benefited from a particularly steep learning curve. This was as close to real combat operations as any other exercise can simulate.

Despite the short duration of the sorties, they were followed by an extremely lengthy debriefing process, which lasted longer than the missions themselves. However, this allowed the lessons identified to be taken forward to subsequent missions.

Obviously, in order to recharge the batteries ready for the next mission, some down time was allowed; however, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Whilst one of the crews was busy writing their latest book ‘50 pasta recipes for under 5 dollars’, the other crew closely monitored their hydration levels. However, fortunately for a certain Weaponeer on the Component, this detachment coincided with his departure from the RAF. Therefore, he put a strike package of his own together with numerous targets to hit during the night and a potential CSAR mission to pick up missing assets! In addition, another Weaponeer took the opportunity to renew his vows Vegas-style; however, this serious and highly emotional event was somewhat interrupted by a certain aged giggling TD. You know who you are!

In summary, this was a highly successful training event where an abundance of training took place across both crews. It is also important to give thanks to the 8 Sqn groundcrew, who did a sterling job working effortlessly in keeping the aircraft serviceable.

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