Way into future, RPA Airmen participate in Red Flag 16-2

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nadine Barclay
  • 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Every year thousands of people flock to Las Vegas in search of new thrills. However between Feb. 29 and March 11, 2016, Airmen from different aircraft platforms across the globe came to take part in more than just the average sin city adventure.

Airmen fly hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles to participate in the U.S. Air Force’s premiere, air-to-air combat training exercise known as Red Flag. Remotely piloted aircraft Airmen from the 432nd Wing/432nd Air Expeditionary Wing recently joined in Red Flag 16-2.

“The 432nd Attack Squadron, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota took lead to prepare and execute [MQ-9 participation in] Red Flag 16-2, representing a total RPA force of 26 Airmen from several units to include the 22nd Reconnaissance Squadron, 18th RS, 11th RS, 15th RS, 26th Weapons School, 432nd Operations Support Squadron and the 432nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron,” said Maj. Edward, 432nd ATKS assistant director of operations.  “Overall, we were able to execute 10 sorties of more than 34 flight hours combined.”

The main mission of Red Flag is to provide a realistic combat training exercise involving the air forces of the United States and its allies. It is coordinated at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and conducted on the vast bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR).

“As one of the fastest growing platforms in the USAF, exercises such as Red Flag 16-2 are an opportunity for RPA’s to rehearse and interoperate with other assets in a challenging training environment while highlighting the lessons learned from our years of combat experience in multiple areas of operations,” Edward said.

In particular, during Red Flag 16-2, the RPA community further demonstrated the MQ-9 Reaper’s multi-role combat capabilities in one of the largest multi-national aerial warfare exercises available to coalition forces today he went on to say.   

“We successfully accomplished our mission for Red Flag 16-2 on multiple fronts while also achieving several milestones,” Edward said. “Red Flag 16-2 provided an opportunity for MQ-9’s to train and fight, as well as significantly enhance interoperability with US and partner warfighters.  In doing so, the RPA community was able showcase our combat capabilities and better educate flag participants of the MQ-9’s significant versatility in executing tactical and strategic objectives designated via the Air Tasking Order (ATO).” 

Edward went on to say it was proved that multiple MQ-9’s could be integrated into a strike package, while also being effective in achieving overall scenario driven mission objectives and meeting the combined forces air component commanders intent.

“Our MQ-9 crews also had a unique opportunity to participate for the first time as a Red Flag combat search and rescue (CSAR) package commander, responsible for ensuring force utilization and execution to achieve mission success for one of the most important mission sets in aerial warfare,” Edward said. “As a package commander, we were able to closely integrate with our coalition partners during mission planning and achieve valuable cross-talk with rescue trained Turkish F-16 pilots.”

Red Flag 16-2 provided the ability to enhance coalition partners’ knowledge of the MQ-9’s proven combat versatility. Edward added the MQ-9’s participating were also able to successfully execute ATO to direct forces to assigned targets, while providing unique battlespace tracking and relay capabilities to effectively facilitate the overall strike coordination.

MQ-9’s also had the privilege to train and fight for the first time in Red Flag history with Italian Eurofighters, meshing valuable aerial skillsets at the tactical level and enhancing strategic interoperability with our allies.   

During the exercise MQ-9 Reaper crews were challenged to employ four mission sub-sets including combat search and rescue (CSAR), pre-planned air interdiction, dynamic targeting, and strike coordination and reconnaissance.

The MQ-9 flew among F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, AT-38C Talon, C-130 Hercules, F-16c Fighting Falcons, E-3 Sentry, B-52 Stratofortress, MH-60 Seahawk, Eurofighter F2000, KC135 Stratotanker, and B-1 Lancer aircraft from the U.S. and two other coalition countries to bring the full spectrum of airpower together.

 “The biggest mission set was the CSAR role, it takes a lot of coordination with all the involved units and specific times to be in certain places,” said 1st Lt. Nathan, 432nd ATKS MQ-9 plans officer. “With CSAR we we’re working with the Turkish F-16s and MH-60 rescue helicopters. For the other missions we worked with the Italian Eurofighters.”

The opportunity to work together with other airframes helped give everyone a better understanding of how to integrate with each other cohesively while also building confidence, familiarity, and relationships among every warfighter who participated.

“My experience has been beneficial, not just from a mission planning stand point, but also practicing tactics that I can carry into other real world situations,” Nathan said.

 This Red flag also helped the RPA enterprise accomplish many firsts. It was the first time utilizing only MQ-9s and employing two-ship operations throughout the exercise, as well as integrating with the Italian Air Force Eurofighters, and executing as package commander during a CSAR mission.

“The Red Flag environment provides a chance to integrate and continue prepping for future engagements and to demonstrate our expertise,” Edward said.