HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – Reserve pilots and maintainers from the 419th Fighter Wing will join their active-duty partners in the 388th Fighter Wing this week at Red Flag, the Air Force’s premier combat exercise that takes place at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada several times a year.
The wings have deployed 12 F-35A Lightning IIs and approximately 200 Airmen to train alongside other Air Force, DOD, and allied-nation units.
For the next three weeks, they will form a joint Air Expeditionary Wing, working together in a simulated deployed environment. In addition to maintaining and flying the F-35A in daily combat scenarios, the 388th FW will serve as lead wing and be the hub for integration, support, and resources for the deployed force.
During Red Flag, a friendly “Blue Force” (a variety of fighter, bomber, and command-and-control aircraft) takes on an equally integrated enemy “Red Force” in simulated combat missions that grow progressively more complex.
The exercise was created in 1975, following the Vietnam War, when America lost a great number of Airmen and aircraft due to a lack of combat experience. In response, Red Flag was designed to simulate a pilot's first 10 combat missions in a realistic but controlled environment.
Planners say that what began as a drill designed to help pilots survive, has since transformed into a multi-domain, simulated war that includes air, space, cyber, and intelligence components – all designed to align with the National Defense Strategy – replicating and better preparing for modern adversaries. The F-35A is a key component in that fight.
“Red Flag allows us to show other units and our allies the capabilities of the F-35 in a training environment that cannot be replicated anywhere else,” said Col. Craig Andrle, 388th FW commander. “The jets perform very, very well. It’s truly a fifth-generation platform, with not just stealth, but a sensor suite that sees and makes sense of everything that’s going on in the fight. With that situational awareness, we are able to make other legacy aircraft more lethal and survivable.”