The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a Boeing E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft and Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters to the new Exercise Black Flag in the US.
Held across multiple locations in the US from 9-13 May, Black Flag 22-1 is part of a new series of exercises which seeks to test and evaluate new technologies and equipment in large-scale operationally-relevant scenarios. Black Flag is the recent designation for large scale test events (LSTE) conducted by the US Air Force’s Eglin AFB, Florida-based 53rd Wing.
“As a venue for innovation through integration, Black Flag is ultimately a deep-end testing arena to create and discover capabilities utilizing existing and emerging materiel,” 53rd Wing Director of Staff and lead project officer for Black Flag, LtCol Mike Benitez described the event in a December 2020 release. “Black Flag’s largest benefit is that it’s a tactical initiative with strategic impact. Warfighters know that innovation happens at the intersection of weapons and tactics – where integration occurs.”
The addition of the RAAF was the first time a foreign service had participated in Black Flag. The USAF recently announced it would acquire the E-7 to replace some of its ageing E-3G AWACS fleet, so the participation of the RAAF’s E-7A gave participating units from the USAF and US Marine Corps an opportunity to see how the system will integrate operationally with other capabilities. It has been reported that six RAAF F-35A Lightning IIs also participated in the event, operating out of Nellis AFB near Las Vegas.
“This integration is more than just test, we are developing the backbone that will drive our tactics and communication capabilities in a wartime scenario,” Black Flag director, Maj Theodore Ellis said in a 20 May release. “So, if we get to night one, we don’t have to educate everyone, the knowledge will already be out there, and we can focus on the fight.
“I hope (the E-7 is) the answer to everything!” Maj Ellis told The Warzone. “But that’s what we are testing out,” he said, adding that the Wedgetail had been pushed “far away [to] test this thing out to the extreme limits of its capabilities.”
Following Black Flag, the E-7A flew to Tyndall AFB in Florida where it took part in the 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation Program-East, described as a premier joint event that evaluates a squadron’s ability to conduct air-to-air live fire missions.