Australia has wrapped up its involvement with Exercise Red Flag 17-1, following three weeks of missions that Commander of the Australian contingent Group Captain Stuart Bellingham described “as realistic as it gets”.
Red Flag is a large force employment combat training exercise that provides a complex and highly advanced threat environment in which to practise high-end coalition warfighting skills.
RAAF deployed 200 personnel, a C-130J Hercules tactical airlifter and an E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C platform to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for the exercises alongside units from the United States and United Kingdom.
The three-week training exercise also featured the debut of the US Air Force F-35A Lightning II, as well as the participation of the US Navy EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, both of which will soon enter service with the RAAF and are due to be on display at the Australian International Airshow at Avalon.
The types of missions conducted included a combat control team that parachuted in freezing conditions to a dry lake bed for an airfield survey; to air battlespace managers who controlled movements for more than 70 friendly and enemy aircraft, Defence said.
Commander of the Australian contingent Group Captain Stuart Bellingham said the missions were “gruelling and rigorous”.
“By coming here, we’re preparing for high-end war fighting, so we can deploy at short-notice on operations, and have confidence that we are going to be successful,” GPCAPT Bellingham said in a statement.
“We’ll take information and training back and feed it into our force preparation, and will translate into our current operations.
“In my 30 years of the Air Force, this is one of the highlights, being at the exercise is as realistic as it gets.”
An important aspect of the training focused on personnel that were embedded within the Combined Air and Space Operations Centre (CAOC), which was responsible for planning the Red Flag missions and ensuring they were coordinated with space and cyber-based efforts, which can be contested by an aggressing force.
GPCAPT Bellingham was the first non-US participant to be Director of the CAOC, leading 250 American, British and Australian personnel. This was the first time a coalition nation has performed this role in such an exercise.
“We are integrated with these capabilities from start to finish, from planning missions, through to debriefing the missions,” GPCAPT Bellingham said.
“Australia has air battlespace managers from No. 2 Squadron and No. 41 Wing who are controlling the Red Flag airspace, and getting first-hand experience how these capabilities can be employed.
“We’re getting real insight into understanding the capabilities and what Australia’s future is going to look like.”