The bolars are going to war

  • Published
  • By Capt. Scott Segal
  • 492nd Fighter Squadron
The 492nd Fighter Squadron recently deployed to Nellis AFB, Nevada for Red Flag 07-2. The Red Flag exercise began in 1975 to better train combat aircrew before sending them into combat. Since its inception, Red Flag has grown into what some consider the most intense and realistic combat training available worldwide.

In order to better understand the magnitude of a Red Flag exercise, consider the numbers: RF 07-2 involved 1,800 aircrew, maintainers, and support personnel from three different continents. Nearly 20 airframes flew in the exercise including the B- 1, B-2, U-2, EA-6B, GR-4, AH-60, C-130, F-3, F-5, and all the U.S. Air Force fighters-- even the F-22 Stealth Fighter - a first for Red Flag. Over the course of two weeks, participants flew over 1,000 sorties totaling 22,00 hours. In comparison, all three F-15 squadrons at RAF Lakenheath fly a combined average of about 12,00 - 15,00 hours a month.

"So what?" you might ask, "Why is Red Flag the premiere training exercise in the world?" The first reason is the opposition forces, represented by the Nellis-based 64th and 65th Aggressor Squadrons. The aggressor program was born in the 1970s in response to the poor aerial combat performance of the Air Force in Vietnam. Flying specially painted F-15s and F-16s, the aggressor's job is to improve combat performance through realistic and challenging "threat replication." In other words, their sole purpose is to emulate our adversaries' tactics and flight doctrine so we can verify our own combat tactics against them. The aggressors proved their worth during the two weeks exercise, punishing our mistakes and forcing us to learn lessons now, rather than against the real enemy later.

The second reason the training is such a benefit is the airspace. Red Flag takes place on the Nevada Test and Training Range, located just north of Las Vegas. Imagine a 3 million acre fighter aircrew playground with rugged, mountainous terrain, mock airfields littered with targets, simulated threat systems and the ability to fly supersonic down to the earth's surface - a training luxury found in few other places on the globe. The range also provides the ability to employ live weapons in a combat scenario, an incredibly valuable tool for the 492nd Madhatters, as we train for our upcoming Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotation.

The final strength of the Red Flag exercise is the ability to train with other agencies and services. Although RAF Lakenheath squadrons have the great benefit of training closely with our NATO allies, we rarely have the chance to integrate with all the other American agencies. Red Flag provided us with that opportunity. Reading about the other aircraft and what they can bring to the fight is one thing, but nothing compares to being able to plan, fight and debrief with the units that will also be deployed during our upcoming AEF cycle. This allowed us to get a true understanding of their capabilities, limitations and employment preferences.

Now that Red Flag is complete, most participating squadrons are on their way back home to get spun up for the next AEF cycle. As for the world famous Madhatters, we're off to the next fight - Green Flag at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. For the next three weeks, we'll be flying Close Air Support sorties with Army and Air Force ground controllers.

By the time we deploy downrange in May, we'll be experts. Once this trip is complete we'll have deployed three times, flown 350 sorties and 665 hours, dropped over 130,000 pounds of live and inert weapons, shot 20,000 rounds of 20mm ammunition and spent seven weeks on the road racking up invaluable experience. I can honestly say the 492nd has become a more cohesive flying and fighting squadron. It makes me almost feel bad for the enemy...the bolars are going to war.