in the Nevada desert, just outside of Las Vegas sits Nellis Air Force base and its different live fire training areas, called the Nellis Range Complex. The Nellis Range complex is located northwest of Las Vegas and covers an area of 60 nautical miles (111 km) by 100 nautical miles (190 km), approximately half the area of Switzerland. This space allows the exercises to be carried out on a very large scale. The last two weeks of January, the skies become thick with roars of jet engines and angry sounds after burners being engaged.
Each year, since 1975, air combat units from the United States and its allied countries come together four to six times a year and learn how to survive in air to air combat. The origin of Red Flag was the unacceptable performance of U.S. Air Force pilots in air-to-air combat during the Vietnam War, in comparison to previous wars. Things had to fixed and Red Flag was born.
For Red Flag 13-2, the following U.S. Units were involved:
– 57th Wing, 64th Aggressors Squadron F-16Cs, Nellis AFB, Nev.
– 57th Wing, 65th Aggressors Squadron F-15Cs, Nellis AFB, Nev.
– 138th Fighter Wing, 125th Fighter Squadron F-16s, Tulsa, Okla.
– United States Navy, VFA-25 F-18Es, NAS Lemoore, Calif.
– United States Navy, VAQ-138 EA-18G Growlers, NAS Whidbey Island, Wash.
– 366th Fighter Wing, 389th Fighter Squadron F-15Es, Mountain. Home AFB, Idaho.
– 2nd Bomb Wing, 20th Bomb Squadron B-52s, Barksdale AFB, La.
– 7th Bomb Wing, 9th Bomb Squadron B-1s, Dyess AFB, Texas.
– 52nd Fighter Wing, 480th Fighter Squadron F-16CJs, Spangdalem AFB, Germany.
– 23rd Wing, 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60s, Moody AFB, Ga.
– 23rd Wing, 71st Rescue Squadron HC-130s, Moody AFB, Ga.
– 552nd Air Combat Wing, 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron E-3s, Tinker AFB, Okla.
– 22nd Air Refueling Wing, KC135s, McConnell AFB, Kan.
– 606 ACS, , Spangdalem AFB, Germany
In addition to U.S. aircraft, Netherlands’ F-16s, Singapore’s F-16s, United Arab Emirates Mirage 2000’s, and Sweden’s Grippens participated.
This reporter was present for 5 days of the exercise, and being the first time at this type of exercise, I wasn’t sure what to expect. On the day before Media Day, I stationed myself near the Las Vegas Speedway just to the north of Nellis AFB, and was joined by as many as 75 photojournalist and amateur photographers as plane after plane was launched into the sky, and then being recovered throughout the 3-4 hour operation each day.
The Blue Forces are made of the Allied Forces, flying various planes from B-1’s and 52’s, F/A-18’s , F-22’s to F-15’s and 16’s, while the Aggressor Red Forces were made up of US Air Force F-15’s and F-16’s, all painted in different camouflage schemes. First to take off were the AWAC’s and Bombers, then the Refuelers, followed by the Aggressor forces, and then shortly thereafter, the Allied forces were launch. It seemed that there were at least 80-100 planes in the air at any one time.
On Media Day, the US Air Force graciously allows both American and Foreign media onto the base, where we were stationed between the two runways for up and close photographing of the exercise as the planes are taking off and landing. This is an amazing experience to be had, as one can feel the heat from the engines as the fighters take off, and feel the ground rumble beneath your feet.
I spent the rest of my time, after Media Day, continuing to photograph the exercise from outside of the base. This was impressive display of what our Air Force and Allies are doing to get our pilots ready to face in the enemy in any future war, and make sure they have every chance of surviving a Dog Fight.
I would like to thank the various Commanding General of Nellis Air Force Base and especially the Public Affairs Officer and their staff. The PAO’s are under appreciated in most cases, but these folks did a great job at providing access to the pilots, and planes and the base, and were consummate professionals when any issues did arise.
1. USAF F-16 Fighting Falcon
2. USAF B-52 Stratofortress
3. USN F/A-18 Super Hornet
4. USAF F/A-18 Growler