This is the Air Force's massive training exercise in Alaska
The U.S. Air Force needs a lot of space to train, especially when it wants fighters, refuelers, and other aircraft to work together in a way that realistically simulates combat conditions where jets chase each other at twice the speed of sound and refuelers run race tracks near the edges of the battlefield.
That’s why it conducts the Red Flag – Alaska training exercise. While the Red Flag exercises in Nevada are more famous, Red Flag – Alaska lets the Air Force conduct missions using approximately five times the space available in Nevada. The total area is roughly equivalent to the state of Florida.
“The large amount of space forces pilots to figure out the logistical problem of working in such a large scale, similar to an entire theater of operations,” Lt. Col. Julio Rodriguez, the 18th Aggressor Squadron commander, told a military journalist. “The multiple uses the [Joint Pacific Alaska Range complex] provides is imperative to the success of our training. We can go faster here than any blue force has ever trained, almost to Mach 2 to show the pilots what it’s like if the enemy were to do use that as one of its tactics”
The JPARC contains 65,000 square miles of airspace, 2,490 square miles of land, and 42,000 nautical miles of sea and airspace in the Gulf of Alaska.
International partners are invited to the exercise which usually lasts 10 days. While most of the participating aircraft are American, Korean, Canadian, and New Zealand crews have participated in recent years.
The Red Flag exercise attempts to simulate combat conditions across a broad range of missions. Obviously, this includes air combat, but it also includes refueling, resupply, and even the air insertion of paratroopers.
“I’ve got a lot of young aviators that have never seen something at this level with this many aircraft going against a very good and proficient threat, both on the air-to-air side and the surface-to-air side,” said Marine Lt. Col. Gregory A. McGuire, commanding officer of a Marine Corps fighter unit. “For me, I’m happy about giving my guys the opportunity to see this kind of real-world kinetic, large-force exercise so they can see how we would employ should we be called upon to do so.”
Thousands of people from around the world take part in the exercise. Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson takes in an additional 1,000 personnel on its own when the exercise comes to town.
Of course, with so many pilots coming from so many places, the support staff on JBER have to increase their activity and precision, meaning that they get good training as well.
For instance, pilots from Kadena Air Force Base in Japan took part in the exercise in 2016, and weather squadron personnel took extra care to make sure that their weather predictions were as accurate as possible. This ensures that air crews unfamiliar with Alaska weather will at least know what to expect.
The exercise takes place multiple times per year. See more photos from recent years below: