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.”
Paratroopers with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, U.S. Army Alaska, board a Royal New Zealand Air Force C-130 Hercules during Red Flag Alaska 17-1 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Oct. 12, 2016. During Red Flag-Alaska 17-1, approximately 2,095 U.S. service members will participate in the exercise – approximately 1,295 personnel from outside Alaska and 203 international visitors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valerie Monroy)
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.