Get In, Strike & Get Out Alive: Practicing Air Warfare
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
NELLIS AFB, Nev., Jan. 27, 1996 Attack by enemy aircraft is one danger facing U.S. and allied pilots. Ground fire from a snipers bullet to a surfacetoair missile is another. The objective is: get in, strike and get out alive.
American, British, French, German and Australian pilots are currently honing their combat skills at the Air Warfare Center here. As they have for the past 20 years, U.S. and allied airmen are gathered at the base near Las Vegas for Red Flag, a U.S. Air Force exercise involving about 2,500 people and more than 200 aircraft.
Realistic combat training is what gives the U.S. military its competitive edge over any other military force in the world, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said during a visit here Jan. 27 and 28. The value of highlytrained air forces has been clearly demonstrated in the Balkans, he said. NATOs air power saved countless lives and brought an end to the tragic war in Bosnia, he said.
For more than two years, U.S. and NATO pilots ferried massive amounts of food and supplies to Sarajevo in the longest airlift in history. Pilots patrolling in Operation Deny Flight prevented indiscriminate bombing of cities, thereby saving thousands of lives.
"Deny Flight was challenged once," Perry said. "Bosnian Serbs sent up four fighter bombers to bomb a city in Bosnia. They were detected immediately by [Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft]. We sent two F16s in, which, in about two minutes time, shot down three of them. The fourth managed to get away. Since that time, nobody has bothered to challenge NATOs air in terms of Deny Flight."
A massive NATO air campaign led to a ceasefire among the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats. "Every target was destroyed and, most amazingly, there was absolutely no collateral damage," Perry said. "We used only precisionguided munitions and we did not drop any munitions whenever the weather prevented positive identification of targets."
Such proficiency, Perry said, can be attributed to rigorous training such as pilots receive in Red Flag exercises. The 414th Combat Training Squadron conducts the training on bombing and gunnery ranges at the Weapons and Tactics Center.
"Our mission is to maximize the combat capability of our air crews and our war fighters by exposing them to the most realistic combined air, ground and space threat training environment," said Air Force Col. Bill F. Rake, 414th commander.
Deployed units make up Blue forces attacking mock airfields, vehicle convoys, tanks, parked aircraft, bunkers and missile sites. Targets are defended by simulated ground and air threats. Red forces use simulated surfacetoair missiles and antiaircraft artillery, jam communications and send out an enemy air force flying F16C fighter jets.
"In a nutshell, we instrument the aircraft," Rake said. "We document and evaluate their performance. We bring out the learning points they need to study and then go out the next day and be able to refine those and do better at them.
"They have all the indications in the cockpit as if they were in an actual combat environment through electrons, radar, videotapes," Rake said. "They have a chance to arm and strut their stuff, doing fulltime flying and people arent dying. They can come back and try it again the next day."
Like the instant replay of a football game, crews get a second take on their missions. Red Flags computerized measurement and debriefing system tracks up to 36 aircraft, 20 threats and a number of ground targets. A TV ordnance scoring and threat video accurately recreates the days training.
More than 400 U.S. and allied pilots and crews filled an auditorium watching a digitized replay of the days air combat training during a recent mass debrief. Video screens displayed moving planes, successful strikes and enemy kills.
One after another, briefers rapidly recounted details, praising crews for jobs well done and warning others of mistakes to avoid next time. AWACS maps drew the airmens appreciative applause.
Air warfare training started at Nellis in the early 1970s, Rake said. "Airtoair kill ratios declined during the Vietnam War compared to the Korean war," he said. "The Air Force did an analysis and determined that although we were producing proficient pilots, they were not necessarily trained for combat."
The Air Force created aggressor squadrons in 1972 to mimic Soviet air combat tactics. "These squadrons were equipped with U.S. aircraft, T38s then F5s," Rake said. "They were painted with Russian paint schemes. Pilots and weapons controllers were specifically trained in Soviet tactics and their weapons capabilities. This allowed units to fly against the threat in a peacetime environment before they actually faced it in a combat environment."
The aggressor squadron focused on air combat, but that was only one aspect of battle, according to Rake. "You have to survive the airtoair environment, but you also need to survive the surfacetoair environment. You have to get there, take out the target, then come back home in order to fly the next day. Thats what started Red Flag in 1975."
Since Red Flag began, Rake said, nearly 360,000 people, including allies from 21 nations and military personnel from all U.S. services, have practiced their wartime missions in the skies above Nellis.