The skies over Nevada have seen high military aircraft traffic since the start of the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) Red Flag 2012 exercise on July 16. Much of it is due to the participation of Colombian Air Force (FAC) Kfirs, which have come a long way to take part in the exercise for the first time.
Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise engaging the air forces of the United States and its partner nations. The exercise is based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and held north of Las Vegas on the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR), a military training area with more than 12,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land.
For Colombia, Red Flag represents a great opportunity to demonstrate their institution’s high level of professionalism and aptitude in each of the exercise missions, which include air interdiction, combat search and rescue, close air support, dynamic targeting and defensive counter air, three years after the FAC was recognized for its ability to perform air operations in complex environments by the U.S. Air Force (USAF), and was invited to participate.
“For us to finally be here is a dream come true. It’s something all the generals thought about back when they were lieutenants and captains, and now we are seeing the new lieutenants and captains actually doing it. The chance to work on our interoperability with the USAF and to improve our tactics and skills has been just incredible,” said FAC Brigadier General Carlos Bueno.
Red Flag 2012 has also allowed the Colombian pilots to display the high-level capability of the FAC’s Kfirs (a Hebrew name meaning young lion), which are executing their missions alongside the world’s aviation greats: the United States’ F-15s and B1s and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) F-16s, and successfully engaging the USAF “aggressor” F-16s.
Other participants in Red Flag 2012 include the 48th Fighter Wing, 493rd Fighter Squadron F-15Cs, from the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force base in Lakenheath; the UAE’s F-16s, and U.S. aircraft from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia; Joint Base Andrews, Maryland; Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Creech Air Force Base, Nevada; Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina; Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; and Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.
The range offers 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. “Nellis and the NTTR are the home of a “peacetime battlefield,” providing combat air forces with the ability to train to fight together, survive together and win together,” according to the USAF.
The USAF’s 414th Combat Training Squadron is responsible for executing Red Flag, where more than 70 aircraft depart the base for a battle in the afternoon, and again each night until the conclusion of the exercise, on July 27.
Both personnel and maintenance and logistics protocols for each participating nation have been standardized to international levels, which has allowed the flight line mission readiness of each aircraft to be maintained for the day and night missions assigned. FAC maintainers worked closely with USAF advisors over the past year to learn USAF flight line standard procedures, which are now becoming the Colombian standard as well.
For his part, Colonel Hans Palaoro, Chief, Air Force Mission with the Military Group in Colombia, said, “For us, this is really about interoperability. We want to have strong Global Core Partners around the world, and the Colombian Air Force has shown that they are both willing and very capable of being one of them. During their preparation for RED FLAG, they learned and adopted the NATO international standard for Aerial Refueling (which of course the USAF also uses), making tanker interoperability with us a reality, they adopted USAF flightline standards and air-to-air training rules, and they have truly demonstrated their capacity to operate safely and very effectively with us – fully integrated – in the world’s toughest large force employment exercise. I could not be more proud of what they’ve done, and this represents the beginning of a new phase in our already strong relationship.”
Since its inception in 1975, 28 countries have joined the U.S. in these exercises, with several other countries having participated as observers. Colombia is now the 29th Red Flag provides training for more than 440,000 military personnel, including more than 145,000 aircrew members flying more than 385,000 sorties and logging more than 660,000 hours of flying time.
This mock battle in the skies over the NTTR has produced results that increase the combat capability of the armed forces for any combat situation.