Nellis Air Force Base officer: ‘It’s not your father’s Red Flag’

One of the biggest Red Flag exercises staged at Nellis Air Force Base has put a lot of buzz in the air.

With more than 3,200 personnel and nearly 160 aircraft, pilots from the Australian Air Force, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and U.S. forces got the opportunity to hone their flying skills in a faux-war environment.

“We want to prepare folks as best we can before sending them into harm’s way,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Jordan “Gadget” Grant, 414th Combat Training Squadron deputy commander.

Last summer, budget cuts prevented a summer Red Flag, Grant said, but military officials used the year off to their advantage.

“There are a lot more moving pieces that go into these Red Flags now because we’re trying to simulate a more broad and a more multi-domain threat in the environment,” he said. “There’s a lot of things you have to coordinate or else it hurts the relevance and the realism of that fight.”

U.S. Air Force Capt. Hayley Hartstein of the 547th Intelligence Squadron is part of the adversary tactics group at Nellis. She said this Red Flag isn’t even comparable with those in the past.

“It’s not your father’s Red Flag. I don’t even think this is your slightly older brother’s Red Flag,” she said. “This is all very brand new. People have never seen this before.”

One of her unit’s main priorities in Red Flag was linking groups to make tactical fighters more effective while enhancing their chance of survival. If a fighter’s radio is lost in combat and picked up by the enemy, the Red Flag scenario will make the protagonists suffer that disadvantage.

“The initial pieces of a war are the most intense, and the hard part is adjusting to things when they don’t go your way,” Grant said. “It’s an integrated war for this fake war we’re creating.”

Lt. James “Wheels” Wheeler from the Australian Air Force’s 77th Squadron flew from Sydney to Las Vegas to take part. Aside from that 20-hour flight for him and his crew to get here, Wheeler said he has enjoyed his experience thus far.

“The biggest part was just getting here,” he joked. “But we’re very fortunate to have assets here that are more capable of what we can do back home. Of course we do exercises back home but never of this magnitude. It’s been a great learning experience so far.”

Group Capt. Mark Jeffery of the Royal Air Force last participated in a Nellis Red Flag 10 years ago. As a commander, Jeffery has been evaluating pilots to help them prepare for combat in a real wartime situation.

“We need to be as good as we possibly can,” Jeffery said. “From a commander’s perspective it comes down to risk. This is the ultimate test, in a way, in making sure that my crews can actually deliver against that kind of threat.”

Grant expressed confidence that this Red Flag will be a success.

“You give me more money, more time and more people and I can make Red Flag twice as good,” he joked. “But we’ve had huge improvements and huge expansion in what we do over the years with the resources we do have, and I think we’re going to continue to make that better as we go into the future.”

Contact reporter Steven Slivka 702-383-0391 or at sslivka@reviewjournal.com. Follow @StevenSlivka on Twitter.

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