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Gunfighter Flag 20-1 Enhances Capabilities Against Near-Peer Adversaries
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka
August 24, 2020

The true strength of the U.S. military lies in its joint, allied and partner capabilities. That is, the combined power and coordinated efforts between branches of the U.S. military and nations across the world. Few places provide a more realistic training ground than the high desert found at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

The Mountain Home Range Complex offers 9,600 square miles of airspace to train an array of combat, rescue and support missions.

Throughout the week of August 17, 2020 ... fighter jets, helicopters, a C-130 Hercules and more came together to train in a challenging and ever-changing environment. This was an exercise known as Gunfighter Flag 20-1.

U.S. Air Force F-15E strikes eagles take-off while three HH-60G Pave Hawks standby on August 17, 2020 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Both airframes are participating in Gunfighter Flag 20-1, which aims to hone joint and multi-national armed forces to become more agile and lethal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka)
U.S. Air Force F-15E strikes eagles take-off while three HH-60G Pave Hawks standby on August 17, 2020 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. Both airframes are participating in Gunfighter Flag 20-1, which aims to hone joint and multi-national armed forces to become more agile and lethal. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Andrew Kobialka)

This exercise leverages the unique airspace of the region to host a large scale employment of aircraft from Italy, Norway, the Netherlands, Singapore and Australia, as well as the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Army.

“The goal was to integrate and refine our joint international partner capabilities against near-peer threat adversaries,” said Maj. Michael Lynch, 366th Fighter Wing chief of weapons and tactics and the exercise director.

They have achieved this by flying up to 40 aircraft simultaneously in the same airspace and completing hundreds of missions in a span of a week.

Some of the participants included are the 55th Rescue Squadron, 389th Fighter Squadron, 391st Fighter Squadron, 62nd Fighter Squadron, 428th Fighter Squadron, 266th Range Squadron and 213th Strike Fighter Squadron.

Planning and executing such complex training could be challenging without a considerable amount of coordination. Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Miller, 366th Fighter Wing noncommissioned officer in charge of plans and receptions, is responsible for that coordination. She ensures that visiting units have a streamlined funnel of information and resources to make them mission ready before they arrive.

“I work with Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and other nations. Everyone comes here to train,” Miller said. “I have to know how to communicate with them all, which can be challenging. But exercises like GFF are special, not only because it is huge and diverse, but because everyone learns to speak in one voice to complete the mission.”

With other military branches and countries participating in GFF, it is necessary to build a shared professional language to use as they continue to work together in the future.

“We have to learn to be flexible in our communications and operations,” Lynch said. “As a wing, every unit is tested as they step outside of their usual work to support an influx of units and an increase in operational tempo around the base. This test of flexibility is directly in line with the Air Force’s focus on creating an agile and adaptable force needed for future fights.”

Even as the participants learn to become one cohesive team, they are made stronger and more effective by being forced to overcome new and unknown opposition.

“The range and our adversary equipment here are some of the best in the Department of Defense,” Lynch said. “The advanced threat we simulate will provide a real world test to our participants.”

An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 389th Fighter Squadron engages the afterburners during exercise Gunfighter Flag 20-1 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho on August 18, 2020. GFF 20-1 provides units the opportunity to train with joint and international partners to complete combat and rescue exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Natalie Rubenak)
An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 389th Fighter Squadron engages the afterburners during exercise Gunfighter Flag 20-1 at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho on August 18, 2020. GFF 20-1 provides units the opportunity to train with joint and international partners to complete combat and rescue exercises. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Natalie Rubenak)

The 266th RANS from the Air National Guard was out all week moving threats, changing targets and conducting simulated opposition forces. This ever-changing environment means every scenario will require different solutions.

“Our adversaries won’t be static and this requires us to be able to quickly shift strategies,” Lynch said. “Building this into our training now means our execution will maintain a tactical edge and increase our problem solving abilities.”

Meanwhile, having a broad group of career fields and air frames working together allows the Air Force and other participants to learn each other’s capabilities and then train to leverage those abilities to increase lethality in the real-world and overall mission readiness.

“Throughout this exercise I have continued to learn the extent of the combined strength of our multi-national capabilities in a joint fight,” Lynch said. “Additionally, the ability of the 366th FW team to innovate and provide solutions to problems presented during COVID-19 is what has enabled an event of this size and scope to still occur.”

Regardless of world events and uncertain times, the Air Force leads the way to enhancing readiness and strengthening our alliances and partnerships.

“Exercises like GFF 20-1 sharpens us into an agile and lethal force to meet current and future threats,” Lynch said.

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