Joint Training Forges Winning Warfighters
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Dwane Young
It’s one hour before their first Red Flag 21-1 mission, and U.S.
Navy Airmen from Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 132 at Naval Air
Station Whidbey Island, Washington, pour out of their building onto
the Nellis Air Force Base flightline to prepare their jets for
As they approach the flightline, a crew member
mid-conversation stops and yells to another; “Hey! You can’t cross
that red line!”
U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler aircraft assigned to Electronic Attack Squadron 132 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, sit next to F-22 Raptors assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, during Red Flag 21-1 at Nellis AFB, Nevada
on Jan. 26, 2021. Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise, which provides aircrews the experiences of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane Young.)
This flightline rule, known as “breaking red,” is common across
the Air Force, but for many in the Navy, it’s rare. This
split-second moment mirrors the experience of the majority of joint
partners and allies at Red Flag 21-1.
Teams are given three
weeks of working and training together with friends who operate
slightly different, so they must communicate well, learn about each
other and get on the same page to win.
Combat Training Squadron Red Flag exercises provide the Air Force,
partners and international allies the opportunity to experience
realistic combat scenarios to prepare for future warfare. It ensures
combat forces are ready to win future conflicts by building
partnerships and interoperability across multiple domains.
This environment matches allies together with a common goal, pits
them against expert opposition and allows them to work together,
building a stronger, more lethal and adaptable force.
is as close to actual war you can get in a training environment,”
said Lt. j.g. Douglas Reneau, VAQ 132 warfare and public affairs
officer. “We’re in the air with 50 to 100 aircraft, executing a
mission; in briefings together; and our crews launch jets all at the
same time. Working at a high-operations tempo, exposes the
difference between what was planned and what is executed, showing us
what works and what doesn’t.”
Each partner brings unique
capabilities to the fight and VAQ 132 doesn’t disappoint with their
EA-18G Growler and electronic-warfare expertise. Among other things,
they provide radar capabilities and tactical jamming so allied
aircraft are not readily seen during missions.
the fighters by employing tactical jammers and air-to-ground
missiles to support the destruction of surface-to-air missile sites
with violent prejudice,” Reneau said.
Joint training allows
mission commanders to interact with their supporting units and plan
together. Commanders armed with a full understanding of the
capabilities of their partners can plan missions to be safer and
“What’s awesome about Red Flag is showing our
partners what the Growlers and our squadron can do,” Reneau said.
“When growlers integrate with the exercise, mission commanders
usually change the way the mission is planned. We give them more
As a Defense Defense asset, VAQ 132’s Growlers
often integrate with the Air Force, Marines and Army during
deployments. Red Flags’ hone the communication skills of their
leadership, while the rapid pace of its battle rhythms provides
critical training for maintainers and air crew heading down range.
“We like our squadrons to participate in two to three Red Flags
before they deploy,” said Chief Petty Officer Danny Sprueill, VAQ
132 maintenance controller. “This environment is so dynamic, and it
constantly gives our guys something to think about. It can’t be
Red Flag and large joint-force exercises,
because of their scale, foster better integration between forces as
they get a real-world opportunity to see how they affect the fight.
It helps many participants see where they fit into the large puzzle
of a battle.
Following the “train as we fight” motto, it
provides a proving ground for the U.S. and its allies to learn hard
Individual units’ train at their home bases or
squadrons, sharpening their skills, and Red Flag is the place they
are proven before they go downrange.
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