From The Outback To The Last Frontier - RF-A 21-3
by U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Beaux Hebert
September 5, 2021
The Royal Australian Air Force and U.S. Air Force joined forces to participate in RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 21-3 at Eielson Air Force Base August 12-27, 2021. This iteration of the exercise focused on the interoperability of allied fifth-generation assets, such as the F-35A Lightning II, as well as cyber and intelligence warfare capabilities.
August 27, 2021 - Pilots, security forces, aircraft maintainers and logistics personnel from the Royal Australian Air Force (left) and the U.S. Air Force (right) pose in front of an F-35A Lightning II assigned to the 355th Fighter Squadron during RED FLAG-Alaska 21-3 on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. This iteration of the exercise focused on the interoperability of allied fifth-generation assets, such as the F-35A Lightning II, as well as cyber and intelligence warfare capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)
RF-A offers its participants unique opportunities to integrate various forces in a joint and multilateral training environment over the world's largest instrumented air, ground and electronic combat training range.
“RED FLAG-Alaska is designed to provide a premier, realistic and advanced large force exercise and training scenario to optimize both the integration and interoperability of joint and Coalition Forces,” said USAF Col. Taylor Ferrell, the commander of the 18th Operations Group at Kadena Air Base, Japan.
The RAAF and USAF have similar visions and have come together to deepen relationships and strengthen engagements, which allows both nations to deliver air and space power to the Indo-Pacific region as part of a multinational joint force.
“This exercise clearly sends a message,” Ferrell said. “It talks about our resolve with our closest partner nations and it enhances our combat capability together so we can increase our posture and readiness in the Indo-Pacific region.”
As in all RF-As, “Blue” and “Red” air forces competed and engaged in the skies over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex. The Red Air team was led by the 18th Aggressor Squadron and their fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons, however they were augmented with F-35As and other aircraft to increase the realism of modern and future aerial combat.
“Fifth-generation assets augmenting to the Red Air team is an absolute force multiplier, we’ve got older aircraft that unfortunately just cannot do what our adversary’s aircraft can,” said USAF Capt. Lauren Carter, the 18th Aggressor Squadron A Flight commander and a Baron controller. “Having those fifth-generation airframes essentially helps us accurately replicate the threat we want the Blue Air team to train to.”
The RAAF last visited Alaska in 2019 to participate in RF-A 19-3, before the 354th Fighter Wing accepted its first F-35As. This time the Austrailians brought their own F-35As as well as EA-18G Growlers and an E-7A Wedgetail to exercise air-to-air combat as well as cyber and intelligence capabilities.
“These platforms are effectively the tools we would use if and when the worst case scenario would occur and we would have to go to combat,” said RAAF Squadron Leader Tobias Liddy-Puccini, 3 Squadron A Flight commander. “Using those assets to integrate with the USAF is a critical element to our defense force and our future capabilities.”
As the exercise came to an end, both nations were able to look back on the lessons learned and think about how to apply those lessons to increase the lethality and readiness of their air force for the future fight.
“This was a great opportunity for all of us who deployed to Alaska,” said RAAF Group Captain Matthew McCormack, the RAAF Task Group commander for RF-A 21-3. “There were challenges but that stretched our experience and made us more capable to do what we do for the future.”
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