F-22 Raptors make mark at Red Flag

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Russell Wicke
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs
The F-22A Raptor is flying in its first Red Flag exercise that started here Feb. 3, showcasing its stealth, super cruise and other advantages absent in legacy fighters.

Within the exercise, pilots from the 94th Fighter Squadron, Langley AFB, Va., are flying F-22s against Red Flag aggressors, with pilots from the Royal Australian Air Force of Australia, and the Royal Air Force of England. This is the first time the F-22 has flown with coalition forces.

The 94th FS deployed 14 Raptors and 197 personnel to play in the Red Flag exercise, which ends Feb. 16. Including the F-22s, more than 200 aircraft are participating. Among the foreign aircraft involved are the RAF's GR-4 and RAAF's F-111C. In addition, the F-22s are flying with the B-2 Spirit and F-117 Nighthawk, the aircraft that pioneered stealth. Other typical aircraft at Red Flag are the F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon and more.

According to Lt. Col. Dirk Smith, 94th FS commander, his Raptor pilots are experiencing remarkable success flying against the aircraft representing the enemy - most of which are F-16s and F-15s. The success is a testament to the 94th FS and maintenance team because Colonel Smith said the aggressor forces represent the most lethal threat friendly forces would ever face.

"The training provided by the Red Flag adversaries is like no other on earth," said Colonel Smith. "Our pilots are experiencing a tremendous learning curve." This type of training and performance promises air dominance for America well into the future, said Maj. Jack Miller, 1st Fighter Wing spokesman at Langley.

Maintenance on the ground is just as successful. Tech. Sgt. Aaron Cowan, 94th Aircraft Maintenance Unit crew chief claimed the F-22s are performing flawlessly - a welcome change to the ever-aging F-15s. According to Capt. Jason Moore, 94th AMU officer in charge, the Raptors had only two ground aborts out of more than 110 sorties so far - a feat unheard of in the maintenance circle.

The F-22's debut at the prominent Red Flag exercise is a significant milestone for the jet, according to Colonel Smith. Red Flag is an advanced, realistic combat training exercise designed for fighter pilots; conducted over the Nellis Range Complex - measured 60 by 100 nautical miles. The exercise was established in 1975 because aerial-combat statistics suggested a pilot's survival and success increased significantly after the first 10 sorties. In Red Flag exercises, the Blue Forces represent friendly forces, while Red Forces simulate the enemy.

In addition to aerial combat, Blue Forces also train in various tactics to engage ground targets such as mock airfields, convoys, and other ground defensive positions. However, exercises at Red Flag often provide other unique training opportunities. For example, Colonel Smith said that training with the B-2 and F-117 is "unprecedented" because the F-22 enhances the lethality of other Air Force aircraft. Furthermore, the same principles apply with Air Force pilots who are practicing engagement with U.S. allies.

Because the United States usually doesn't engage in combat without coalition forces, Colonel Smith said training with the RAF and RAAF at Red Flag provided valuable experience for all involved.

"This exercise is a great chance for us to learn what [sister and coalition forces] can do, and for them to learn what we're capable of," he said. Colonel Smith also said the addition of RAF and RAAF players makes the training more diverse and valuable for all pilots involved. According to Colonel Smith, the main idea is not just about the F-22, but how it enhances the overall Air Force package.

But the overall expected result for the F-22's involvement at Red Flag is to foster and maintain an "unfair advantage" over the enemies of the United States, said Major Miller. "Our joint forces don't want a fair fight," he said. "We want every fight we enter to be patently unfair - to the other guy."

Despite the F-22's "unfair advantage," Colonel Smith said flying against the Red Force aggressors of the 414th Combat Training Squadron is not an easy task. Aggressor pilots are made up of F-16 and F-15 pilots specially trained to replicate tactics and techniques of potential adversaries according to the 414th CTS/Red Flag fact sheet.

"These scenarios are not made to be easy," said Colonel Smith. "These [Red Force] pilots are well trained and good at their job." In addition, Red Forces aren't limited to aggressor pilots. There is no shortage of ground threats at Red Flag. These include electronically simulated surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, and communications jamming, according to 414th CTS officials.

Furthermore, the people of the Blue Forces, like those in the 94th, are pushed to the limit, working 12-hour days and fighting two "wars" in a 24-hour period.