1AF completes BLUE FLAG 21-1 homeland defense exercise

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  • Air Forces Northern

Members of Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) – 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) completed a week-long BLUE FLAG exercise May 14 focused on refining processes to defend North America against cyber, cruise missile and other air, space and cyber domains threats.

“The exercise provided a week of realistic training across the Headquarters and Air Operations Center. We were able to assess our contingency plans to defend North America against potential threats in a contested or degraded operational environment,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, Commander of CONR-1AF (AFNORTH). “The training helped validate our plans to ensure we are able to employ resources and tactics to detect, engage, and mitigate multi-domain threats. The training is invaluable as competitors across the globe seek to gain technological advantages to contest or degrade our homeland defense capabilities.”

BLUE FLAG 21-1 training was centered at the CONR-1AF (AFNORTH)’s 601st Air Operations Center where members of the AOC performed the full range of aerospace warning and control measures, to include developing plans to transition from a day-to-day posture to wartime. The CONR-1AF (AFNORTH) staff exercised its processes to allocate and move forces to project Air power to forward positions.

The exercise allowed the CONR-1AF (AFNORTH) and 601st AOC to exercise in a realistic, operational level, Multi-Domain Command and Control decision environment utilizing high-fidelity constructive and virtual models in a simulated environment. Blue Flag provided a holistic scenario specifically designed to train the CONR-1AF (AFNORTH) Staff, 601 AOC, and the Eastern and Western Air Defense Sectors on critical operational phases of homeland defense while combating a viable national threat. 

Ed Wachtfeitl, CONR-1AF (AFNORTH) lead planner for BLUE FLAG 21-1, said the exercise builds on previous VIGILANT SHIELD, AMALGAM DART and BLUE FLAG exercises to help 1st Air Force better execute its homeland air defense plans. Where past exercises primarily focused on a larger, global, multi-Combatant Command (COCOM) training audience, Exercise BLUE FLAG provided a more holistic scenario that specifically trained the AFNORTH staff, 601st AOC and the Air Defense Sectors during critical operational phases combating a viable national threat.

“BLUE FLAG provided a great simulated training environment to assess how our plans will work,” said Wachtfeitl. “The performance assessment that took place during the exercise provided us a mechanism to look for gaps in our plans and how we execute those plans to adjust and improve homeland defense processes.”

Also participating in the exercise were personnel from CONR-1AF (AFNORTH)’s Eastern and Western Air Defense Sectors, located respectively in Rome, N.Y., and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and the 263rd Army Air Missile Defense Command.  The ACC-sponsored, Joint National Training Center (JNTC) accredited warfighter exercise was simulator built and executed by the 505th Combat and Control Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., who also served as exercise proctors acting as 1st Air Force’s simulated higher headquarters.

For the purposes of the exercise, simulated scenarios were designed based on current global threats posed by adversaries.

In addition to having members of the 505th CCW act as higher headquarters personnel, CONR invited three retired general officers to serve as senior mentors throughout the exercise. Lt. Gen. (Ret) John Bansemer, Lt. Gen. (Ret) Russel Handy, Lt. Gen. (Ret) Tom Jones, and Lt. Gen. (Ret) Jeff Lofgren volunteered their time and skills to the BLUE FLAG exercise. The senior mentors are seasoned leaders providing insight and experience to the air defense exercise cultivated key aspects of the mission.

“Their role as advisors provides the 1AF team with real world perspective and assistance thinking through complex challenges, and insights that help hone our air defense mission skill sets,” said Pierce. “To some exercise participants, it may seem that they are observing from the sidelines, when in fact often times they are mentoring our Airmen by saying, ‘You might be missing a key component of guidance or situational context that would alter your course of action.’  We’re fortunate to have these seasoned warriors supporting our mission and providing direct feedback.”