TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Checkered Flag 22-1 was held at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Nov. 8-19, 2021. Tactical execution of Air Combat Command's largest air dominance exercise took over the airspace over the Gulf of Mexico and included over 90 fighter, tanker, and Command and Control aircraft.
The 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, deployed an E-3 Sentry aircraft to Tyndall for the exercise, where they fused C2 capabilities with the 81st Air Control Squadron. This fusion provided multiple units the unique opportunity to practice advanced C2 tactics, techniques, and procedures to counter high-end advance threats.
"The scale of Checkered Flag and the size of the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range provided an exceptional opportunity to prepare operators for the challenges of highly-contested environments,” said Lt. Col. Sean Fazande, Checkered Flag 22-1 exercise director. “Tyndall AFB and the EGTTR provide the infrastructure and extended distances necessary to practice integrated C2 tactics from extended stand-off distances. These experiences are extremely valuable for C2 units assigned to the nation's Immediate Response Force in support of the National Defense Strategy."
The E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System recently underwent hardware and software system upgrades. Checkered Flag provided the opportunity to use the new software in a large-scale exercise while affording AWACS crews a chance to gain confidence on the equipment and generate new tactics. Most notably, Checkered Flag 22-1 was the first time AWACS sensor operators were able to use the new equipment to counter the effects of modern electronic attack.
“Checkered Flag has been extremely valuable for us to learn techniques to better employ new hardware and train our crewmembers in large-scale operations,” said Maj. Anthony Keith, 964th AACS commander. “The lessons we learned here will prepare crews for future deployments and provide the necessary data to help us refine training tools at home-station."
Though AWACS aircrew exercised new technology and tactics, integration between multiple C2 units was a larger Checkered Flag focus. Combined operations with the 964th AACS and 81st ACS allowed crews from both units to practice tactics in a challenging scenario that crisscrossed the boundaries of the two operational areas.
"A major challenge with a large battlespace is synchronizing information between multiple C2 agencies,” said Lt. Col. Mitch Mayes, 81st ACS director of operations. “During Checkered Flag we were able to train crews in a complex environment and allow them to refine coordination and communication skills."
The final element of the two week exercise was C2 integration during the live-fire operations of the Weapon System Evaluation Program 22.02, which ran concurrent with Checkered Flag. WSEP provided the opportunity for aircrew from various fighter squadrons to shoot more than 50 live missiles at aerial targets. This exercise provided C2 operators a rare opportunity to collect “shooter-to-C2” interoperability performance data while fighters employed live weapons.
"Live-fire operations conducted during WSEP provided us important truth-data to understand how the Air Force's current C2 weapon systems perform in live-fire, combat-representative environments,” said Lt. Col. Steve Wyatt, 81st ACS commander. “This data helps us mature our training environments and provides us with information that will help develop the Advanced Battle Management System."
Ensuring unrivaled combat airpower involves more than jets and C2 continues to be a vital part, from training to real-world application. The 81st ACS combines all resources and available assets to provide tactical advantage to the warfighter at the speed of relevance, ensuring the U.S. Air Force stays the world’s greatest Air Force.
"The events during these two weeks are the seeds of executing redundant and resilient C2 architectures,” said Col. Nick Reed, 53d Weapons Evaluation Group commander.