DESERT FLAG 9: Enhancing the Security of the Middle East

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kregg York

To confront the complex challenges of today, nations need to be able to work together and support one another as a unified and cohesive fighting force, which is why the United States and so many other countries participated in this year’s Desert Flag exercise.

Hosted by the United Arab Emirates, Desert Flag, a Red Flag-style exercise, provides strategic training with multiple countries and airframes, aimed at building upon a cohesive fighting force in defense of the Arabian Peninsula. Desert Flag 9, which took place from April 21 to May 10, 2024, consisted of 10 countries and 12 different airframes.

 The U.S., UAE, France, Germany, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey and the United Kingdom all participated in this exercise. Of the 12 airframes, the U.S. Air Force deployed a contingent of F-15E Strike Eagles, from the 335th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, and U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, from the 104th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, assigned to the Maryland Air National Guard, as well as support personnel to the exercise.

The three-week exercise provided critical touchpoints for the multinational regional partners at the tactical, operational and strategic levels to build upon the foundational knowledge and core competencies needed to operate together.

“We’re building a realistic scenario with a large number of assets, large number of personnel, and a large number of nations all working together towards a single scenario,” said USAF Maj. Joshua Goliber, advanced training mission chief for the U.S. Air Forces Central Air Warfare Center. “It’s definitely something that a single country could not put on on their own.”

“It’s moving toward greater security as a partnership,” said Goliber. “Every country trains on their own turf, but rarely do they get the chance to work as a collective group of partner nations, show a unified front and show that we’re all more than capable of working together, setting a unified mission, and accomplishing those goals in the end.”

While the goal of the exercise is to better work together as a single cohesive force, Goliber says it can be difficult.

“Every country brings a different set of capabilities to the fight," said Goliber. “Getting everyone in the same room and figuring out how to solve the collective problem with all these various capabilities is definitely a unique challenge.”

While pilots and mission planners worked to synchronize and successfully execute their missions together, aircraft maintainers used the opportunity for a unique training experience.

“We came out here with limited equipment on purpose; the smallest footprint we could to get through 24-hour ops,” said Senior Master Sgt. Adam Keller, sortie support flight chief from the 335th EFS.

By bringing less equipment to an exercise, Keller’s team was able to practice Agile Combat Employment tactics, which ensures Airmen are able to operate in the most austere conditions, while staying mobile and completing the mission.

In addition to practicing with a small footprint, Keller said they only operated for a few days in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility before relocating for this exercise, another key part of ACE.

“We can turn aircraft, mission generate them in under 24 hours,” said Keller, “and then 5 days later be somewhere else and generate them in 24 hours again.”

Despite the fast pace and quick turns that maintenance faced, Keller says the Airmen’s passion and determination helped them accomplish the mission.

“No matter what, we can absorb it and react to it,” said Keller. “It just proved how much flexibility everyone has and how they can react and still make the mission happen.”

By the end of the exercise, the U.S., as well as the other participating nations, were able to walk away from the exercise as a better, more capable fighting force.

“Overall, I was very impressed,” said Goliber. “The overall level of expertise they brought to the exercise was very impressive. It’s good to see everyone working together. Everybody integrated seamlessly.”

With worldwide conflicts becoming more complex every day, no nation can confront today’s challenges alone, which is why the U.S. values its shared commitment and close cooperation with coalition allies and partners, enhancing the collective ability to counter a range of regional threats as a unified force.