NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - --
While only introduced a little over a decade ago, the F-22A Raptor is a critical component of both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions of the 21st Centrury Air Force.
Though the fifth generation F-22 and F-35 aircrafts are the youngest fighters in the Air Force family, that hasn’t stopped the F-22 from excelling as part of the United State’s arsenal.
The F-22A Raptors, assigned to the 27th Fighter Squadron, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, are participating in Red Flag 16-3 to gain the experience and integration that only a large-scale exercise can provide the young airframe’s pilots and maintenance crew.
For the Airmen of the 27th FS, the ability to train in an environment such as Red Flag, some for the first time, is an invaluable opportunity for readiness moving forward.
“Being a younger squadron, it’s always good to go on the road, it helps with squadron unity and we’re also able to integrate with other platforms,” said 1st Lt. Lyle Ratcliffe, 27th Fighter Squadron pilot. “This is critical because of the way that everyone relies on each other. The more experience we have training with each other, the better.”
With an exercise such as Red Flag, Airmen from the 27th FS are able to not only see how their airframe fits into the bigger picture, but also see it put into action.
“The 27th Fighter Squadron is composed of a lot of young Airmen right now, and for a lot of us this is our first time coming to Red Flag,” said Capt. Robert Hansen, 27th FS pilot. “The ability to plan and execute a mission, not only with other airframes, but with other branches of the military isn’t an experience that you can get on a daily basis back at Langley. Being here at Red Flag gives us the first exposure to a large force exercise that is similar to combat operations.”
The experience of participating in Red Flag and seeing how the F-22 piece fits into the larger picture of the Air Force puzzle is an aspect of the training that is not going overlooked.
“When we train back at Langley, a lot of what we do is little bits and pieces of a fight,” said Hansen. “We’re practicing and executing single ship tactics. An exercise such as Red Flag is a compilation of putting together all of those individual pieces into a big fight.”
Leading the tactical execution for the other airframes surrounding it in the fight, the capabilities that the F-22 possesses allows for the mission for flow smoothly for the entire force participating.
“The Raptor brings the fifth generation fighter into the battle,” said Hansen. “It allows an aircraft that has both stealth and integrated avionics to contribute to the battlespace. One of the unique features of the F-22 is that it is able to integrate all of the sensor data and display it all to the pilot in a 360 degree, God’s eye, view of the battle space. Which allows the pilot to employ their tactics more efficiently knowing where other aircraft on both the sides are.”
While all of these capabilities serve as larger pieces in executing the overall mission, putting them together with other airframes is a vital part of Red Flag.
“The integration piece is the most important part of coming to Red Flag, but also there is a lot of planning that goes into these missions,” said Hansen. “It’s important to see how the F-22 has to plan to make it to the fight, but also how they are going to coordinate with the other airframes.
‘Simple things like: ‘What time is everyone going to taxi?’ ‘When are they going to take off?’ ‘When are they going to the tanker?’ and ‘How long are they going to be there?’ It’s a planning problem that we don’t typically get, and that is something that is going to be important down the road in combat operations because there’s finite resources. So to see it, and get to practice here, that’s a good take away.”
Through this high-end integration with other pieces of the fight, Airmen from the 27th FS have used Red Flag 16-3 in order to gain valuable experience and skill that will be used in the future.
“Getting the Airmen the initial experience with these large force exercises, multi-branch and multi-airframe planning and training is going to contribute to what the wingmen and younger guys can contribute down the road,” said Hansen. “Instead of relying heavily on the experienced pilots, the wingmen are now going to contribute and fall back on the experiences they gained here at Red Flag.”