Red Flag 12-3 brings an enormous variety of planes to the Nevada dessert

Navy Air Facility El Centro is located in the South-West of the United States of America, in the state of California, near the Mexican border. El Centro has no flying units of it’s own. Yet it is a very busy airbase because of flying activities from units using the realistic training opportunities in the vicinity of El Centro. There are wide ranges, where pilots can practice bombing, fire missiles and shoot their cannons. Combine that with good weather all year round, then you know why this is a popular spot for pilots of the U.S. Navy. After their missions, crews are debriefed at El Centro. In addition, El Centro, is the winter residence of the U.S. Navy demonstration team the Blue Angels. After training during the winter months, the annual open day at El Centro is traditionally the first public performance of the team in the new airshow season. Recce Reports was invited to the open house at 10 March 2012. We were able to watch up close the present day inventory of U.S. Navy aviation, like the F-18E/F Super Hornet, C-2A Greyhound and SH-60 rescue helicopter. The capability of these aircraft were also demonstrated during the airshow, with the performance of the Blue Angels as the highlight of the day.

Red Flag is a realistic U.S. Air Force war simulation exercise. The cause of the emergence of Red Flag was set during the Vietnam war. USAF suffered heavy losses in dogfights with ‘red’ opponents but also by attacks from Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM). Study showed that the survival of pilots increased enormously as they endured their first 10 war missions. So why not gain this experience already through a very realistic war simulation before real battle is accessed? That idea was revived during the first Red Flag exercise in November 1975 at Nellis Air Force Base.

Participating crews fight against pilots, specialized in tactics of potential adversaries, the so-called Aggressors. There are two Aggressor squadrons at Nellis: 64 AGRS (F-16C/D) and 65 AGRS (F15C/D). But there are more threats to overcome, like SAMs and electronic countermeasures. Red Flag takes a wide variety of aircraft into the air with different roles, like ground attack, air defense, electronic warfare, refueling and Command & Control. The training area is the Nevada Test and Training Range with an airspace of nearly 25,000 square kilometers. Thus, a scenario is created close to a real war, but with the chance to do it over again, get experience and increase survivability.

Red Flag 12-3
Red Flag 12-3 ran from 27 February to 16 March 2012. Basically every day two missions were flown. Foreign participants were the Royal Australian Air Force with F-18’s and the Royal Air Force with Tornado GR4’s.
The U.S. forces were represented by the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marines Corps and Air National Guard. The over 100 participating aircraft included B-2s, EA-6B’s, F-15’s, F-16’s, F-18’s and F-22’s. For the first time also MC-12W’s from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB joined in.

Our impression about this exercise was published in the May 2012 issue of Full Stop Magazine.