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Gamblers 'Double Down' on combat readiness

U.S. Air Force Maj. David Paulus, 77th Fighter Squadron (FS) assistant to the director of operations, adjusts his oxygen mask at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July, 9, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Maj. David Paulus, 77th Fighter Squadron (FS) assistant to the director of operations, adjusts his oxygen mask at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July, 9, 2018. Pilots assigned to the 77th FS prepared for Red Flag 18-3, a combat-readiness exercise designed to bring together various aircraft to train for real-world operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron (FS) taxis down the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018.

A U.S. Air Force F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron (FS) taxis down the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018. The 77th FS flew an increased number of suppression of enemy air defense training missions in preparation for Red Flag 18-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Abbiati, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician, adjusts his hearing protection on the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Abbiati, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technician, adjusts his hearing protection on the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018. Abbiati prepared maintenance equipment for an upcoming trip to Red Flag 18-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Sweeney)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Zachary Moore, right, and Senior Airman Daniel Abbiati, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technicians, interact on the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Zachary Moore, right, and Senior Airman Daniel Abbiati, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support technicians, interact on the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., July 11, 2018. Moore and Abbiati finished loading the last pallet of supplies for the 77th Fighter Squadron’s upcoming trip to Red Flag 18-3. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sean Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- The roar of an F-16CM Fighting Falcon screams down the flight line at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, as a fighter pilot applies full power to his F110-GE129 afterburning turbofan jet engine.

Capable of flight after using only 1,000 feet of the runway, the bird is airborne and ready for its mission.

Fresh off a combat deployment to Afghanistan, the 77th Fighter Squadron is not skipping a beat in preparing for the next fight.

“The deployment we were on was a different mission,” said Capt. Peyton Sullivan, 77th FS pilot. “(It) was all air-to-ground and, with the F-16 being a multirole fighter, you are trained in several different missions to include, air-to-air, air-to-ground, suppression of enemy air defenses and defensive counter air. Being able to come home and get back on board with what Shaw’s mission is, the ‘Wild Weasel’ mission, is going to be the biggest factor in going to Red Flag.”

Red Flag 18-3 is scheduled to be a joint exercise at Nellis AFB, Nevada, involving the United States and other nations to provide aircrews the experience of multiple, intensive air combat sorties in the safety of a training environment.

“Our squadron getting invited to Red Flag means that they need SEAD support,” said Sullivan. “To put it in perspective, what we do is go into a target area and suppress as many surface-to-air missiles as possible that are shooting at the aircraft in the air. That allows us to take over the ground portion of the scenario.”

The scenarios at Red Flag are not limited to just air-to-air or air-to-ground missions. There is also a ground element incorporated in the training.

“You see all of the parts that are going into it and all of the different assets as well,” said Sullivan. “You see the different fighters, bombers, intelligence Airmen, the maintainers, there are guys on the ground like joint terminal aircraft controllers calling in air strikes, they have recovery missions going on. Basically, we have every different Air Force mission training in one place at the same time.”

The increased flying tempo also provides maintenance teams on the ground an opportunity to fine-tune their skills and stay prepared for future conflicts.

“For training new maintenance personnel, it is good to get them out of the Shaw zone and have them be more flexible,” said Senior Airman Lucas Davison, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron tactical aircraft maintainer. “To go to a different base with limited items, limited jets, limited people and limited tools and still perform, it’s just better training for maintenance.”

For some Airmen, the task of relocating with their unit gives them a new understanding of what to expect down the road.

“Getting the chance to pack up everything, move it, and then stand it up again … it is a valuable experience for my team,” said Tech. Sgt. Daniel Allshouse, 20th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron support section noncommissioned officer in charge. “It will make us more efficient when it comes time to do it for real.”

Another unique opportunity that Red Flag provides is the chance to interact with different generations of aircraft and jets from other nations.

Sullivan said it is tough because each airplane has its own capabilities and the teams have to figure out how to use each one together to accomplish the mission.

This type of training environment requires planning and coordination between all parties involved to ensure the mission is done safely and effectively.

“There, you are briefing with everyone and they are telling you, ‘Here is your scenario for the day,’ then you have to go back to your flight and say, ‘Alright here is how we are going to excel at this mission,’” said Sullivan.

The capabilities and resources provided at Nellis make it the optimal location for this intense exercise.

“They have pretty much the entire north half of the state as an operating area,” said Sullivan. “They also have the space to store all of the jets. They have (lodging) for us and they have squadrons for us.”

This joint environment allows each party involved to learn from each other and take back the lessons learned to their home units.

“You get to meet everyone you’re flying with, you get to talk to people from other countries and see how they do things and they get to see how we do things,” said Sullivan. “It all comes together and shows you what your weaknesses are so you can take it back to home station and get better for the next one.”