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20th FW hosts Red Flag 21-2

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Destinee Sweeney
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Multiple times a year, the world’s top air forces come together to prove their combat capabilities over almost 3 million acres of desert at the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The 20th Fighter Wing is scheduled to host Red Flag 21-2 from March 8-19 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

"The role of lead wing at Red Flag allows us to test two critical capabilities; deploying our force, and then commanding that force while we gain air superiority vs. a peer competitor," Col. Lawrence Sullivan, 20th FW commander. "Every Wild Weasel Airman from Shaw will be tested in the coming weeks to see if they can leave their home base, and project airpower after quickly setting up in a new location. History has taught us that the skills gained at Nellis may be put to use at any time, and the 20th FW is eager to demonstrate our current capability while developing skills needed for tomorrow’s fight."

Both the 55th and 79th Fighter Squadrons are participating in the time-honored exercise, which was first developed as a way to prepare fighter pilots for the threats they encountered during the Vietnam War — the same war in which the suppression of enemy air defenses and the Wild Weasels were born out of, both calling cards of the 20th FW.

The 20th FW typically only sends one fighter squadron to Red Flag, so having two squadrons for this year's exercise presents more opportunities for development. The 79th FS will be responsible for escort duties, which entails protecting bomber aircraft from threats while flying to and from the target, and the 55th FS will lead the SEAD mission.

“The entire game plan for a mission is based off of SEAD,” said 1st Lt. Jack Corriere, 79th FS pilot. “With us being the Wild Weasels, we always have a big responsibility out there: what we do dictates if we win the fight.”

Corriere said the 79th FS leading the charge for escort duties proves how multi-role the F-16 Viper truly is. While the 20th FW is most known for its SEAD capabilities, the Viper has proven to be a valuable asset in a multitude of mission sets with both air-to-air and air-to-ground configurations.

During the Vietnam War-era, units realized that their pilots needed more realistic training opportunities before testing their skills in a deadly arena. Now well known for this training, Red Flag 21-2 will focus on air-to-ground targeting as well as provide various advanced threats and jamming capabilities to inspire team integration and maximize learning.

"This is my first time being at Red Flag,” said Corriere, who was recently designated as combat mission ready. “I’m expecting to be challenged. I haven’t had any large-force exercise experience so this is … a first time opportunity for me.”

By working together, allied and joint forces are able to test a myriad of different skills and mission sets ranging from SEAD to close air support amid exercise scenarios that call for dynamic targeting and combat search and rescue.

During this iteration, around 2,500 players from Singapore, Sweden and seven NATO member nations with various aircraft such as the F-35 Lightning II, HH-60 Blackhawk, KC-135 Stratotanker, B-1 Lancer and EA-18 Growler, will be participating and allowing for an opportunity to smooth out any wrinkles in a cross-platform scenario that may otherwise prove detrimental to the mission.

“This is going to be a unique experience in regards to flying with all different types of aircraft and people from all over the world,” said Corriere. “Not only does Red Flag prepare us for combat, it also prepares you to work with our NATO allies.”

In the ever changing landscapes of air and cyberspace, Shaw Weasels have a lot more variables to contend with now than their original Wild Weasel counterparts, including newer generations of fighter aircraft and more diverse engagement scenarios and tactics. Red Flag continually provides next-level training, to ensure pilots from across the world remain ready to accomplish the mission today, and prepared for the fight tomorrow.