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Tyndall’s Checkered Flag; promoting air dominance

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Kayla Fitzgerald
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The skies over Bay and Gulf Counties are busy as personnel and aircraft from across the country have come to Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, for Checkered Flag 22-1 which runs Nov. 8 through Nov. 19, 2021.

Checkered Flag is one of the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air exercises, integrating fourth- and fifth-generation airframes while testing and improving the pilots’ and crews’ ability to operate under challenging conditions.

“Checkered Flag is an [Air Combat Command] directed exercise for [Immediate Response Forces] that go downrange,” said Lt. Col. Sean Fazande, Checkered Flag 22-1 exercise director. “This is the home of air dominance where we are bringing Checkered Flag to fruition with over 93 aircraft on this current exercise and we get about 62 to 70 aircraft airborne at any given time.”

Exercises like Checkered Flag help the Joint Force test and develop its capabilities and build confidence in multi-platform interoperability. Checkered Flag 22-1 includes components from active duty Air Force and Reserves along with the Navy. By training together here, units strengthen their partnerships, ensuring a more lethal force in combat.

“Each weapon system has a unique capability that they bring to the fight, they work in concert with each other to execute a specific mission set and each one has a specific job to do as they get into the airspace,” said Fazande. “Everything we do for the desired learning objectives infuses [details] from the fifth-gen fighter community and the fourth-gen fighter community to emulate what you’re going to see in different arenas downrange.”

The training environment the Emerald Coast provides gives pilots and crews a realistic experiences and helps prepare them for future missions.

 “Checkered Flag enables us to train and execute like we fight,” said Col. Greg Moseley, 325th Fighter Wing commander. “There is no better place to do that than Tyndall, largely due to our unique and valuable airspace over the Gulf of Mexico.”

Direct access to the Gulf Range Complex is essential for fifth-generation fighter readiness, for fourth and fifth-generation fighter interoperability and for live-fire testing and training.

“Another unique characteristic of Checkered Flag is the Weapons Systems Evaluation Program that’s executed by the [53rd Weapons Evaluation Group],” Fazande said. “[Pilots] get to go from the fighter intercept point to the target, releasing weapons and [learning] what it feels like to shoot a missile off the wing and employ the tactics appropriately.”

Hosting an exercise of this magnitude requires a significant amount of preparation and coordination. Project officers from each unit are included in planning events throughout the three months preceding the exercise to ensure their units accomplish critical tasks during the exercise to maximize the training opportunity. The input the participating squadrons are given is one of the biggest differences between Checkered Flag and other flag exercises.

“The squadrons have full buy-in here, developing their [desired learning objectives] to come down and initiate a spin-up process for global deployment,” said Fazande. “They’re not specific to an [operations] plan, but they’re specific to fighter tactics, getting in, developing and honing those skills they’re going to require downrange.”

While Tyndall hosts Checkered Flag exercises biannually, the 22-1 iteration is distinctive as the 325th Fighter Wing now maintains and executes the operation of the exercise.

“This iteration of Checkered Flag is different because the Wing actually owns the exercise now,” said Fazande. “What makes it so unique is the fact that unlike other flags where there is a combat training squadron that runs it, that doesn’t happen here. We actually have every agency involved on the base to execute the mission.”

Units across Tyndall work together to make sure that all aspects of the exercise are handled. This includes taking care of more than 900 visiting personnel and maintaining security for more than 60 aircraft on station.

“Our Airmen are what make holding an exercise of this magnitude possible,” Moseley said. “From our pilots and maintainers to those in logistics, communications and other support roles, everyone knows their part and performs at their best. They make me proud and honored to be a part of Team Tyndall.”