SOUTHWEST ASIA --
U.S. and coalition personnel wrapped up their participation in Exercise Desert Flag, at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, March 30.
Desert Flag, also known as Exercise IRON FALCON 16-2, is a three-week long joint and multilateral U.S. Air Forces Central Command-led exercise held semi-annually in Southwest Asia.
“Desert Flag is a coalition live fly exercise that brings together multiple nations, not just within the region, but outside it as well to execute mission sets that they can expect to see in combat operations,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Michaelson, chief of the Air Warfare Division, AFCENT Air Warfare Center. “It allows these different nations and their diverse weapon systems to come together in a training environment and develop tactics, techniques and procedures, and later hone those skills so when they execute them in combat they do it proficiently and successfully.”
Among the coalition nations who participated in Desert Flag were five Gulf Cooperation Council nations from the region and another five countries from outside the area including the Royal Australian Air Force and French Air Force.
Desert Flag is the first exercise of its kind to present U.S. Air Force and coalition personnel the opportunity to practice live-fly sorties with U.S. Navy and Army assets assigned to the Arabian Peninsula here.
“It’s important for the U.S. and its coalition partners to participate in exercises like Desert Flag so we can learn the interoperability of our different forces,” said Col. Jeffery Patton, commander of the AFCENT AWC. “Not everyone has the same type of equipment or all U.S. equipment so it’s important to understand their capabilities and how to integrate these different air forces together.”
On the U.S. side, the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier provided support from sea while the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment’s patriot batteries provided air support from ground, via a live simulation network, to aid allied aircraft during the exercise.
“Our primary role during the exercise was to serve as a planning coordinator with the daily mission boss. This included highlighting our abilities with our weapon system and determining what gaps we could fill in the enforcement of a no-fly zone,” said Army Capt. Jason, tactical director for 3-2 ADA.
Jason and his Soldiers met with air bosses, which varied between U.S. and coalition members, each day, to plan what kind of aerial defense support they could provide during counter air missions against opposing forces.
“Real life training scenarios like this are very rare. Usually our training focuses on Soldiers overcoming very technical problems, but this time they were forced to work with allied partners that most of them have never worked with before,” he said. “This greatly aided our ability to interact with our allies in a way that fostered growth in the joint operations environment.”
For some of the younger pilots participating in Desert Flag, it was their first time integrating with a Patriot battery system.
According to Capt. Joshua, F-15E Strike Eagle weapons system officer assigned to the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, the support provided by the patriot system enhanced the defense of the simulated no fly zone, and made it easier for pilots to focus on enforcing their various sectors.
“This is first time I ever integrated with patriots,” said Joshua. “We trained to it with a sim operator back stateside, but it’s very scripted so it almost always goes perfectly, with the missile hitting the target. During the exercise we got to see the real limitations of trying to radio the patriot to let them know there’s a threat flying towards them at 500 feet.”
When pilots weren’t flying Desert Flag sorties, they were planning with their crews and coalition partners, discussing what capabilities everyone brought to the team before heading out on their next mission.
“We had time to sit down and strike up a conversation with a patriot operator, fighter pilot or an operator of some system from a different country - figure how they do things and what capabilities they bring to the fight,” he said. “It gave us more of a big picture perspective, which is something I don’t get much training with back home because we focus on the strike eagles.”
Radio communications were recorded during sorties so once fighters returned from a mission they could play back conversations and discuss what went right, or wrong, and how to adjust before their next mission.
“Each day was a different kind of fight with a different threat level or scenario we had to fight through,” he said. “Sometimes our tactics weren’t the most efficient and it was interesting to see some of the ideas our counterparts came up with and then think ‘how do change the way I plan to evolve.’”
The AFCENT Air Warfare Center, who hosted the exercise, offers several training opportunities and academics throughout the year in order strengthen military-to-military relations in the region, with Desert Flag being their largest event.
“I’m really proud of the work the team has done to put Desert Flag together like this,” said Patton. “The exercise is a training opportunity for a younger cadre of warfighters who will be future leaders of their Air Forces and developing those relationships early in their careers will pay long term dividends for all of their militaries.”
(Due to safety and security concerns some last names were removed.