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Space operators bring new capabilities to Red Flag

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- The 460th Space Wing took part in the Red Flag 15-1 exercise held Jan. 26 to Feb. 13, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The Red Flag exercise is a coalition advanced training exercise that simulates real-world engagements with an enemy. The use of allied aircraft, space and cyber capabilities is incorporated to produce defensive and offensive responses, involving more than 50 Allied units and supporting over 1,700 sorties.

"Red Flag is an Air Combat Command led exercise," said Capt. Brian, 460th Operations Support Squadron's Wing Weapons and Tactics Chief. "The whole purpose of the exercise is to give pilots their first 10 missions. It started in Vietnam and the original intent, since U.S. forces were seeing a lot of air losses, was to give these pilots some experience before they went into real combat. Starting about five years ago, space forces started supporting the exercise."

Units at Buckley provided missile warning, missile defense and battlespace awareness capabilities.

"In terms of Overhead Persistent Infrared for the missile warning and missile defense missions, what Buckley and the 2nd Space Warning Squadron does is what's known as passive defense," Brian said. "We also support active defense enabling missile defense elements, such as PATRIOT batteries.

Passive defense warns of incoming enemy missiles and allows for personnel in harm's way to take cover before the missile impacts. Active defense involves locating an enemy missile and using resources to defend against its impact.

Buckley also delivers battlespace awareness to combatant commanders by providing overhead persistent coverage of the battlefield with the use of satellites.

"Giving the chief of combat operations in the Air and Space Operations Center an Overhead Persistent Infrared picture of what his area of operations looks like, he can make better decisions based on what we see," Brian said.

This year, as an Air Force Space Command initiative, Nellis introduced a blue space planning cell into the operations of the exercise. A planning cell is comprised of a group of Airmen representing different units who highlight the capabilities their particular unit brings to the table. These planning cells work together to deliver synchronized effects in completion of mission objectives. This was the first year space had its own planning cell in Red Flag and units from Buckley were directly involved, Brian said.

"The way Red Flag works is, your F-16 guys have a planning cell, your A-10 guys have a planning cell, and they separately discuss their specific missions of close air support and air interdiction," Brian said. 

Then, all units involved in the exercise come together in a mission planning cell, to develop synergistic effects which  leads to the rapid integration of multiple Air Force capabilities to deliver bombs on target , Brian explained.

The 460th SW had units at Nellis as well as units at Buckley directly involved in the exercise, each playing different roles.

Units from Buckley that operated during the exercise were engaged in more than a planning role where they communicated what the space capabilities were able to do for the overall mission. Instead, their primary focus was on executing operations as if indeed this was an actual real-world event while being tightly integrated with what the air and space picture would look like. It gave units here a unique perspective into how the Air Force works because it isn't often that an exercise of this magnitude is performed, said Capt. Jose,  2 SWS Weapons and Tactics Flight commander.

"It's very unique for (Airmen involved in the exercise) to see, big picture, what the air picture will look like and what the rest of the space picture looks like," Jose said. "It also gives them an opportunity to increase their proficiency because they're getting a lot of stuff thrown at them in a short amount of time. In one night they would see a number of events that they wouldn't see in an entire month."

What units are doing here at Buckley, in regards to Red Flag, is performing their daily responsibilities with increased tempo, increased realism and increased integration, Jose stated.

The information gathered by the units here at Buckley, via Overhead Persistent Infrared satellites, is transmitted over to the personnel at Nellis so they are aware of threats, such as incoming missiles, and can then take the right steps to counter that threat.

"Our crew force would disseminate information to Nellis," Jose said. "They're getting all of that data and acting real time on that information. So if we see a missile launch at location x, the crew will validate and report that missile."

Once a missile is validated and reported by units at Buckley, they would then contact units at Nellis and notify them of an incoming missile. With that information, units at Nellis notify air crews to scramble aircraft and engage that missile site, Jose explained.

Buckley is the front line for missile detection, he added.

After the exercise, units involved here at Buckley said they enjoyed the exercise because of the excitement it brought as well as the whole picture perspective units were able to see, Jose said.

"They want the challenge," Jose said. "They want to help not only Buckley but they want to help big Air Force and get to that realistic level. That's what Red Flag is about. The most realistic, most combat effective training that we can provide to our Air Force."
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