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552nd ACW participates in Red Flag exercise

A U.S. Air Force E-3 “Sentry” Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base approaches a KC-135 “Stratotanker” from the Maine Air National Guard during refueling operations over Iraq on Oct. 2, in support of operations against ISIL/ISIS targets. The AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied and coalition operations. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

A U.S. Air Force E-3 “Sentry” Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base approaches a KC-135 “Stratotanker” from the Maine Air National Guard during refueling operations over Iraq on Oct. 2, in support of operations against ISIL/ISIS targets. The AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied and coalition operations. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Red Flag training exercise and members of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base are currently in the middle of it - where they've been for the past 37 years.

Red Flag, a realistic combat training exercise involving air, space and cyber forces of the United States and its allies, kicked off this week over southern Nevada with Red Flag 15-1, which runs through Feb. 13.

Supporting the exercise is one of the 552nd ACW's E-3 "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft along with a crew from the 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron.

The exercise takes place on the Nevada Test and Training Range north of Las Vegas.

The premier military training range has more than 15,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land.

With 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world, Nellis AFB and the NTTR are the home of a simulated battlefield, providing combat air forces with the ability to train to fight together in a peacetime environment, and to survive and win together, according to Nellis officials.

"Having the opportunity to send crews to an exercise like Red Flag before they deploy is extremely valuable and goes well beyond just mission employment," said Col. Brian Humphrey, 552nd ACW vice commander. "It allows our crews to mesh, both internally and with the rest of the combat air forces, into a cohesive unit through the trials and tribulations of a simulated wartime environment.

"We fight as a team, so we have to train as a team," Colonel Humphrey added.

The 414th Combat Training Squadron is responsible for executing Red Flag, which is one in a series of advanced training programs administered at Nellis AFB and the NTTR by organizations assigned to the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center.

Under Red Flag 15-1, more than 125 aircraft are scheduled to depart Nellis AFB twice a day and some may remain in the air for up to five hours, with participants gaining valuable training in planning and executing a wide variety of combat missions.

In addition to U.S. aircraft, the Royal Australian Air Force, flying C-130Js and the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom, flying Typhoons, F-15Cs, E-3Ds and Sentinels will participate in 15-1, Nellis officials said.

Red Flag 15-2, which runs from March 2-13, will involve members of the 964th AACS as well as members of the 729th Air Control Squadron, a geographically separated unit assigned to Hill AFB, Utah, that falls under the 552nd ACW.

The 729th ACS and the 726th ACS out of Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, another GSU under the 552nd ACW, provide command and control of joint air operations through surveillance, identification, weapons control, theater missile defense, battle management and theater communications data links.

According to Maj. Barry Ketchie, director of Plans and Programs for the 729th ACS, his unit just recently completed an internal exercise in preparation for Red Flag 15-2.

Since standing up the 552nd Air Control Group in 2008, Major Ketchie said this will be the first time one of their units has packed up, convoyed, set up and participated in a Red Flag exercise.

"The 729th ACS normally schedules a large annual field exercise on the Utah Test and Training Range," Major Ketchie said. "But this year, we opted for the greater opportunity to go a little further south to Nellis for Red Flag 15-2."

Nellis officials said more than 85 aircraft are scheduled to participate in Red Flag 15-2.
In addition to U.S. aircraft, the Royal Norwegian Air Force, flying C-130Js and F-16s, and NATO, flying E-3As and a Control Reporting Center assigned to the 729th ACS will participate in Red Flag 15-2, Nellis officials said.

Since 1975, the Red Flag training exercises have trained more than 440,000 military personnel, including more than 145,000 air crew members flying more than 385,000 sorties, logging more than 660,000 hours of flying time, Nellis officials said.

According to Daniel Wheaton, 57th Wing historian at Nellis, the 552nd ACW first participated in Red Flag in 1978 and has had a continued presence ever since. During Red Flag 78-4, the 552nd ACW flew six sorties for 47.7 hours in the E-3A.

"Red Flag is a challenge in the extreme," Colonel Humphrey said. "While tough, it also gives us the opportunity to debrief our mistakes and update our tactics, techniques and procedures to make E-3 employment even more effective in future missions."