TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, FLA. – About 150 Citizen-Airmen from the 142nd Fighter Wing in Portland, Oregon, participated in a two-week joint-service exercise known as Checkered Flag.
The exercise included several airframes from various Air Force and Navy installations, working together to meet combat readiness requirements. The focus of Checkered Flag is to enable the execution of complex, primarily defensive, counter air and fighter integration.
In these air-to-air combat simulations, pilots represent either red air (the threat or opposition) or blue air. Red air pilots imitate aircraft from other countries while blue air pilots implement countermeasures.
Aside from enabling pilots to meet Air Force mandated annual requirements, multi-airframe exercises like Checkered Flag let pilots replicate intricate and demanding combat experiences.
Lt. Col. Jarrod Aranda, director of operations for the 123rd Fighter Squadron at Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon, says the training at exercises like Checkered Flag at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida is invaluable.
“We have the ability to expose guys to much more complex training scenarios here that we just can’t get back home because of the limited number of lines [sorties] that we’re able to generate,” said Aranda.
Training scenarios at home station are typically two blue vs. four red, whereas at exercises like Checkered Flag, scenarios will typically be played out with 30-40 blue vs. 40 red.
But while quantity is undeniably important in generating challenging training situations for pilots, the variety of aircraft plays a significant role as well. Working with multiple airframes allows pilots to learn about other platform’s capabilities and how to counter different aircraft.
“Each MDS [Mission-Design Series] has its own specific capabilities, and back home we’re flying with just [F-15] C models,” says Aranda. “But to fly with the F-22, a stealth aircraft out here, and to fly with the Strike Eagle and the vipers [both] with air-to-ground capability, there’s pretty good cross-talk on how each of us executes air-to-air.”
Tyndall AFB hosts multiple Checkered Flag events every year, facilitating training for pilots across U.S. military branches.