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USAF Hosting Largest Ever Red Flag Exercise, Featuring Massive GPS Blackout over Western US January 31, 2018

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology, Uncategorized.
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Now I know why I didn’t do a Flightline Friday for months – I knew once I got started on the subject, I wouldn’t be able to stop.  You’re witnessing the transformation of this formerly dumb Catholic blog to a smart military blog.

Actually, I’ve been just pounded at work this week and when I get a moment, I want to read something “light,” which has meant military. Because nothing says light like war and death.

Red Flag is the world’s premiere, largest, most complex, most realistic air warfare exercise.  Red Flags are typically held 4-6 times a  year, always at Nellis Air Force base adjacent to Las Vegas and the sprawling Nellis Test and Training Range.  Red Flag 18-1 is the first of the year, as the name implies, and is also the largest ever held.  Not only that, it is also one of the most secretive, highest-end threat environments ever presented at Red Flag, which is saying something, because many aircrew maintain that after experiencing the rigors of Red Flag, actual combat seems rather dull and uneventful.  Red Flag generally prepares aircrews for the highest end fight, against the most complex defenses and the most skilled adversaries.  This year is no exception, as, for the first time ever, USAF will be making use of GPS-jamming technologies so powerful that normal GPS reception over almost the entire western US will be affected for several hours a day while the exercises are ongoing:

The year’s first iteration of the USAF’s premier set of aerial war games, known commonly as Red Flag, is kicking off today at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas, but this exercise will be different than any in the past. Not only is it the largest of its kind in the exercise’s 42 year history, but the USAF is going to blackout GPS over the sprawling Nevada Test and Training Range to challenge aircrews and their weaponry under realistic fighting conditions. The tactic will spill over throughout the region, with warnings being posted stating inconsistent GPS service could be experienced by aircrews flying throughout the western United States.

The NBAA Command Center reports the U.S. military will begin training exercises on the Nevada Test and Training Range between 0400Z until 0700Z daily. Training maneuvers will impact vast portions of the Western U.S. including California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. FAA enroute ATC centers affected include Albuquerque (ZAB), Denver (ZDV), Los Angeles (ZLA), Salt Lake (ZLC), Oakland (ZOA) and Seattle (ZSE). Operations in R-2508 and R-2501 may also be impacted.

Arrivals and departures from airports within the Las Vegas area may be issued non-Rnav re-routes with the possibility of increased traffic disruption near LAS requiring airborne re-routes to the south and east of the affected area. Aircraft operating in Los Angeles (ZLA) center airspace may experience navigational disruption, including suspension of Descend-via and Climb-via procedures. Non-Rnav SIDs and STARs may be issued within ZLA airspace in the event of increased navigational disruption. Crews should expect the possibility of airborne mile-in-trail and departure mile-in-trail traffic management initiatives.

Those dates and the location perfectly correspond with Red Flag 18-1. The timeframe for the daily disruptions is also the same as the night launch and recovery period for Red Flag this time of year. Two major large force employment missions take place every day during the exercise, one during the light and one during the night, with each last roughly two to three hours.

This particular Red Flag includes players from the USAF, USMC, Australia and UK. [Those are the US’ top-tier allies and get access to the darkest and spookiest stuff.  Britain used to far and away be the most trusted in that respect, but more and more of late Australia is given the most favored nation status in access to highly classified capabilities and programs. Still, the two are easily the most trusted and given access to the most sensitive capabilities – and vice versa.  The militaries of the US, Britain, and Australia share as much, and are as integrated, as any in the world.] The very limited guest list of only America’s most trusted allies is indicative of a Red Flag exercise where high-end and sensitive capabilities will be put to the test. According to a press release from the USAF that was posted just hours ago, this seems to be an accurate assumption, with Colonel Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander, stating:

“We’re trying a few new and different things with Red Flag 18-1… It’s the largest Red Flag ever with the largest number of participants, highlighting the balance of training efficiency with mission effectiveness… Red Flag 18-1 primarily is a strike package focused training venue that we integrate at a command and control level in support of joint task force operations… It’s a lot of words to say that we integrate every capability we can into strike operations that are flown out of Nellis Air Force Base.” [So Red Flag also often involves lower-tier allies, and even some nations that are only kinda sorta friendly, like India.  Adversaries are not invited. So, it’s not unusual for the Israeli Air Force to attend, or Colombia, S. Korea, and certainly other NATO nations.  But this one is reserved only for the closest allies, which says something special is going on]

If you read  yesterday’s single post, you know that the US presently has a significant vulnerability to anti-satellite weapons, which is another way to deny critical capabilities like GPS to US forces.  Powerful ground- or air-based jammers are another way to accomplish the same goal.  I’m glad, in a sense, to see USAF taking the threat seriously and training to fight in a GPS-degraded environment.  My brother-in-law who is apparently a genius at packaging ever-smaller and cheaper inertial navigation systems (INS) into aircraft, weapons, ships, and ground vehicles has his work cut out for him, but should stay busy for years.

A bit of a rah-rah video from USAF on this Red Flag 18-1.

Unfortunately, a Royal Australian Air Force Boeing EF-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft caught fire and was severely damaged during the exercises this week.  Apparently the crew were able to escape without injury, but the aircraft is likely a total write off.  It seems the starboard engine caught fire and burned through the empennage.

As to the threat, here’s a video the Navy released of Russian Su-27 Flankers – armed with live missiles – flying dangerously close to an EP-3E Aries II electronic surveillance aircraft over the international waters/airspace of theBlack Sea recently.  This kind of thing used to happen occasionally during the Cold War, but has been occurring regularly, several times a year, since tensions mounted with Russia over their intervention in the Ukraine/Crimea:

In some of those shots, that Flanker is single digit feet from the Aries.  Dangerous.  Lots of potential for bad things to happen with that kind of behavior.

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Comments

1. thomas haake - January 31, 2018

MAYBE I CAN GET ONE OF THESE PLANES TO TAKE ME TO ROME

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2. c matt - February 1, 2018

Curious, do Russian reconnaissance planes fly over the international waters/airspace of the Gulf of Mexico? I don’t recall ever hearing about it.


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