Red Flag: Celebrating 43 Years of Red on Blue Pulling Gs Over the Desert

T-38s. Official US Air Force photograph

The film RED FLAG was made by the United States Air Force (USAF) during the 1980s. In the film, narrated by none other than James Earl Jones and scored by John Williams, Air Force personnel from BB stackers to gas passers and trash haulers to gunfighters are depicted while engaged in some of the most realistic training in existence at the time. The combination of Williams’ score, Jones’ narration, and gorgeous air-to-air footage make this a must-see. The film was uploaded to YouTube by PersicopeFilm


Red Flag has evolved into even more comprehensive and realistic simulated combat as lessons learned since its inception in 1975 have been integrated into the training scenarios. In addition to the USAF units involved, the US Navy, US Marine Corps, US Army, and scores of allied nations have sent or send “Blue Force” personnel to Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) outside Las Vegas to train with the “Red Force” 64th Aggressor Squadron (AS) of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group (57 ATG).

64th AS F-16s. Official US Air Force photograph

The 64th AS flies the General Dynamics F-16C and F-16D Fighting Falcon. Up until 2014 the inactivated 65th AS flew the McDonnell Douglas F-15C and F-15D Eagle. These aggressor jets, going all the way back to the Northrop F-5E Tigers first dedicated to the aggressor role, have worn some of the most striking paint schemes ever seen on Air Force jets. Over the years the Air Force has also based adversary training aircraft at RAF Alconbury in the UK (527th AS) and at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines (26th AS).

33rd Wing F-15s. Official US Air Force photograph

Currently the 64th AS along with the 18th AS based at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska both operate the F-16C and F-16D. Several Red Flag exercises are conducted by the United States Air Force Warfare Center (USAFWC) each year with training activities split between Alaska and the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis. As often as possible, weapons that might be employed by adversary forces and live ammunition are incorporated into the two week long training cycles.

527th AS F-5Es. Official US Air Force photograph

Other units assigned to the 57th Wing provide specialized training. The 507th Air Defense Aggressor Squadron (507 ADAS) provides electronic ground defenses and communications, and radar jamming equipment. The active-duty 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527 SAS), and the Air Force Reserve Command 26th Space Aggressor Squadron (26 SAS) also provide GPS jamming. The Red Force command and control organization simulates a realistic enemy integrated air defense system (IADS).

F-111D at Red Flag in 1980. Official US Air Force photograph

A typical year of training will involve more than 500 aircraft flying more than 20,000 sorties. More than 5,000 aircrews and 14,000 support and maintenance personnel are kept sharp over multiple sessions. Four Red Flags, each exercise consisting of a variety of dissimilar air combat training (DACT), strike and attack, suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD), airlift, air refueling, and reconnaissance missions, take place each year. Add to that the ten Green Flag close-air-support (CAS) exercises with US Army units and the one Maple Flag exercise with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and you’re looking at more, and more realistic, training than ever before

33rd Wing F-15. Official US Air Force photograph

Northrop T-38 Talon trainers (the very first jets used for USAF aggressors), Lockheed C-141 Starlifter airlifters, Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker tankers, McDonnell Douglas F-15A Eagle fighters, and Northrop F-5E Tiger aggressors are featured in the film. Briefly appearing are McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom IIs, Republic A-10A Thunderbolt IIs, and General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons.

T-38s. Official US Air Force photograph