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Document created: 1 September 06
Air & Space Power Journal - Fall 2006
Col Steven D. Carey, USAF*
HAND GRENADE OR think piece? The title “Why Red Flag Is Obsolete” catches our attention, but the author oversteps his argument. It’s fair to say that Red Flag needs to refashion itself in order to be relevant, but that has been its continuing charter since it was conceived in the wake of Vietnam’s aerial battles. Before we break the mold, one has to ask, “Why was Red Flag created, and who is the intended training audience today?” Historically, Red Flag was designed to enhance the survivability of our young, inexperienced fighter pilots and aircrews exposed to the high-intensity environment of aerial combat during their first 10 combat missions. Today’s Red Flag mission still marches to that drum, but it also includes a full spectrum of scenarios involving air and space operations centers; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; defensive counterair; offensive counterair; combat search and rescue; bombers; tankers; ground controllers; and space assets. Can it do more? Sure. Should it do more? Sure. That’s the intent of the Air Force chief of staff’s new initiatives regarding aggressors. Last year the Air Force stood up the 57th Aggressor Tactics Group and, more recently, reactivated the 65th Aggressor Squadron to “provide realistic adversary training in air, space and information operations.”1 The world of Red Flag has already changed. The fact that we have added space and information-warfare aggressors to our composite training is proof that we are adjusting our training—innovating and incorporating new technologies. To say that Red Flag is fighter-centric today and in the chief’s vision for tomorrow is an unfair characterization.2 From night flags to close air support, from electronic-warfare scenarios to protection of high-value aerial assets, and now the infusion of full-spectrum aggressors, Red Flag has steadily matured and demonstrated a keen ability to move beyond the fighter mind-set of our youth.
Lest we forget, Red Flag should be an “aerial pressure cooker.” It is intended to challenge our aviators in large gorilla packages, forcing them to multitask in high-threat environments in order to prepare for the first time they face a barrage of antiaircraft artillery or a salvo of surface-to-air missiles. I agree wholeheartedly with the author that Red Flag needs to address both symmetric and asymmetric threats and tailor scenarios to include our composite capabilities—manned and unmanned. However, the training must still challenge the skills and minds of those who participate. After all, they are the ones at risk and the ones likely to become smoking holes if they aren’t prepared. Rather than reshape Red Flag into a two-tiered training environment as suggested, we should open the scenario shutter and create an environment that truly tests our warriors, whether they strap on a machine or sit at a console providing precise airpower. We must make sure we teach all of these Airmen how to incorporate the latest systems and technologies as we take the fight to our enemies. The author is right to claim the need to adjust fire, but we cannot lose sight of the original purpose of Red Flag as a proving ground for our young warriors who put themselves and our nation’s valuable assets at risk. To bury our heads in the sand and declare large-scale conflict or scenarios obsolete would be a mistake. Although no longer in vogue as a “real” threat, it is very likely that our young lieutenants will be staring down the barrel of a peer competitor within their professional lifetimes. We cannot let the asymmetric enemy we face today restrict our training regimen. Red Flag must bridge the spectrum of conflict for the sake of our flying Airmen unless we are to believe that the future of aerial warfare lies with unmanned combat aerial vehicles! We cannot forget that enemies choose asymmetric strategies not because they can but because they must.3 To fail to secure the advantage in high-intensity conflict is to invite our enemies to fight us there—a far worse prospect than any small-war scenario.
Maxwell AFB, Alabama
*Colonel Carey is commandant, College of Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
1. Gen T. Michael Moseley, chief of staff, US Air Force, to the Airmen of the United States Air Force, letter, 5 January 2006, http://www.af.mil/library/viewpoints/csaf.asp?id=207.
3. See Col Qiao Liang and Col Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999), Foreign Broadcast Information Service translation, http://www.terrorism.com/documents/TRC-Analysis/unrestricted.pdf.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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