Viper engines begin to roar, adding to the cacophony of sounds already playing. Airmen circumnavigate the jets quickly to preform final takeoff checks while pilots wait their turn to taxi onto the runway.
In the distance, the mountains rise over the flight line. Jets from all over the world power across the horizon. The skies are clear for the U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise.
The 77th Fighter Squadron participated in the Red Flag 20-2 exercise over the 2.9 million-acre Nevada Test and Training Range demonstrating high levels of squadron readiness and lethality.
“For the 20th Fighter Wing it’s (Red Flag) a chance to practice our abilities and that we can take the fight someplace else and be far out of our comfort zone, said Lt. Col. David M. Bennett, 77th Fighter Wing commander.
Red Flag is one of the Air Force’s largest exercises and is designed to prepare Airmen for future threats through experience in realistic combat scenarios. The exercise is exclusively designed to operate in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment.
The exercise pits the friendly “Blue Forces” against hostile “Red Forces” in real-time training scenarios simulating warfare in contested air, space and cyberspace.
For the 77th Fighter Squadron, mission success is measured in two variables: maximize pilot exposure to inter-service/allied coordination and performing suppression of air enemy defenses platforms with zero security and safety incidents.
“We have lots of NATO partners, and this exercise allows us to see their capabilities in conjunction with our strengths,” said Bennett. “If we can see the capabilities of other pilots and work together it makes us that much more lethal.”
Gambler pilots gain experience with allied forces while coordinating, planning, and executing in a simulated coalition environment. They are also able to utilize assets unavailable to them at Shaw to help train further on SEAD platforms.
“The exercise is conducted over the Nevada Test and Training Range, which has more SEAD capabilities and scenarios for us to practice,” said Maj. James Wentzel, 77th Fighter Wing project officer.
62 percent of 77th FS Airmen are new to Red Flag, but this is the first time the 77th Fighter Generation Squadron will appear as a reorganized squadron out at Nellis AFB.
“One of the good things about being our own squadron now is that the commander can be where the priority of effort is,” said Maj. Claire Vazquez, 77th Fighter Generation Squadron commander. “Our primary concern is making sure our people are getting taken care of and the mission is getting accomplished.”
The relationship between operations and maintenance is a structural necessity to the team’s performance at Red Flag, and out in deployed locations.
“Everything we do, we can only do because of our maintenance Airmen,” said Wentzel. “This is a rehearsal for upcoming deployments, when we’re downrange we have that relationship we can fall back on.”