1. Red Flag and Navy Integration:
The U.S. Air Force’s Red Flag wargame, which spanned from July 17 to August 4 and extended from Nellis Air Force Base to hundreds of miles off the California coast, underscored the importance of enhanced interoperability between the U.S. Air Force and Navy in the Indo-Pacific region. While the inclusion of a Navy carrier strike group was deemed invaluable, Lt. Col. Andrew Stevens of the 414th Combat Training Squadron highlighted areas of improvement. Specifically, he emphasized the need for refined coordination between the Navy’s operational command and control and the Air Force’s tactical operators. This coordination is vital to enhance the efficiency of weapon systems targeting and to optimize the deployment of high-value, low-inventory weapons.
2. Key Improvements and Enhancements:
Stevens outlined multiple areas where advancements are necessary for improved naval-air collaboration. Among these, a primary concern was the current state of the tanker roster. He stressed the need for better-equipped tankers, emphasizing their reliability and increased communication suite capabilities to enable redundancy and strengthen long-range bridges for line-of-sight communications. Furthermore, Stevens underscored the importance of deploying multiple next-gen command-and-control aircraft, specifically pointing to the E-7 Wedgetail being developed by Boeing. He envisions a “constellation” of these aircraft, with at least three in the battlespace. The anticipated role of the E-7s is to maintain air superiority in the Pacific region, especially as the E-3 Sentry AWACS radar planes are phased out.
3. Emphasis on Realistic Adversary Training:
An integral component of the Red Flag exercise was the replication of enemy threats, ensuring pilots receive training that mirrors real-world challenges. For this purpose, Nellis reactivated its F-35 aggressor squadron and introduced an F-16 aggressor squadron to simulate potential adversaries based on current intelligence. While specific threats replicated in the exercise were not disclosed, Stevens described them as technologically advanced assets that the U.S. military could potentially engage based on geopolitical decisions. Additionally, the exercise included training against “aggressor naval surface vessels,” mimicking advanced naval threats like those presented by Chinese ships. The objective is clear: to refine tactics, techniques, and procedures for countering advanced naval threats. As part of the long-term vision, Stevens affirmed that future Red Flag exercises would continue to incorporate these naval elements, underscoring the strategic importance of integrated naval-air operations in the Pacific.