Service members from across the Department of Defense participated in Checkered Flag 22-2 from 9-20 May 2022.
Checkered Flag, hosted by the 325th Fighter Wing, is one of the DoD’s largest air-to-air exercises and is designed to integrate 4th- and 5th-generation airframes to enhance mobility and employment capabilities of aviators and maintainers. The exercise responds to Air Combat Command’s plan to train the Immediate Response Force, a dedicated force for “rapid response” to unforeseen or unplanned operations. The 53rd Wing’s Weapons System Evaluation-East 22.08 was held in conjunction with Checkered Flag. Combining these events allowed the force to collaborate and channel efforts, thus increasing the training value.
Hosting an exercise of Checkered Flag’s magnitude requires a significant amount of preparation and coordination for the 325th Fighter Wing as well as participating units. Project officers from each unit are included in planning events throughout the three months preceding the exercise to ensure their units accomplish critical tasks to maximize the training opportunity.
Units across Tyndall work together to make sure that all aspects of the exercise are handled. This includes taking care of more than 1,000 visiting personnel and maintaining security for more than 70 aircraft on station. The Reception Working Group is a cohesive team that collaborates on requirements and coordinates with entities across the installation to ensure the incoming units are safe, supplied and supported. A portion of their duties included monitoring the arrival of over 60 trucks and three cargo planes hauling thousands of pounds of necessary equipment. The also coordinated the availability of more than 170 rental cars.
In the Skies
Checkered Flag consists of multiple large force exercises, or LFEs. During these events, 60-70 fighter jets take to the skies. Half play as "blue air" which means they act as US and allied forces with an objective to defend. The remainder serve as "red air," representing real world threats such as neer-peer adversaries. Tankers and command and control aircraft participate as well, just as they would in any real-world contingency or deterrent show-of-force across the globe.
On the Ground
Putting jets in the air cannot happen without the dedicated crews on the ground. A combination of maintenance teams from the visiting units, the 325th Maintenance Group and the 325th Mission Support Group come together to ensure the mission can happen. While all units bring their own maintenance teams dedicated to their aircraft, the 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron ensures fuel is at-the-ready and the 325th Munitions Squadron delivers armament for the visiting's units weapons teams to load. Several additional Tyndall units provide ground support to the visiting units ensuring the mission is accomplished.
Command and Control
Command and Control is an essential element to the success of Checkered Flag and WSEPs. This mission controls the airspace, coordinating and directing air traffic while assisting the ground force commander in planning, requesting, coordinating, and controlling all elements or airborne warfare. Safe, efficient operations of all joint service aircraft and personnel are their ultimate responsibility.
Nested beneath CAF Plan 53, the Combat Weapons System Evaluation Program’s mission is to evaluate the reliability, maintainability, suitability, accuracy, and readiness of complete fielded combat weapons systems against realistic threats and targets when employed by the operational air force. This requires an end-to-end evaluation of the total fielded integrated weapon system from manufacturer delivery to desired effects achieved on the target.
COMBAT WSEP has six major elements: COMBAT ARCHER (air-to-air (A/A) COMBAT HAMMER (air-to-ground (A/G), COMBAT AXE (battle management command and control (BMC2), COMBAT SHIELD (electronic warfare (EW), COMBAT SLEDGEHAMMER (Nuclear WSEP), and COMBAT FORGE (synthetic environment).
Executed at Tyndall AFB, COMBAT ARCHER provides maintainers and pilots with the unique experience of using live munitions to enhance readiness for real-world operations. This gives the Air Force and individual units data points of strengths and weaknesses, allowing for tweaks and deviations during training for improvement prior to actual combat. The data resulting from WSEP gets compiled and briefed in a feedback loop to Department of Defense and Air Force strategic decision makers which directly feeds into the National Defense Strategy.
During the two-week period, approximately 115 sorties are flown in direct support of WSEP. Eighty-two percent of the pilots participating get to shoot or drop live weapons, half of them being first-time shooters.
Checkered Flag provides the Joint Force with the skills needed to excel in any environment and ensures the delievery of decisive combat airpower to combatant commanders worldwide. Tyndall’s large airspace provides all participants with a unique training opportunity. Tyndall adjoins the Gulf Range Complex, one of the few ranges in the U.S. capable of supporting large-scale air combat training. Direct access to this range is essential for 5th-generation fighter readiness and for live-fire testing and training. During the combined WSEP/CKF event, visiting units get the chance to participate in two large force training events in a joint venue that fosters interoperability and optimizes air-to-air capabilities. The data received from events like this help refine the tactical application of our weapons systems and benefit our emerging joint platforms. Integrating the DoD’s most advanced aircraft builds a dynamic force, ready to tackle any possible threat.
For more Checkered Flag Coverage visit https://www.dvidshub.net/feature/CheckeredFlag222.