Checkered Flag 21-1: training the most lethal combat force on earth

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tiffany Price
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, hosted one of the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air combat exercises, Checkered Flag 21-1, which spanned from Nov. 2-9, 2020.

This large-force exercise is designed to integrate fourth and fifth-generation fighter jets and ground personnel.

“Interoperability is one of the main things we are looking for in Checkered Flag,” said Col. John Echols, 325th Operations Group commander. “It’s an opportunity to bring our fourth-gen fighters, like F-15’s and F-16’s, and newer fifth-generation fighters, like F-22’s and F-35’s, together to train.”

The exercise incorporated almost 80 aircraft and over 1,000 people from 15 separate units across the United States into tactical combat training.

Echols explained that in a normal unit setting, only 8-10 aircraft would be able to participate in any one mission, whereas Tyndall was able to support as many as 76 aircraft participating in a single 90 minute session. In total, the exercise included nearly 500 sorties and 12 aerial events.

Tyndall’s proximity to the Eastern Gulf of Mexico also makes it a prime location for aerial exercises according to Echols.

“It’s one of the best, if not the best, air-to-air training airspaces in the country,” said Echols. “We can fly supersonic, we can takeoff and turn out over the water without flying over populated areas or in Federal Aviation Administration’s airspace. That’s really important, especially when we’re conducting these large force deployment exercises and live-fire missile tests.”

Checkered Flag is the capstone exercise for units that are about to go into the Immediate Response Force, a rapid reaction force prepared to respond quickly when the need arises.

“We like to train like we fight,” said Echols. “These are the units that could potentially be going downrange to fight together and they don’t want to be just getting to know each other on day one of combat operations. It’s really important for them to get here, to train together, to brief, to debrief, to pass lessons learned and [start] to gel as a team.”

The bi-annual exercise provides a solid foundation for Airmen to build the skills needed to excel in any environment and ensures the delivery of decisive combat airpower. The interoperability between aircraft that is fostered by Checkered Flag 21-1, helps to build confidence in the Joint Force mission and develop its combat capabilities.

“We’re training hard, we’re training safe, and we’re training to really high standards,” said Echols. “When residents here in Bay County hear jet noise it has a direct correlation to increased national security for the United States of America. That’s really what it’s all about.”