XI SQN AT EXERCISE RED FLAG
After Ajax (unsurprisingly) volunteered to rescue our Twin Seat aircraft from Bermuda, we finally had all 9 Typhoons in North America, just in time for the trail across to Las Vegas from Langley. In another first for Typhoon, the Air to Air Refuelling assets for the trail were provided by the USAF, including all the planning and fuel calculations.
After a seamless 5 hour flight to the West Coast, the Sqn had a week off prior to the exercise starting to explore their local surroundings and contribute to the local economy by dropping hundreds of dollars at the Blackjack tables! Thorney had also organised a couple of days skiing in California, which gave us Pilots the opportunity to demonstrate our competitiveness by selecting the steepest hill and playing tuck-or-lose… Sonny lost after (in his own words) his “Speed and enthusiasm far exceeded his talent” and he ended up in a crumpled heap halfway down the slope!
Suitably refreshed, we arrived back at Nellis feeling fully-prepared for the largest and most realistic airborne exercise anywhere in the world; RED FLAG.
Week 1 proved to be just as eye-opening as everyone expected it to be as we tried to establish how best to employ Typhoon in the scenarios that had been generated. However, as we started to get a couple of missions under our belt, and the novelty / sheer terror of flying in close proximity to over 100 other aircraft started to ease, we were able to achieve some encouraging results. By the start of the second week, the Americans had realised that one of the main advantages of Typhoon was its ability to get high and fast and provide its Air to Air Missiles with a staggering amount of energy to engage the enemy at considerable range. Indeed, making up for his skiing incompetence, the Sqn QWI was given a round of applause during one of the debriefs after killing out 6 Red Air players in a matter of minutes!
During the middle two weekends, the Squadron made full use of the local amenities, attending various shows, pool parties, live music and a Dining-In-Night in the Bellagio overlooking the fountains! In addition the Boss continued his mid-life-crisis by dragging those pushing for promotion (and WO Hammond…) around one of the toughest half-marathons anywhere in the world. The Red Rock route offered some stunning scenery although the 5am start did start to take its toll on the competitors during the dining-in night later that evening!
By the third week, the exercise threat level had increased to the extent that as Blue Forces, we had to rely heavily on integrating Non Kinetic, Cyber and Low-Observable assets to achieve any kind of dominance in the air, which was once again new ground for the majority of the Typhoon Pilots.
As the exercise drew to a close, both Pilots and Engineers agreed that some incredibly valuable lessons had been learnt over the previous two months. On the Engineering side, successfully operating in austere conditions in brutally cold temperatures without any external help in Gander, to the frustration in Langley working without the Main Engineering Support System Server (which was stuck on a broken Tanker in Canada for the entire exercise!), before finally being given the opportunity to shine in Nellis with an aircraft availability rate of 93% throughout Red Flag.
From the Pilots perspective, a number of “firsts” can now be ticked off, both on a personal level and for the Typhoon Force. The first dedicated 4th and 5th Generation Fighter Integration exercise involving Typhoon, the first time British Typhoon has trailed using American Refuelling assets and the first time Royal Air Force Typhoons have participated in Exercise RED FLAG.
At the time of writing, 7 out of 9 of the jets have arrived back in the UK, with 2 serviceable Typhoons stuck in Bermuda and a broken Tristar which has been awaiting spare parts for 3 weeks! (final two aircraft arrived home safety on 29 Apr – editor)
Ociores Acrioresque Aquilis