By Ilya Kramnik
Despite a cooling off in relations between Russia and NATO countries, neither party has refused taking part in joint military programs.
One such program is the regular aerial combat training exercise of the US Air Force and its allies, called “Red Flag”. The next exercise is scheduled for October 2012.
US Military command came up with the idea of conducting Red Flag exercises during the Vietnam War, when the USAF and naval aviation primarily used heavy multi-functional bombers such as the F-4 Phantom-II and F-105 Thunderchief. These bombers demonstrated their inability to engage in close combat with Vietnam’s light MIG aircraft. The reason for such failings was the strong reliance placed on powerful radars and medium-range missiles on the new American fighters. However, in practice the engagements very often did not go the way the pre-war theoretical schemes designed them to and the ratio of losses did not benefit the American side.
The situation had to be corrected – especially since at the same time in the other part of Asia above the sands of Levant, pilots of the Israeli Air Force on French and American aircraft showed wonderful results in aerial combat missions against Arabs who had far more powerful aircraft compared to Vietnam and who had gone through the same Soviet school.
The US Air Force then ordered a study known as Project Red Baron II, which showed that a pilot’s chances of survival in combat dramatically increased after he had completed 10 combat missions. As a result, Red Flag, since starting in 1976, had the goal of offering every pilot and weapon systems officer (WSO) the opportunity to fly 10 realistically simulated combat missions in a safe training environment to give them more experience in real combat situations.
Today the Red Flag exercise is an advanced aerial combat exercise conducted in several cycles during the year. Besides Red Flag and Red Flag-Alaska, which mainly focus on fighter aerial combat, there are other cycles as well. For instance, the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment (JEFX) – a large scale exercise for the headquarters of the US Air Force and its allies.
There is also Jaded Thunder, which is a series of combat training exercises in the course of which pilots from the US Air Force, Naval, and Marine aviation learn to detect and identify ground targets, including those camouflaged as civilians or civilian objects in a congested urban area.
Finally, there is MAFEX – Mobility Air Forces Exercises. These involve training transport aviation, where pilots learn how to interact using various communications and target detection devices as well as in the situation of a radio-electronic war.
In spring of 2012 it became known that the Russian Air Force is to participate in the Red Flag training exercise in the fall of 2012 together with Americans. From 8 until 19 of October, Red Flag Air Combat Exercise 13-1 will be held at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada (the exercises are numbered in accordance with the fiscal years, and exercise in the fall will be number one in the 2013 fiscal year). Like India, who participated in the Red Flag several years earlier using its Russian-made SU-30 MKI, Russia will get a chance this year to test its aircraft in realistic combat maneuvers with USAF aircraft. This chance is very important, since up until now the only Russian aircraft of the fourth generation which fought in a real combat situation against western aircraft has been the MIG -29, but the possibility of deploying it in the conditions of very specific wars of 1991 and 1999 was limited. Under such circumstances, the chance to test modernized Russian aircraft such as the SU -27 SM, SU-30M2, MIG -29SM and other strike aircraft – despite simulations, they are still against real western aircraft and pilots – is too attractive to be miss out on.
There is a political question, however: “Who are we friends against?” The answer is very simple: against nobody. Russia and the United States have been successfully talking the same language in the military sphere for a long time. Here, more problems unite the two countries than separate them. At the same time, the existing contradictions can be solved over a short period of time. However, as one could tell, that does not prevent us from continuing to study each other.