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 Mar 18 2021

NATO AWACS provides ‘eyes in the sky’ during Red Flag 21-2 at Nellis

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada - NATO's AWACS aircraft supplies Airborne Early Warning support to seven NATO member nations during exercise Red Flag 21-2 to test and sharpen abilities in countering threats while building a cohesive protocol for real-world events.

"For decades, Red Flag has been the world's premier air combat training environment," said Major Stephen Wahnon, Tactical Director and NATO AWACS Red Flag Detachment commander.  The detachment operates a Boeing 707 derived E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft equipped with a state-of-the-art long-range radar, covering a surveillance area of more than 120,000 square miles, which is roughly the size of Poland.

We're grateful for the opportunity to train among our Allies to strengthen not only our tactical edge but our strategic resolve

"Every single sortie our unit has flown has provided a tough tactical problem to solve in the mission planning process, and the Aggressors have replicated a formidable adversary during the execution," said Wahnon. "Each of these challenges provides an opportunity to learn and grow as tactical operators through the debrief process."

Red Flag exercises strive to increase the interoperability of U.S. and allied forces to create agile problem-solvers with the ability to correct decision-making under incredible pressure.

"We supply coordination and communication between the flying elements," said German Air Force Captain Christoph "Zulu" Zurman, a pilot assigned to Flying Squadron 1. "We supply passive detection and  radar.   Lastly,  we supply  the

needed knowledge of Airborne Early Warning (AEW), so aircrews can learn how to utilize our abilities to the greatest extent, getting a more synchronized and cooperative team across joint operations."
"Confidence under fire is one of Red Flag's priorities, said Colonel William Reese, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. "We purposely focus on new mission commanders and wingmen to put them in difficult, non-permissive environments, to see how they'll perform. We will shoot at them, distract them and prevent them from accomplishing their mission objectives in a safe and secure environment.

"Early on, they make a lot of mistakes; however, and as a true testament to the advantage we have with the quality of our U.S. and coalition Airmen, they learn rapidly and overcome all of these obstacles achieving mission success. It's very impressive and powerful to witness every Red Flag," he added. 

With mobility as an airborne warning and control system, the E-3A has a greater chance of surviving in warfare than a fixed, ground-based radar system. Among other things, E-3A can quickly change its flight path according to mission and survival requirements.

The NATO E-3A AWACS provides battle management and command and control to Red Flag 21-2 and has participated in all of the mission set, both offensive and defensive. 

"We're grateful for the opportunity to train among our Allies to strengthen not only our tactical edge but our strategic resolve," said Major Wahnon.

Story by Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs, coordinated by Public Affairs Office NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen

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NATO E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) crew members walk to board the aircraft at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 11, 2021. NATO's participation in Red Flag 21-2 is integral to the training mission which assists in readiness and allows the 414th Combat training Squadron to train, instruct and lead its Airmen, Allies and partners. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman First Class Zachary Rufus)
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A B-1B Lancer, assigned the 28th Bomb Wing, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, takes-off for a Red Flag 21-2 mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 8, 2021. The B-1 can carry the largest conventional payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the Air Force inventory. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis) 
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F-35A Lightning II fighter jet assigned to the 62nd Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, is driven down the flight line prior to a training mission during Red Flag 21-2 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Mar. 12, 2021. With its advanced avionics, the F-35A provides next-generation stealth, enhanced situational awareness, and reduced vulnerability for the United States and the allied nations. U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis

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