With flying colors
By Tech. Sgt. Scott G. Herrington, 148th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 22, 2012
Duluth, MINN. -- More than 150 148th Fighter Wing members deployed from Feb. 27 to March 16 to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. where they participated in Red Flag, a final exercise at the tail end of the 148th's conversion to the Block 50 F-16.
148th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Frank Stokes described Red Flag as "the Air Force's ultimate training event."
The exercise took place on more than 2.9 million acres of Nevada desert, and involved aircraft from Australia and Great Britain in addition to American forces.
"I think it went very well," said Lt. Col. Chris Blomquist, 179th Fighter Squadron Commander. "We've done a lot of SEAD (suppression of enemy air defense) up to this point, but we haven't done a lot of SEAD with that many people--with that large a package. We'd be flying with 40 to 50 of us on the blue air side (friendly forces), with about 40-50 red air (enemy forces), and then also about 20 to 24 SAM (surface-to-air missiles) sites shooting against us. We don't even carry that many HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation) missiles, so it was very busy."
It wasn't just the pilots flying hundreds of sorties that made the 148th successful at Red Flag the 148th's support personnel were vital to success at Red Flag.
"We did a lot of great integration," said Blomquist. "Maintenance kept the jets flying well out there, we didn't lose very many sorties, and to do the sorties we were doing out there, we really needed to have eight aircraft out there just to support the amount of people going through the target area with the SAM sites."
"The last year and a half to two years has been very challenging. It was a very daunting task to go from a block 25 doing CAS (close air support) to flying a block 50, a completely new airframe, and doing the SEAD mission," said Blomquist.
Despite having a relatively small amount of time flying the new SEAD mission, the 148th took to the skies with other, more experienced units, during the exercise.
"We heard that we did very well out there, that we are at least on par with all the units that have been doing SEAD for 10 plus years. We're very happy with that result. We heard that from the Red Flag staff and from the Air Warfare Center, that we're doing as well as anybody else out there. Pretty good for doing SEAD for a year," said Blomquist."
Beyond working long hours at a rapid pace, the 148th faced challenges in the air not previously encountered.
Prior to Red Flag, Stokes predicted "our training and experience will certainly be put to the test, and upon completion we will consider ourselves mission-ready with the most capable F-16s in the U.S. Air Force inventory."
According to Blomquist, that prediction was correct.
"The sheer numbers of aircraft out there, and the fact that they really ratcheted up the threat--even beyond what we've trained to before," said Blomquist. "The air threat and the ground threat were far superior to anything that we've trained to in the past, or anything that we could train to here in Duluth."
"It was certainly a job well done by everybody out there," said Blomquist.