The Blue Flag exercise is conducted quarterly by the Air Force Battlestaff Training School, a subordinate unit of the Air Force Air Warfare Center. The exercise trains combat leaders and supporting battle staff in command and control procedures for specific theaters of operation, attempting to replicate theater conditions and procedures a realistically as possible. The first Blue Flag exercise was conducted in 1976. During that time, Blue Flag has evolved from scenarios that involved live flying operations into the computerized wargame simulation it is today using software that allows both offensive and defensive activities to be executed simultaneously.
The war games of yesteryear have evolved from grease pencils and laminated boards to personalized computer modeling and simulation exercises. The benefactors: more than 75,000 people from all military branches and 17 nations who have participated since the first Blue Flag exercise held at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and Eglin AFB, Fla., in December 1976.
Valuable lessons learned from the Vietnam War prompted the birth of Blue Flag exercises 25 years ago. The Vietnam War showed that surviving the first 10 combat missions dramatically improved an aviator's chances of surviving the rest of the combat tour. This led to the establishment of the Red Flag program at Nellis AFB, Nev. The operational-level warfighters, the battle staffs, needed a similar combat experience, so Blue Flag was born.
The exercise program is designed to train numbered Air Force commanders and battle-staff personnel in the operational art of war. Blue Flag covers the entire theater of operations and teaches strategy, planning procedures, targeting and processes that put strategic airpower into battle. It's a train-as-you-will-fight program.
The 505th Exercise Control Squadron, part of the Air Force Command and Control Training and Innovation Group, conducts up to four Blue Flag exercises a year. The 505th ECS and the AFC2TIG are based at Hurlburt Field, Fla., and are part of the Aerospace Command and Control and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center at Langley AFB, Va.
The commander of the numbered Air Force playing in a particular Blue Flag provides the AFC2TIG with a list of objectives he would like to accomplish in the exercise. The AFC2TIG and the 505th ECS officials develop scenarios that simulate the forces, plans, procedures, intelligence capabilities and threats for the planned theater of operations. Scenarios can range from humanitarian-relief operations to evacuation operations to small-scale conflicts and even major theater wars, Kirkpatrick said.
Each Blue Flag begins the same way -- three days of academic training, followed by a four-day scenario using realistic friendly and enemy military forces and contingency plans. The 505th ECS professional control force and the AFC2TIG distribute the scenarios to the NAF air operations center. The people receiving the exercise inputs react to them as if they were getting orders from higher headquarters and executing warfare through wings and squadrons.
The exercise ties organizations together through sophisticated communications links. Individual aircrews in simulators across the country "fly" their missions alongside computer-generated aircraft in a virtual battle space and interact with the air operations center. Blue Flag provides a building-block approach to prepare the air operations center leadership and staff to plan and execute combat air and space operations worldwide. Blue Flag participants link together to practice and hone their war-fighting skills via computers.
Hurlburt Field became more crowded as more than 700 people converge on the base to "practice war" in Blue Flag 95-4, Sept. 13-20, 1995. Those participating in Blue Flag 95-4 come from various Air Force bases. Army posts, Navy and Marine Corps bases, and Coast Guard facilities. More than 15 general and flag officers will also attend, including a first-time mentor in retired Gen. Charles A. Horner, who was the U.S. and Allied Air Operations commander for Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
The playing field for Blue Flag 95-4 is set in the Caribbean with a scenario that might realistically evolve in that region. A team of combat leaders and supporting battle staff are assembled to guide the "war" through a combined air, ground and naval assault by joint forces.
The primary customer for Blue Flag 95-4 was 8th Air Force, commanded by Lt. Gen. Stephen B. Croker. Croker and his battlestaff team set up an Air Operations Center at Hurlburt Field that is an exact duplicate of the Air Operations Center they might expect in real conflict. Through the use of the Distributed Wargaming System, 1st Air Force played, for the first time, in the exercise from Tyndall AFB, Fla.
This was one of the most challenging scenarios ever attempted at Blue Flag. Preparations began as contingents from bases throughout the United States bring computers and communications equipment into the Blue Flag facility and surrounding area. Major participants included 8th Air Force, 1st Air Force, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Air Mobility Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Space Command, State Department, Air Force Information Warfare Center, USACOM, AFRCC, and joint warfighting components from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The exercise itself is played out through an intricate computer network.
As with each Blue Flag, players begin with three days of academic and seminar training, followed by a four-day exercise using realistic friendly and enemy orders of battle, contingency plans, and theater procedures. The players are given maximum flexibility to manage the employment of friendly forces, allowing them to influence the battle outcome.
BLUE FLAG is a Third Army/ARCENT supported, United States Central Command Airforce (USCENTAF) sponsored exercise conducted annually with 9th Airforce and CENTAF. Third Army/ARCENT provides deep operations simulations and ground maneuver forces simulation support. This exercise allows Central Air Forces to practice JFACC processes and procedures. It also gives Third Army an excellent opportunity to exercise army land force deep operations, battlefield coordination element interface and integration with the Air Force.
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