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Pakistani F-16s at Red Flag and Green Flag Exercises
September 18, 2019
A PAF F-16D equipped with a DB-110 reconnaissance pod.

Pakistani F-16s at Red Flag and Green Flag Exercises

Six Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16C/D Block-52+ are taking part in Red Flag, which is termed as the “U.S. Air Force’s premier air-to-air combat training exercise.” In tandem, the PAF’s F-16s – which belong to the No. 5 squadron based out of Shahbaz Air Base in Sindh – will also participate in Green Flag, an exercise for air-to-ground mission training (e.g. precision-guided strikes) (The Aviationist). The current Red Flag exercise is taking place during 11-29 July, while Green Flag is scheduled for 23 July to 12 August.

Comment and Analysis

Large-scale exercises such as Red Flag – as well as Maple Flag (Canada) and Anatolian Eagle (Turkey) – aim to offer participants simulated wartime experience. While the actual reality of a real-world war cannot be controlled for in an exercise, certain conditions, such as the pressure induced on pilots, ground crew and aircraft from increased sortie rates, can be implemented in an exercise.

The rationale for this approach is to acclimate air warfare personnel with at least some measure of experience in the work required to smoothly operate complex aircraft under severe pressure, and that too against a wide range of missions, including those involving air-to-air warfare (i.e. Dissimilar Air Combat Training or DACT). By generating this experience through an exercise, participating forces are able to pick-up an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, especially in terms of maintenance efficiency or their pilots’ abilities to cope with stress, fatigue and less predictable scenarios.

In turn, lessons from these air exercises are then fed back into both training as well as existing operational procedures, which in turn results in wider organizational improvement. This is basically the way a Red Flag (or Green Flag) participant would approach the exercise, including the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).

This is the PAF’s second time at Red Flag, but it is the first time the PAF’s F-16C/D Block-52+ have flown for an overseas exercise. It is not known exactly what kinds of exercises the PAF will be engaging in, though it might prefer using Red Flag’s DACT maneuvers as an opportunity to gain exposure to current (and ideally emerging) air warfare technology and doctrine. It will almost certainly be participating in the air-to-ground element, and will be sure to offer its experience from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to the other participants.