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Razor Talon prepares 4th FW to lead Red Flag

Red Flag 18-1

F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets assigned to the 335th Fighter Squadron, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, prepare for takeoff during Red Flag 18-1, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Jan. 30, 2018. Red Flag gives mission commanders the opportunity to lead in a contested, degraded and operationally limited environment limited environment with multi-domain assets. (U.S Air Force photo by Lawrence Crespo)


To maintain its status as one of the nation’s most capable response forces and a vital arm for combatant commanders, the wing continuously trains for the operations of today and the conflicts of tomorrow.

Each month, the 4th FW hosts Exercise Razor Talon. This large-force exercise takes place within the East Coast Battlespace, located in Northeastern North Carolina on Dare County Bombing Range and over portions of the Atlantic Ocean, and it serves to prepare joint units for world-wide combat deployments. 

Even in its infancy, Razor Talon brought a new dynamic to tactical and strategic training on the East Coast, while also preparing the wing to take a lead role in combat and readiness operations.

Although only a single-day exercise, Razor Talon acts as a pivotal training mechanism for new aircrew members to practice interoperability from their own installation while giving them the skills needed to lead larger and more complex missions in Exercise Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. In fact, the 4th FW was selected as the lead wing for Red Flag 18-1, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 16.

“Red Flag and Razor Talon are essential opportunities to prepare our Airmen for the integrated multi-domain combat operations of the future,” said Col. Richard Dickens, RF 18-1 Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “While the size, scope, and terrain may be different, both exercises focus on challenging combat scenarios that enable us to improve the lethality of our aircrew.”

Operated by the 414th Combat Training Squadron, Red Flag is a realistic combat training exercise involving the air, space, and cyber forces of the United States and its allies. The exercise is hosted north of Las Vegas on the Nevada Test and Training Range, the U.S. Air Force’s premier military training area with more than 15,000 square miles of airspace and 2.9 million acres of land.

Col. Michael Mathes, 414th CTS commander, articulated that Red Flag 18-1 is the largest Red Flag to date by number of participants and includes units from the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Army, and Marine Corps as well as the Royal Australian Air Force and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. He also highlighted this exercise as having a unique balance of training efficiency with mission effectiveness.

“Red Flag 18-1 primarily is a strike package focused training venue that we integrate at a command and control level in support of joint task force operations,” said Mathes. “It’s a lot of words to say that we integrate every capability we can into strike operations that are flown out of Nellis Air Force Base.”

Established in 1975, as one of the initiatives directed by Gen. Robert J. Dixon, then commander of Tactical Air Command, the exercise’s original intent was to maximize the combat readiness, capability, and survivability of participating units by providing realistic training in air-to-air combat. It has since grown to include ground, space, cyber, and electronic attack threats.

“Red Flag remains a great mix of heritage and future potential,” said Mathes. “We are very proud of our heritage with the way that Red Flag had improved survivability and readiness over the years. We look forward as we continue to grow readiness through integrated training as well as improving training efficiency.”

According to Maj. Caleb Edmondson, a weapon systems officer from the 335th Fighter Squadron, the exercise continues to challenge the way aircrew members approach various scenarios and helps to increase the adaptability skills of all those who participate.

“The complex simulated threats of Red Flag and the Nevada Test and Training Range offer an experience that we currently can’t replicate at any other range in the nation, including the East Coast Battlespace,” Edmondson said. “If you add this experience to that received in our Razor Talon exercise, you are essentially giving aircrew members the experience to provide adaptable and flexible interoperability no matter the terrain or the threat.”

Fundamental similarities between Red Flag and Razor Talon act as a bridging point to what Airmen assigned to the 4th FW learn while at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and help reinforce best practices while operating in a contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environment.  

Both exercises tactically and operationally integrate U.S. and coalition force assets to overcome various combat scenarios across all domains of warfare. As the lead wing, it is the 4th FW’s responsibility to take an active role in integrating all Red Flag 18-1 participants.

Each emphasis that both exercises place on mission planning, execution, and debrief is a main factor in ensuring both air and ground crews are tested to the maximum extent of their readiness capabilities, while also providing a forum for a free exchange of ideas between forces.

The scenarios involve friendly forces fighting their way into contested airspace while trying to destroy air-to-air and surface-to-air threats in a planned and time sensitive manner. Their aim is to also reinforce interoperability among allies across air, space, and cyberspace domains.

“This is an opportunity to improve our processes in a unique, robust, and fast-paced training environment,” Dickens said. “Exercises like Red Flag and Razor Talon allow our Airmen at the 4th Fighter Wing and throughout the Air Force to grow into tactical leaders while we train to meet our current threats and potential future adversaries.”


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