Come Fly the Alaskan Skies

What are the biggest advantages to units coming up north to Alaska for Red Flag exercises? Put simply, the space—lots of it. In fact, 67,000 square miles to be precise, spread over two large chunks of the Last Frontier known as “The Park” to Red Flag participants, according to Capt. Ron Strobach, the battle management flight commander for the 353rd Combat Training Squadron at Eielson AFB, Alaska. To the outside world, it is known as the Pacific Alaska Range Complex. The extensive PARC training space is divided up into the “North Park” and the “South Park.” North Park alone is roughly the size of the state of Kansas, containing terrain from mountains to forest to tundra, Strobach told the Daily Report, which is in Alaska observing RF-A 08-03 (see above). In comparison, the Nellis range in Nevada encompasses about 12,000 square miles, although it is a more mature facility than its Alaskan counterpart, Strobach noted. “They’re complimentary environments,” he said of the Alaska and Nevada complexes. The sheer space of PARC comes in handy when replicating “large force employments” of aircraft during the peak of RF-A, where between 60 and 90 aircraft can be in the airspace simultaneously in a “vul,” or vulnerability period, during the morning or afternoon sorties, he said. The Alaskan complex is equipped with threat emitters and simulated targets from anti-aircraft-artillery batteries to surface-to-air missile sites that work in conjunction with the F-16 “Red Air” aggressors of Eielson’s 18th Aggressor Squadron to hunt down “Blue Air” participants daily. In addition to PARC’s vast airspace, RF-A also benefits from being able to utilize ramp space both at Eielson and Elmendorf Air Force Base, Strobach said. This offers the advantage of replicating a deployed environment in which Air Force assets often work with aircraft from sister services and coalition partners that operate from different locations, he said.