Crews from several of the world's air forces are take to Alaska's skies this week in the annual Red Flag-Alaska exercises. Participants say the state's vast airspace gives them a unique peacetime opportunity to prepare for war.
One of the participating aircraft, a Royal Australian Air Force C-130J Hercules transport, is at Anchorage's Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson -- 7,395 miles from its crew's home base -- in order to participate in Red Flag's valuable air combat training.
"The terrain here is unlike anything we have (in) Australia, all our training areas is very flat," said Flight Lt. Dane Johnson, an RAAF pilot.
Joining the Australians as part of Red Flag-Alaska are crews from Japan and New Zealand's air forces, as well as eight U.S. Air Force wings. All of them are getting plenty of seat time in wargame scenarios meant to prepare them for actual combat.
"Red Flag is the first opportunity that we've had as a squadron to really test out training," Johnson said.
Although the various crews train on their own bases, they say Alaska gives them a unique opportunity to simulate combat with no restrictions.
"We've only been flying for four days and we've already learned a lot of lessons about our system and our training," Johnson.
For members of JBER's 302d Fighter Squadron, which fly F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, training like Red Flag's is critical.
"This isn't war; this is as close as we can come to simulating what we think we would be fighting in the war," said Maj. David Balmer, a member of the 302d. "The first time I'm under that kind of stress is not actually when I'm in actual combat."
Among the skills on the curriculum are figuring out how to work together with coalition allies.
"None of them are showstoppers by any means; it's just the little challenges you have to deal with anytime you are preparing for any kind of big mission," Balmer said.
Both foreign and domestic air crews say they'll come out of the exercises with more knowledge than they had going in.
"You can't come here with the training that we've been doing and not learn something, as a squadron not take away something," Johnson said.
Red Flag-Alaska exercises, which also include mock opposition from the 18th Aggressor Squadron flying out of Fairbanks' Eielson Air Force Base, wrap up on Friday.