Red Flag 15-3 simulates downed aircraft

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- One of the most important missions during Red Flag is the simulation of a downed aircraft, giving the pilot a better chance of survival in case of a real world situation.

The Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Specialists of the 414th Combat Training Squadron are responsible for designing, implementing and evaluating the personnel recovery aspect implemented throughout the exercise.

These rescue scenarios typically ran every day of the exercise and involved everything from the initial notification of an isolated person to the extraction of that individual. The average scenario involves a downed aircraft and one or more isolated aircrew members who need to put their SERE and Combat Search and Rescue training into employment.

"Red Flag is a large force exercise where we have dozens and dozens of fixed wing aircraft, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets and rotary wing aircraft," said Maj. James Humphrey, 414th Combat Training Squadron personnel recovery division chief. "They all come together to try and collect a signal via electronic means from the survivor or radio transmissions depending on the radio the survivor is using."

The technology used by downed pilots to transmit signals can be helpful in getting aircraft in the general vicinity, but ultimately the best way to locate the survivor is to get eyes on "Jack", another term used for the survivor.

"The best thing we can get is a no kidding location from the isolated personnel," Humphrey said. "It can either be with a mirror flash, with smoke or other means. That's the best coordinates we can get so they can relay that out to everyone else in the package trying to recover them."

Aircrew members must undergo annual SERE and CSAR training to stay proficient but Red Flag provides something annual training doesn't usually offer; total force integration.

"During these scenarios we focus on the downed aircrew members' ability to do the correct procedures they have been trained," said Staff Sgt. Paul Merick, 414th CTS SERE specialist. "The SERE specialists evaluate the [Combat Air Force's] ability to plan, coordinate, and execute a tactically sound recovery plan, as well as help answer any questions the downed pilot may have during the exercise."

During Red Flag the goal is to make training as realistic and comprehensive as possible by offering a unique training opportunity to practice the techniques isolated personnel need to survive.

"Isolated personnel have to use both their survival techniques as well as learn to communicate with air support and the recovery team during stressful situations," said Merrick. "Putting these actions into use will ensure a successful exfiltration of the downed pilot."

"Practicing CSAR in a contested environment like we do here at Red Flag provides world-class training," Humphrey said. "There's really nowhere else in the world that can bring this many U.S. and coalition partners together to train to this mission set."

Personnel recovery is an essential factor during Red Flag because of its importance in preparing aircrews to be ready in case of a time of need.

"This is why we incorporate CSAR and SERE into Red Flag," said Merrick. "Being able to prepare for the next air war and practicing these personnel recovery skillsets at home helps to ensure we get our aircrew home safely in real world situations."