Blue Flag exercise involves 12 countries

Released: Mar 18, 1997

by Capt. Victor Hines
9th Air Force Public Affairs

HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- Military people from 12 countries, as well as the Gulf Cooperation Council and NATO, battled in the largest Blue Flag exercise ever. More than 1,800 people participated in the Feb. 20-27 exercise including 500 from Headquarters U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

Blue Flag is one of the largest computer assisted, modeling and simulation exercises in the world and is designed to train combat leaders and their support staffs in command, control, communications and intelligence procedures in a variety of operational theaters.

"This exercise is all about training the Air Operations Center team," said Lt. Gen. Carl E. Franklin, commander of 9th Air Force and USCENTAF. "It provides us a great opportunity to train for our wartime responsibilities. Additionally, the exercise allows us to continue building on the strong relationship we share with members of the GCC and other friendly nations in Southwest Asia, as well as our NATO partners."

Franklin added that Blue Flag's Southwest Asia scenario continues to be an appropriate focus for the exercise. "The United States has vital interests in Southwest Asia. These interests include uninterrupted access to one of the world's largest energy reserves, freedom of navigation and security of strategic maritime choke points, protection of American citizens and property abroad, and security of regional friends and allies," said Franklin.

"Any U.S. military activity in Southwest Asia, whether it be an exercise or contingency, is done in close coordination with the host country involved," said Franklin. "The countries participating in Blue Flag are the same countries we'd be working with should it again be necessary to deploy an Air Operations Center to Southwest Asia to support the Joint Force Air Component Commander in the execution of a theater air campaign. The integration of coalition and joint forces makes this exercise extremely valuable for all involved."

Military personnel from Bahrain, Canada, Germany, Jordan, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom joined U.S. participants in simulating the deployment of an Air Operations Center.

Franklin explained that the AOC has a two-fold purpose. The combat plans cell produces a daily flying plan and target list called an Air Tasking Order. This team's function is to plan the next 48 to 72 hours of the war. The combat operations cell executes the next 24 hours of the plan on a daily basis and makes real-time decisions to adjust the ATO to the dynamics of the battlefield.

The Blue Flag participants conduct four days of a campaign, producing daily air tasking orders of more than 2,500 sorties each day. The missions are "flown" on one of the wargaming models and displayed on the participants' real-world combat systems, according to exercise officials.

The benefit of the realistic training is not lost on participants at all levels of the fight. Senior Airman Joe W. Beamer IV, 609th Communications Squadron, works the Contingency Theater Automated Planning System help desk providing system customers maintenance and technical support.

"We help keep the system running, and try to make everything easier for the user," Beamer said. "CTAPS is a system that helps generate an Air Tasking Order. So we help maintain the system that allows people to build the ATO." A veteran of four Blue Flags, Beamer called it the perfect exercise, "I learn something new every day."

Senior Airman Maurice Simmons, a ground intelligence analyst from the 612th Air Intelligence Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., highlighted the multinational nature of this exercise as compared to the two previous Blue Flags he participated in.

"This is the first time I've ever met some of our allies," Simmons said. "We've been working very closely with the coalition forces, those from the mid-East, as well as the British, Canadian, and other countries. They come over and ask questions and see how we do things, so they can make their processes better. So it has been a real good experience."

Among the U.S. contingent participating in this exercise, run by the U.S. Air Force Battlestaff Training School, were military members from every service, USCENTCOM headquarters and all of its component commands and most Air Force major commands.

More than 40,000 people from all military branches and 14 nations have benefited from this training since the first Blue Flag in 1976. Blue Flag has evolved from small, live-fly scenarios into the computerized wargame simulations of today. (Courtesy of ACC News Service. Mr. Don Sublett of the USAF Battlestaff Training School contributed to this article)