Royal Air Force Squadrons will deploy to the United States in January at the top of their game thanks to Tartan Flag, a training exercise designed to prepare RAF personnel for Exercise Red Flag, the most demanding, challenging and tactically complex air warfighting training anywhere in the world.
In the New Year the Typhoon Force led by 1 (Fighter) Squadron will join V (Army Cooperation) Squadron flying the Sentinel R1 and 8 Squadron flying the E-3D at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada for three weeks of highly intensive training.
Officer Commanding 1(F) Sqn Wg Cdr Mike Sutton said: “In order to get ourselves into good shape for Red Flag we’re running a work-up period of training here at RAF Lossiemouth called Tartan Flag. The exercise involves up to 20 fast jets conducting the most challenging, high-end training sorties that we can generate in the UK. We’re also fighting against a number of simulated threat aircraft, again up to about 20 in number, also using the Sentinel and E-3D from RAF Waddington and we’re doing air-air refuelling on a daily basis.”
Wg Cdr Mike Sutton taken outside 1 Sqn hangar before doing an interview at RAF Lossiemouth, while on Exercise TARTAN FLAG.
The exercise is not limited to air-to-air sorties, the Typhoon Force is exercising its swing role capability as Wg Cdr Sutton explained: “Red Flag is predominately a swing role training opportunity for us. By swing role we’re taking the Typhoon and employing it in the air-air and then the air-ground role in the same sortie; we can flick between the two at a second’s notice.
“Tartan Flag is representative of the challenges that maintaining a swing role squadron have. So in the past the RAF has had fast jets that have conducted single role missions with the Harriers, Jaguars and Tornado GR4s doing the air-ground task and Tornado F3 doing the air-air task.
“With the Typhoon we can do all of that and more and it’s a complex and dynamic challenge to remain good at all of that. One day you’ll be sitting QRA and thinking about whether you might have to launch to intercept an unidentified aircraft, the very next day you could be doing a night close air support mission and the day after that you could be leading a strike package or doing air combat against an F-15 Eagle. So that’s an awful lot of skills set to maintain and knowledge to retain and we have to work very hard to do that.”
He added: “What we’re trying to do here is get our air-air skills as high as we possibly can as well as ensuring everyone is as familiar and tactically astute with the P1Eb upgrade that we’ve recently taken on with the employment of Paveway IV and so this is really a swing role work up period for us as well.”
The squadron recently became the first frontline Typhoon squadron to drop the Paveway IV, an operationally proven 500lb GPS and laser guided bomb. Wg Cdr Sutton said: “While the Typhoon has being doing multi-role sorties for a number of years with the Paveway IV integration that we now have we’ve got a true swing role fighter and we can be extremely effective at fighting through threats, dropping targets and self-protecting against extremely potent surface to air threats as well.”
Tartan Flag is the largest air exercise of the year as Squadron Leader Jan De-Vry, 1(F) Sqn Mission Support Officer explained: “This is the second Tartan Flag following a successful exercise last year. The exercise generation has been driven by 1(F) Squadron and we’re bringing together some of the other Red Flag participants to practice combined air operations in scenarios similar to those we can expect to encounter in the US.
“Tartan Flag provides the added benefit to squadron pilots who are able to attain a number of supervisory qualifications. This means that as a squadron we are best placed to maximize the tremendous training opportunity Red Flag affords.”
He added: “The exercise follows hard on the heels of our first Paveway IV weapons drop and there is a real sense of momentum on the squadron and we’re looking forward to what will be the pinnacle of the squadron’s development on Typhoon to date.”
Comparing preparations for Red Flag today to 10 years ago when he last participated as a Jaguar pilot Wg Cdr Sutton said: “We’re in a much better place now and it’s almost unfair to compare the two because the RAF has moved on significantly. The swing role capability the Typhoon now has places us in a completely different league to what we were doing in the early 2000’s, we’re at the leading edge of swing role.”
The exercise concludes 12 December.
Editor: Wg Cdr Eklund
Photographs: Typhoons of 1 (Fighter) Squadron on Exercise Tartan Flag.
Wg Cdr Mike Sutton.
RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2014