TUCSON, Az: United Arab Emirates air force pilots and maintainers are participating in the Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., for the first time Aug. 22 through Sept. 5.
The UAE airmen spent the previous two weeks at the Arizona Air National Guard’s 162nd Fighter Wing at Tucson International Airport preparing for the advanced training exercise that exposes U.S. and partner nation air force units to challenging and realistic aerial combat scenarios.
For the Emirati pilots, the preparation in Tucson was a chance to get familiar with U.S. airspace and reunite with their former instructors. Arizona Guardsmen have trained UAE fighter pilots for the last eight years, five years in UAE aircraft. Currently, the wing’s 148th Fighter Squadron is the only squadron of UAE-owned F-16E Desert Falcons, or block 60s, in the United States.
“It’s been great to welcome back our friends from the UAE, some of whom we haven’t seen for a while,” said Col. Greg Stroud, the 162nd wing commander. “It’s really rewarding for us to see how they’ve developed as pilots and we’re proud to see them participate in their first Red Flag. It’s historic for the Emiratis to go to Red Flag for the first time, and our wing gets to share the importance of this milestone since we’ve been training them from the beginning. They’re ready.”
The Emiratis will take on Red Flag flying their Tucson-based fighters.
“The block 60 is similar to earlier versions of the F-16 in that it flies the same, but in terms of capabilities it’s more advanced,” said Lt. Col. Mick McGuire, the 148th Fighter Squadron commander.
The F-16E’s most notable characteristics include conformal fuel tanks mounted on the top of its fuselage, digital color screens in the cockpit and a powerful engine to compensate for the jet’s increase in weight.
“It’s typically called a generation 4.5 fighter, not quite at the level of the 5th generation F-22 (Raptor) or F-35 (Joint Strike Fighter), but its avionics, thrust and fuel capacity make it a very formidable fighter,” Colonel McGuire said. “They should do very well at Red Flag and return to the UAE having learned many good lessons from the experience.”
Red Flag, designed to push the limits of a pilot’s skill regardless of aircraft capability, will further build upon the military-to-military relationship originally fostered in Arizona.
According to Colonel Stroud, Red Flag and the basic F-16 course taught at the 162nd play important roles in making the United Arab Emirates air force as capable as it can be.
The Tucson wing currently has nine Emirati student pilots in its basic course. They will graduate after nine months as mission qualified F-16 pilots and could be among future cadres of UAE pilots to visit Red Flag in years to come.
“They’re getting world-class training and, for us, it gives us the opportunity to fly a generation 4.5 F-16 and see what the future may hold for the next U.S. fighter,” Colonel Stroud said.