Patrick Martin looks back at this year's Maple Flag exercise
Aircraft from nine nations gathered in mid-May at CFB Cold Lake in northern Alberta for the first phase of the 2005 Maple Flag exercise. This annual six-week exercise allows the air forces of allied nations to train during three two-week realistically staged 'conflicts'. Both the air-to-air and air-to-ground scenarios are combined into a moving battlefront environment. Cubic Corporation pods on all aircraft allow the 'field of conflict' to be tracked and later replayed to the participants. The goal is to raise the learning curve for aircrew.
The first Maple Flag exercise was held in 1978, following Canadian participation at the 1977 Nellis AFB 'Red Flag' exercise. Aerial losses in real conflicts had demonstrated the aircrew survival rate was most precarious during a pilot's initial exposure to combat scenarios. The survival rate increased dramatically with experience. The solution was to train as you fight, in the most realistic environment and against the greatest variety of opponents possible. Maple Flag does this in a large full-scale environment, complete with threat emitters and 'red air' opposition interceptors.
Generally, flying days involve morning and afternoon launches into the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), located just north of the base. The exercise is not just an aerial or ground interdiction. The scenarios frequently involve suppression of enemy air defences, electronic jamming and deception, tactical resupply, reconnaissance, and aerial refueling, all under the watchful eye of AWACS aircraft.
The CLAWR covers more than 11,600 square km, or just greater than the size of Lebanon, and has unrestricted airspace with no civilian air traffic. The range contains more than a hundred target complexes, with more than 640 targets. These include mock airfields, industrial complexes, and convoys. When combined with realistic threat simulators, the range provides aircrews with an abundance of realism, without the desert look of the Nellis AFB range and provides Canadian and international aircrews with a wealth of experience that might otherwise only be purchased at a greater future expense.
By far the most unusual 'player' for the 2005 Maple Flag was that of the Israeli Air Force, F-16Cs and Ds supported by three Boeing 707 aircraft. A single boom-tanker remained to support the deployment. Four of the enlarged-spine F-16D came from 105 'Scorpion' Squadron based at Hatzor AB, while another pair came from 109 'Valley' Squadron at Ramat David AB - with a sand-coloured flying eagle on the tail. Pairs of F-16Cs were provided by 110 'Knights of the North' Squadron - with a large sand-coloured stylized eagle on the tails - and 117 'First Jet' Squadron - with a silvery flash on the tail, both based at Ramat David AB. Canadian participants in 2005 included Hornets CF-188AM/BM from 416 and 441 squadrons from CFB Cold Lake, CF-188A/B Hornets from 425 and 433 Squadrons from CFB Bagotville, and range support from home-based 417 Squadron with CH-146 Griffons.
The United States Air Force presence in the first two-week period was reduced from its usual massive numbers to an E-3B AWACS and the usual colourful half-dozen F-16C aggressors from the Adversary Tactics Division of the 414th Combat Training squadron (Red Flag) at Nellis AFB. The United States Navy sent three EA-6B Prowlers from VAQ-132 at NAS Whidbey Island.
NATO participants included an E-3A AWACS from Geilenkirchen in Germany, nearly two dozen modernized F-16s from the Belgian and Dutch air forces, and a trio of German Air Force C-160 transports. The RAF sent a deployment of Tornado GR4 strike aircraft. The French Armee de l'Air also sent C160 Transalls, plus four Mirage 2000Ns and four Mirage F1CTs. From further afield came a single C-130H Hercules from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.