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NEWS | Dec. 14, 2023

Colorado’s 140th Wing F-16s integrate with fifth-generation fighters at Checkered Flag

By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chance Johnson, 140th Wing Public Affairs COANG

More than 190 Citizen Airmen from the 140th Wing, Colorado Air National Guard participated in the Checkered Flag Exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, Oct. 25-Nov. 8, 2023.

Nearly half of the COANG participants were drill status guardsmen who traditionally serve one weekend a month as well as during annual training and deployments.  

“Every shop and person out here contribute a critical piece to mission success,” The Adjutant General of Colorado U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Laura Clellan said while visiting 140th Airmen at Checkered Flag. “It just can’t happen without every single person. They can see how they tie in truly to the mission and, ultimately, the National Defense Strategy.” 

The exercise directly supports the National Defense Strategy in defending the homeland, deterring attacks and aggression posed by China and Russia, and building a resilient joint force and defense ecosystem. COANG Airmen combined with Active Duty and Reserve counterparts as well as allied partners.  This integration between forces builds on the Secretary of Defense’s global response force by strengthening partnerships between units to ensure a more lethal force in combat. 

Detachment Commander U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Luke Donovan, 140th Civil Engineering Squadron said the individuals giving up multiple weeks of their time and their personal careers because they want to serve their state and nation include instructors, school administrators, teachers, and a surgeon.

“One of the most significant things in the Air Force right now is making sure that we have personnel who are multi-capable in the skills and tasks that they do,” Donovan said.

Checkered Flag, hosted by the 325th Fighter Wing, is one of the Department of Defense’s largest air-to-air exercises which integrates 4th- and 5th-generation airframes to enhance the mobility and employment capabilities of aviators and maintainers.

Checkered Flag supports U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander, Air Combat Command’s plan to train the Immediate Response Force, a dedicated force for “Rapid Response” to unforeseen or unplanned operations, enabling aircrew not only to train, but also to certify, on the Immediate Response Force.

“If we do have to take these jets to war in a China-type scenario, there will be a lot of missiles coming off the jet,” 140th Wing Commander U.S. Air Force Col. Jeremiah “Weed'' Tucker said.  “We haven't shot a lot of missiles in a Global War on Terror fight in the better part of 20 years. You have to continue to make sure the jets are able to actually fire missiles, if indeed we are sending signals to do so, and this is the opportunity to do that.”

The 140th Wing was also involved with Weapons System Evaluation Program East 24.02, the Air Force’s joint program to test air-to-air live fire weapons employment for combat aviators, which the 53rd Wing and 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron out of Tyndall hosted and ran.

The combination of both exercises saved resources and provided a unique training battlefield for a variety of aircraft and support personnel from across the U.S. military. It serves as a formal evaluation of a squadron's ability to conduct live fire missions by affording aircrew the opportunity to launch live missiles at threat representative-maneuvering targets while providing maintainers with experience loading live munitions onto aircraft.

Through generational integration, Checkered Flag builds upon the readiness of an already stellar and dynamic force in the face of any threat. This is especially critical in the face of near peer competitors such as China and Russia. 

“If indeed that day comes and we have to go to war with a near peer adversary, this event is created to start practicing against that, frankly,” Tucker said. “We go to war with what we’ve got, and right now what we’ve got are a bunch of 4th-gen fighters, especially the F-16 and F-15.” 

Because the 140th shared the runway with the 5th-generation F-35 and F-22, the strain of maintaining the aging F-16 became evident at this exercise.

“The amount of time we see our maintainers on the runway compared to that of the F-22 is significant,” Donovan said. “We’ve had a lot more folks out there and put a lot more hours into getting these planes ready to fight every single day.”

Donovan said this builds on the need for the COANG to modernize its fleet to stay on the leading edge.

Aside from the invaluable training that pilots from the 120th Fighter Squadron receive, the exercise also helps to test and sharpen the skills of all Airmen who play a part in a successful fighter squadron, such as maintainers and operations personnel.     

Click here to see video coverage of the 140th Wing at Checkered Flag!

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