Test Trifecta: Orange, Emerald, and Black Flag combine to enhance large-scale test

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Christine Saunders, AFTC/PA and 1st Lt. Lindsey Heflin 53 WG/PA

The Test Flag Enterprise strikes again, this time by joining forces on Oct. 26, 2021.

Orange, Emerald, and Black Flag held their test events at three geographically separated locations: the R-2508 complex in California, the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range in Florida, and the Nevada Test and Training Range.

For the first time, the three independently executed Large Force Test Events collaborated in real-time for simultaneous execution focusing on securing electronic data sharing across geographically separated battlespaces to enable long range kill chains.

“This was TFE’s first attempt at connecting more than two geographically separated areas with low-latency data link networks,” said Maj. Daniel Prudhomme, Orange Flag director.

Each test flag created airborne Link-16 networks, transmitted data to various ground links, and then transferred data between each of the test flag events, effectively transmitting targeting data across more than 1,500 miles. This is a crucial enabler for long-range kill chains.

“Emerald Flag had very focused JADC2 objectives in 21-3 and accomplished crucial steps in completing end-to-end connectivity for long range killwebs. The EF team gleaned valuable information that will fundamentally transform the way we think, fight, and employ capabilities at further range,” said Capt. Joe Haggberg, Emerald Flag deputy director. “Emerald Flag is extremely resource efficient in utilizing simulation methods that replace the need for many aircraft that is typical for a large event and yet still providing the necessary information to the weapon systems. Advancing capabilities rapidly while being efficient with our resources will be key to our nation’s acquisition success.” 

Black Flag conducted other test events Oct. 26-28, which included the first participation of U.S. Marine aircraft and personnel. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing led a Large Force Maritime Strike scenario and participated in other test scenarios ranging from defensive counter air to electromagnetic spectrum vulnerability attacks.

“Black Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier Operational Test venue where warfighters from the U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Army gather to develop Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures in response to the latest intelligence and leadership inquiries,” said Maj. John Alspach, Marine Aircraft Wing 11 Weapons and Tactics officer. “By conducting joint events in the world’s foremost test and training range, MAG-11 is afforded the unique opportunity to test, train and develop tactics that will define the immediate future of warfare.”

The primary focuses of this Black Flag included: testing Electronic Attack contracts with the EC-130, F-15E, and EA-18G while targeting fighter-based long range kill chains, building National Reconnaissance Office integration concepts to close air-delivered long-range kill, and continued exploration of non-traditional Combat Search and Rescue methods.

Additional “tri-flag” participants included a number of other Air Force and Navy platforms, the Army’s Tactical System Integration Lab, General Atomics MQ-20 Avenger unmanned vehicle, and Nellis AFB’s Shadow Operations Center-Nellis.

“Bigger does not always mean better when it comes to these large-scale test events,” said Maj. Theodore Ellis, Black Flag director. “The most important takeaway is the data we receive after the events are over. We analyze the data to prove what works and what doesn’t, and push the data out to the joint forces. We strive to test how we are going to fight.”

The U.S. Air Force Test Center and Warfare Center counterparts developed the Test Flag Enterprise to provide all-domain test capability and capacity to mature and field systems. 

“The TFE is the only organization in the Department of Defense that is executing rigorous large scale test right now,” said Prudhomme.

The main Orange and Emerald Flag objectives are to create a large force environment for advanced sensor and aircraft capability development. Black Flag’s objective is to integrate and test the suitability of capabilities and tactics in multi-domain, multi-service, operational realistic scenarios.