Wildlife is not the only thing that enjoys the vast empty expanses of America's northern-most state. There is so much room to train over Alaska's fully outfitted air combat ranges that there is really no other place in the world quite like it for military aircrews and weapons and tactics testers to push their hardware and skills to the limit.
This is precisely why Red Flag Alaska has now become an event that rivals the traditional Red Flag multi-national training exercise that occurs multiple times a year over the Nevada Test and Training Range. Additionally, exercises like Northern Edge go beyond Red Flag and bring incredibly diverse air, sea and land forces together to fight as a team.
Also, new technologies are tested during this mega-exercise, some of it which is sensitive in nature. Alaska provides an ideal spot to do this as there is lots of airspace and empty land to operate on and over, far from foreign eyes and ears.
Then there is Alaska's geographical positioning, sitting right on a resurgent Russia's backdoor to the west, along the increasingly strategic arctic region to the north, as well as right in the center of the Pacific to the south. These factors all combine to give the state a renewed significance to America's strategic posture.
Over the years, Alaska's air combat power has been whittled away significantly, with the majority of the focus now being on a single wing of F-22 Raptors at Elmendorf AFB and a wing of F-16C aggressors at Eielson AFB. The F-22s in particular sit alert 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to respond to incoming Russian strategic aircraft as well as any air sovereignty issues with commercial or private aircraft flying over or near US airspace. For 'non shooting' air force capability, Alaska has remained a very important place to be, with KC-135R tankers, C-17A transports and E-3 airborne early warning and control aircraft keeping a continued presence.
Other air combat assets include a large contingent of US Army helicopters and USAF HH-60G Pave Hawks and HC-130s Hercules. The Pave Hawk and HC-130 'combat rescue' team have saved many people who have gotten lost in Alaska's unforgiving wilderness. Finally, Fort Greenly is a major base for US ballistic missile defense interceptors, of which a growing number of them are based in silos there.
When you add this all up you realize that not only does Alaska continue to be one of the most beneficial and strategic places for American and allied air combat forces in the world, but considering the world's changing geopolitical realities, it is actually once again increasing in strategic relevance. Large exercises like Red Flag Alaska also work to remind our 'local' potential adversaries that there is plenty of ramp space available on well developed airfields should 'things get hot.'
With all this in mind, below are 50 totally stunning photos that illustrate the diverse air combat operations over America's incredibly beautiful 49th state:
Photos via USAF/DOD
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com