Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51

Backgrounder / June 8, 2018

June 8, 2018 – Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51 will take place at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, from June 11 to 22, 2018, aiming to prepare both the Royal Canadian Air Force and international aircrew, maintenance and support personnel for the rigours of operations in the modern aerial battlespace.

The exercise scenario sets the stage for participants to Fly In Formation as they fight their way into a conflict zone, eliminate approved targets and fight their way home.

Participants will use a fictitious scenario, which pits them against live and simulated threats using the latest in tactics, weaponry and technology. The goal is to hone their skills within a realistic, evolving and challenging operational environment, enabling all participants to become an Agile and Integrated force, with the Reach and Power (AIRPower) to achieve the mission. For the RCAF, this exercise provides an opportunity for our personnel to embrace AIRPower, and refine their capabilities as guarantors of Canadian Sovereignty.

Specific training activities for Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51 include command and control; air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons and tactics employment; as well as air-to-air refueling.

These activities will be conducted primarily inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), a vast airspace complex to the north of 4 Wing and CFB Cold Lake.

Allied and participant forces include the Belgian Air Component; the Royal Australian Air Force; the United States Navy; the United States Air Force; the United States Marine Corps; and NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force. In addition, up to nations will participate in the International Observer Program.

The Air Force Tactical Training Centre (AFTTC), located at 4 Wing, plans, directs and hosts Exercise MAPLE FLAG. AFTTC’s fundamental mandate is to provide realistic training to participants in order to simulate modern air combat operations.

History of Exercise MAPLE FLAG

Exercise MAPLE FLAG is the Canadian variation of the United States Air Force’s Exercise RED FLAG, which is held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Flag series of exercises were developed in response to observations made during the Vietnam War. During this conflict, it was noticed the majority of aircraft losses occurred during an aircrew’s first ten combat missions.

Those who survived these critical first ten missions were deemed more likely to survive the remainder of their combat tour and beyond. Flag exercises were designed to provide junior aircrews with these critical first ten missions. Over the years, Exercise MAPLE FLAG has evolved to meet the needs of the RCAF and its partners and allies but, in many ways, this same structure still exists today.

Initially conceived as Exercise RED FLAG NORTH in 1977, the Canadian version was later renamed Exercise MAPLE FLAG in 1978. Two four-week exercises were held each year until 1987. After that time, it became an annual event lasting from four to six weeks, broken into two or three self-contained, two-week periods.

Traditionally, the main focus of the exercise was fighter operations and supporting airframes, with a primary focus on the Large Force Employment of those entities.

Over the years, the exercise has evolved and transformed in response to real-world operations and advances in technology, expertise and techniques. The exercise used to almost exclusively involve fighters, large bombers, fighter-interceptor-bombers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft and airborne warning and control systems.

Today, many of those same airframes are still involved, but now include integration with various Air Force elements like tactical airlift, helicopters and electronic warfare, as well as the Army. From year to year however, the scope of the exercise will differ, customized first to the training requirements of the RCAF and then to those of participating nations.

Since 1987, Exercise MAPLE FLAG has only been cancelled on four occasions. Cancellations occurred in 1991 due to Gulf War I, in 1999 due to the Kosovo conflict, in 2011 due to Operation MOBILE and finally in 2015 due to Operations IMPACT and REASSURANCE. These cancellations all occurred as a result of real-world RCAF operational commitments, and in response to mandates set forth by the Government of Canada.

The real-world training achieved during Exercise MAPLE FLAG can only be matched and exceeded by actual real-world operations. The motto ‘train how you fight so you can fight how you train’ rings true for the participants of Exercise MAPLE FLAG.

The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR)

The CLAWR is part of a vast group of three airspaces which include the Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) area and a low-level flying area, all of which are controlled and managed by 4 Wing’s Operational Support Squadron.

In its entirety, the airspace group spans from British Columbia to Manitoba, and from the Northwest Territories to central Alberta. In total, it is the size of central Europe.

The smallest of the three airspaces – the CLAWR – is itself 1.17 million hectares in size and is located approximately 70 kilometres north of 4 Wing Cold Lake. This specific piece of land is a restricted operating zone, and is the airspace that contains the more than 90 target complexes (over 640 individual targets) and threat simulators that will be used during Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51.

The available target sets include seven full-scale mock military airfields, simulated military infrastructure, and simulated surface-to-air threats. Nearly all targets inside the CLAWR permit the use of inert conventional and precision laser and/or GPS guided munitions. Several surface targets can be defended by systems which simulate the signals sent from common surface to air threats.

Rounding out the already robust set of training aids inside the CLAWR are several live-fire areas, including air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery ranges, where pilots can practice with live munitions against both surface and airborne targets.

International Observer Program

The International Observer Program provides potential future participants of Exercise MAPLE FLAG the opportunity to experience the exercise up close, without committing large amounts of resources. The aim of this program is to secure other nations’ future participation in Exercise MAPLE FLAG.

This year, program participants come from a variety of allied and partner nations, including: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Jordan, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Morocco, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Specific participants and their role during Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51

Exercise MAPLE FLAG 51 participants include the following nations, units and aircraft:


  • 401 and 409 Tactical Fighter Squadrons with up to eight CF-188A Hornet fighter aircraft, flying in air interdiction, defensive counter air, offensive counter air and opposing force roles
  • 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron riding in the rear seat of six contracted Dornier Alpha Jets from Top Aces in an opposing force role
  • 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron with one CC-130T Hercules flying in an air–to-air refueling role
  • 437 Transport Squadron with one CC-150T Polaris flying in an air-to air-refueling role
  • 42 Radar Squadron with the TPS-70 Tactical Control Radar providing ground-based tactical radar services
  • Data Link Network Design and Management providing connectivity services

United States of America

  • United States Navy VAQ-134 Electronic Attack Squadron with four EA-18G Super Hornet “Growler” electronic warfare aircraft, flying in an electronic warfare role
  • United States Air Force 69th Bomber Squadron with two B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber aircraft, flying in an air interdiction role
  • United States Marine Corps, Marine Air Control Squadron 2, augmenting the tactical radar controllers from Canada’s 42 Radar Squadron


  • A mixed unit from the Belgian Air Component with eight F-16 Fighting Falcon “Viper” fighter aircraft, flying in air interdiction, defensive counter air and offensive counter air roles


  • NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&CF) one E-3A AWACS aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role

Royal Australian Air Force

  • 75 Squadron with four F/A-18A Hornet fighter aircraft, flying in air interdiction, defensive counter air and offensive counter air roles

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Captain Mathew Strong
4 Wing Cold Lake Public Affairs Officer
Royal Canadian Air Force
Department of National Defence
(780) 840-8000 Ext 8121

Media Relations
Department of National Defence
Phone: 613-996-2353
Email: mlo-blm@forces.gc.ca

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