Exercise Maple Flag 2016

Backgrounder / May 26, 2016

Exercise Maple Flag will take place at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, between May 30 and June 24, 2016, and aims to prepare both Canadian and international aircrew, and maintenance and support personnel, for the rigours of operations in the modern aerial battlespace. 

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

Participants will use a fictitious scenario, fighting against simulated threats using the latest in tactics, weaponry, and technology. The goal is to hone their skills within a realistic, evolving, and challenging operating environment.

Specific training activities for Exercise Maple Flag 49 include command and control; air-to-air and air-to-surface operations; air-to-air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; tactical airlift; tactical aviation; and close air support.

These activities will be conducted primarily inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), a vast tract of land to the north of 4 Wing / Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake.

Throughout both periods, allied and participant forces include: The United States Air Force, the United States Air Force Reserve, the Kentucky Air National Guard, the United States Marine Corps, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force, the German Army and the Belgian Army. In addition, during period two, 10 nations will participate in the International Observer Program.

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

Conducted annually since 1978, Exercise Maple Flag has only been cancelled on a handful of occasions, most recently due to CF-18 operations during Operation Impact in 2015.

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 was developed in response to observations made during the Vietnam War. During that conflict, it was noticed the majority of aircraft losses occurred during an aircrew’s first 10 combat missions.

Those who survived these critical first 10 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 10 missions. In many ways, this same structure still existonly s 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 between four and 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 technique. 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 Exercise onlyAir Force elements such as tactical airlift, helicopters, and electronic warfare, as well as the Army.

Since 1987, Exercise Maple Flag has been cancelled on only 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 gained during Exercise Maple Flag can be matched and exceeded only by actual real-world operations. When engaged in conflict, there is very little need to conduct large-scale operationally focused exercises. The motto "train how you fight so you can fight how you train" rings true for the participants of Exercise Maple Flag; if engaged in actual combat, intense training becomes somewhat superfluous.

The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range

The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range is part of a vast group of three airspaces which include the Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) and a low-level flying area, all of which are controlled and managed by 4 Wing Operations.

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 sits about 70 kilometers north of 4 Wing Cold Lake. This specific piece of land is a restricted operating zone, and is the airspace which contains the more than 90 target complexes (over 640 individual targets) and threat simulators which will be used during Exercise Maple Flag 49.

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 practise 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: Australia, Chile, Germany, India, Israel, Philippines, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Republic of South Korea and Sweden.

Specific participants and their role in Exercise Maple Flag 49

Exercise Maple Flag 49 participants include the following nations, aircraft and units:


1 Wing with 2 x CH-146 Griffon Helicopters, flying in a utility and tactical helicopter role;

401, 409, 425 and 433 Tactical Fighter Squadrons and 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron with a total of 24 x CF-188 Hornet fighter aircraft, flying Close Air Support, Air Interdiction and Threat Simulation roles;

405 and 407 Long Range Patrol Squadrons with 1 x CP-140 Aurora aircraft flying in an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance role;

414 Electronic Warfare Squadron riding in the rear seat of contracted Discovery Air Defence Services’ 6 x Dornier Alpha Jets in a threat simulation role;

429 Transport Squadron with 1 x CC-177 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft flying in a tactical airlift role;

435 Transport and Rescue Squadron with 1 x CC-130T Hercules flying in an air to air refueling role;

426 and 436 Transport Squadrons with 2x CC-130J Super Hercules flying in a tactical airlift role;

42 Radar Squadron providing ground based tactical radar services; and

Data Link Network Design and Management providing connectivity services for the on board threat simulation technology.

United States:

United States Air Force Reserve 94th Airlift Wing with 2 x C-130 Hercules flying in a tactical airlift role;

Kentucky Air National Guard 165th Airlift Wing with 2 x C-130 Hercules flying in a tactical airlift role;

United States Air Force 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron with 1 x E-3 Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role;

United States Air Force 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron with 1 x E-3 Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role; and

United States Marine Corps Marine Wing Support Squadron 471 with personnel and equipment, providing a forward air refueling point for participant helicopters.


Groupe de Chasse 1/2 “Cigognes” with 4 x Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircraft flying in a tactical fighter role; and

Escadron de Chasse 1/91 “Gascogne” with 4 x Rafale fighter aircraft flying in a tactical fighter role.


1st Airborne Brigade, a combined non-flying special operations unit; and

Elements of the German Special Forces Command (KSK).


Work with a variety of participants in a joint terminal air controller role.

United Kingdom:

Number 8 Squadron, Royal Air Force with 1 x E-3 Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role.

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