Nellis Air Force Base, LV – Last Friday, the U.S. Air Force kicked off the most massive-ever air war drill series, known as Red Flag 18-1, which will run through February 16, according to the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs. The drills are expected to cause GPS disruptions for a large portion of the Western United States, according to a report by Flying.com, and all GPS-operated aircraft operating in in the region should be aware of possible navigation failure.
“We’re trying a few new and different things with Red Flag 18-1,” said Col Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. “It’s the largest Red Flag ever with the largest number of participants, highlighting the balance of training efficiency with mission effectiveness.”
According to a report by The Drive:
“Not only is it the largest of its kind in the exercise’s 42 year history, but the USAF is going to blackout GPS over the sprawling Nevada Test and Training Range to challenge aircrews and their weaponry under realistic fighting conditions. The tactic will spill over throughout the region, with warnings being posted stating inconsistent GPS service could be experienced by aircrews flying throughout the western United States…”
This particular Red Flag includes players from the USAF, USMC, Australia and UK. The very limited guest list of only America’s most trusted allies is indicative of a Red Flag exercise where high-end and sensitive capabilities will be put to the test.
“Red Flag 18-1 primarily is a strike package focused training venue that we integrate at a command and control level in support of joint task force operations,” said Mathes. “It’s a lot of words to say that we integrate every capability we can into strike operations that are flown out of Nellis Air Force Base.”
Residents living near Nellis Air Force Base, which is 20 miles outside of Las Vegas, were warned by base officials of increased activity, due to the large number of warplanes departing for twice-daily war drills on the Nevada Test Range.
The U.S. Air Force plans to “blackout GPS over the sprawling Nevada Test and Training Range,” according to The Drive.
The Drive’s report goes on to explain:
“GPS denial is a becoming a huge issue for American military planners. Peer states, especially Russia, are already putting GPS spoofing and jamming tactics to work during various training events near their own borders. We have discussed this situation in great depth before, and I would suggest you read this article to understand just how deeply the loss of reliable global positioning system data can mean for the U.S. and its allies during a time of war, as well as what is being done to overcome such a monumental hurdle.”
“The NBAA ATS at the FAA Command Center reports the U.S. military will begin training exercises on the Nevada Test and Training Range between 0400Z until 0700Z daily. Training maneuvers will impact vast portions of the Western U.S. including California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico. FAA enroute ATC centers affected include Albuquerque (ZAB), Denver (ZDV), Los Angeles (ZLA), Salt Lake (ZLC), Oakland (ZOA) and Seattle (ZSE). Operations in R-2508 and R-2501 may also be impacted.”
The Pentagon has previously tested GPS jamming technology that can impact a vast area, which will likely be used in Red Flag. Below is an image released from a June 2016 exercise that revealed the range of the secretive military technology:
In addition to the risk to aircraft in the region, other devices that rely on GPS signals could be compromised as well. Below is a DHS chart that lists potentially affected devices:
With such a wide range of systems dependent upon GPS navigation, it remains to be seen what the effect the drills will have on the millions of Western U.S. residents that depend upon GPS reliant technology.