Earlier this month, the Pakistan Air Force made its maiden appearance at the United States Air Force (USAF) Red Flag Exercise 10-4, a series of realistic aerial war games. The Red Flag exercises, which commenced from July 19 to July 31, have been held periodically at the Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) since 1975. Spread over 15,000 square miles of airspace north of Las Vegas, the exercise is conducted over the Nevada Test and Training Range. The purpose of these drills is to give pilots from the US, NATO and other allied countries an opportunity to practise and refine their skills, in a real world combat simulation. The participants are divided into two teams, the Blue Team and the rather more aggressive Red Team. The Red Team is composed of Nellis AFB-based pilots, especially trained for this purpose, while the Blue Team comprises various guest 'players. The objective of the Blue Team is to destroy certain targets on the ranges, while the Red Team attempts to defend them. Both teams usually meet in the airspace, where they engage in realistic dogfights. Vantage points afford exercise umpires, observers and visitors an excellent view of the proceedings. The major US participants in the Red Flag 10-4 included B-52 Stratofortresses, F-22 Raptors and F-15E Strike Eagles. Other aircrafts in the exercise included are EA-6B Prowlers, F-15S, F-16s and F-5Es. The USAF hosted approximately 100 PAF pilots and support personnel this time round, and in the grand scheme of things, PAF and USAF cooperation yielded big dividends for both. As fighter tactics are constantly evolving, the PAF pilots were able to display their prowess, besides also being able to observe and learn from the air forces of other nations. The Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) operated by Nellis AFB includes 1,900 possible targets, realistic threat systems and an opposing enemy force that cannot be replicated anywhere in the world. During Red Flag 10-4, more than 500 personnel were launching over 70 aircrafts twice a day, and KC-135s were pumping around 150,000 gallons of fuel daily. The pilots of PAFs fleet of F-16Bs looked eager to push their aircraft to the limit, earning plaudits from the opposition. All in all, Red Flag provided the participating PAF contingent challenging scenarios, and through teamwork and the integration of all the assets deployed it secured success. No single aircraft can handle the tactical challenges that Red Flag presents and this unique platform provides the opportunity to fly with coalition partners and prepare for future high intensity conflicts. Red Flag also provides inimitable training not just for pilots, but also for the whole crew as it replicates a full spectrum of threats. The Red Flag exercise covers most scenarios, strategies and tactics that could occur and exposes the crew into a multinational environment providing them with a great platform for mutual learning. The PAFs sojourn into the realm of international cooperation does not end with the conclusion of Red Flag 10-4, as the contingent will stay on to participate in Green Flag 10-9, also at Nellis Air Force Base, scheduled for August 6 to 20, 2010. As the fight in the war on terror constantly evolves, it is imperative that the PAF take part in such exercises which will help it execute the latest counter terrorist measures. The Air Warrior exercise at Nellis has officially become the USAFs premier pre-deployment exercises for Air Combat Command flying units, who perform close-air support and precision-guided munitions delivery. The new Green Flag programme is geared toward the current ground fight and focuses on air cover and partnership with ground forces. The USAF is using the Green Flag exercises to provide concurrent training to pilots and prepare them for the types of missions they will experience in real world operations. Green Flag is the premier training exercise preparing airmen for combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan where the USAF and coalition aircrew hone their air-land integration skills for success in ongoing operations. It also includes an unscripted battle exercise which provides units with training on a scale not available at their home stations. The PAFs participation in the two exercises will go a long way in honing its skills and validate its concepts, especially as the PAF has to deal with such situations in current operations in the tribal areas. In addition, PAFs participation in this premier international exercise has helped build the international air force cooperation, interoperability and mutual support. It is also significant as both a tangible and symbolic demonstration of the deepening US-Pakistan strategic relationship. The writer is a political and defence analyst.