NARRATIVE & IMAGES BY KEDAR KARMARKAR
GRAY FLAG 2022
NAS Point Mugu held its annual Gray Flag 2022 event from 22nd August to 2nd September 2022. The aim of hosting the Gray Flag was to bring together units from the testing community from the US Navy, US Air Force and the US Marines and to conduct tests and evaluations against the disparate platforms in the joint services.
The F-16D from Edwards AFB is seen carrying the AQM-37D. The AQM-37D is a pre-programmed, non-recoverable supersonic target used by the US and its NATO allies. This is used in weapons training, evaluation and development.
Another aim is to foster the exchange of information in a more real-time manner. The adversary air component was provided by Kfirs and Hawker Hunters from Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) that are based at PMTC Point Mugu and a lone 65th Aggressor Sqn F-35A from Nellis AFB.
The surprise element was the inclusion of two F-117 Nighthawks from the un-named unit of the US Air Force that still flies them even though officially they have been retired since 2009. There were mainly two ‘vuls’ with some days slated for three ‘vuls’ – vulnerability periods – during the day. The exercise was supported by KC-10 Extenders out of Travis AFB and Omega tankers.
The different units that participated were –
- VAW-116 ‘Sun Kings’ from NAS Point Mugu with E-2D Hawkeyes
- VAW-117 ‘Wallbangers’ from NAS Point Mugu with E-2D Hawkeyes
- VAW-113 ‘Black Eagles’ from NAS Point Mugu with E-2D Hawkeyes
- VX-1 ‘Pioneers’ from NAS Pax River with E-2D Hawkeyes
- VMX-1 from MCAS Yuma with F-35B Lightning IIs
- VX-9 ‘Vampires’ from NAWS China Lake with F/A-18E/Fs Rhinos, F-35C Lightning IIs and EA-18G Growlers
- VX-20 from NAS Pax River with E-2D Hawkeyes
- VX-23 ‘Salty Dogs’ from NAS Pax River with F/A-18E/Fs Rhinos, and EA-18G Growlers
- VX-30 ‘Bloodhounds’ from NAS Point Mugu with E-2D Hawkeyes, and P-3C Orions
- VX-31 ‘Dust Devils’ from NAWS China Lake with F/A-18D Hornet, F/A-18E/Fs Rhinos, and EA-18G Growlers
- 422nd TES ‘Green Bats’ from Nellis AFB with F-35A Lightning IIs
- 416th FLTS from Edwards AFB with F-16C/D Vipers
- E-3 Sentry AWACS from Tinker AFB.
The two F-35Cs from VX-9 sporting two different chrome schemes were also seen in the exercise. One marked ‘100’ had a more uniform chrome tiles while the other one marked ‘105’ was seen sporting different tiles of different shapes along the fuselage.The interesting thing about the former chrome panels is they reflect light at some angles while they absorb the light at other angles making the F-35 indistinguishable from the normal ones. These seem to be experiments to reduce the optical and IR signature of these 5th generation aircraft.
One of the VX-23 EA-18G was seen carrying the Raytheon AN/ALQ-249(V)1 Next Gen Jammer-Mid-Band jammer pods under the wing.
Seen here is the F/A-18F from VX-31 carrying the Lockheed Martin AN/ASG-34 Infra-Red Search/Track (IRST) aka IRST21, in the front part of the centerline FPU-13 fuel tank. This was the attempt of putting the Infra-Red Search/Track sensor on the Super Hornet platform in the Block III upgrades although some Block II have also been seen carrying this setup earlier.
All the aircraft were seen carrying the ACMI pods which were white in color with black tips which no doubt transmits more telemetry information than the basics. The participating aircraft carried threat replication jammers of different kinds – some of them looking experimental – as to be expected. Miscellaneous aircraft could be seen taking off on their routine missions during the exercise like the KC-130 Hercules tanker of VX-30, the Channel Island ANG C-130J Hercules and a lone P-3C Orion operated by the US Department of Homeland Security.