Desert Flag is an annual multinational Large Force Employment (LFE) warfare exercise hosted by the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF).
This year's exercise was held from 6 to 25 March 2021 at Abu Dhabi/Al Dhafra air base (UAE) and saw over 50 aircraft participating. Because of Covid-19, it has been two years since since the previous exercise had taken place.
The aim of this exercise is to provide operational exposure to the participating forces, while training them to undertake simulated air combat operations in a controlled environment. The main goal is not only the affirmation of close links between the participating countries, but also one of the ways to face the challenges on the global arena from the development of the eastern and western Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) combat systems that could impede the performance of combat missions and reduce their success rates.
Desert Flag is organised by the UAE Air Warfare Center Which has planned extensive air operations in realistic scenarios involving helicopters, U(C)AVs and tankers. Apart from fighter aicraft, the United States participated with a Patriot air defense unit from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Air Defence Artillery Regiment who provided air support from the ground via a live simulation network to aid allied aircraft during the exercise.
According to Capt. Joshua, a United States Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle Weapons System Officer (WSO) assigned to the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, the support provided by the patriot system enhanced the defence of the simulated no fly zone, and made it easier for pilots to focus on enforcing their various sectors.
This exercise was previously known as Iron Falcon and was held at the United Arab Emirates Air Warfare Center in 2004 and 2009.
This year's participants at Al Dhafra air base were:
United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF)
mix from Shaheen 1 Squadron, Shaheen 2 Squadron and Shaheen 3 Squadron with the F-16E and F-16F Desert Falcon
mix from 71 Squadron and 76 Squadron with the Mirage 2000-9EAD and Mirage 2000-9DAD
all units are based at Al Dhafra air base
Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF)
mix from 1st Tactical Fighter Squadron and 2nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, both based at Shaikh Isa Air Base with four F-16C Fighting Falcon
Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF)
6 Squadron from Khamis Mushayt/King Khalid Air Base with six F-15SA Saudi Eagle
Bharatiya Vayu Sena (Indian Air Force)
30 Squadron Rhinos from Pune/Lohegaon AFS with six Su-30MKI-3 Flanker
Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (French Air Fore and Space Force)
EC01.007* Provence at Al Dhafra air base with Dassault Rafale C and Rafale B
United States Air Force (USAF)
391st FS Bold Tigers from Mountain Home AFB (ID) with F-15E Strike Eagle
*) EC01.007 is based in the UAE since 2016 to support Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), the military intervention against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Next to the abovementioned flying units, the exercise was also attended by observers from Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Qatar and South Korea.