US, UK and Australia conduct air drills targeting China Reuters


© Reuters. A U.S. Air Force F-35B aircraft refuels during the annual Red Flag military exercise between the United States, Britain and Australia, in Nevada, U.S., February 8, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria


Sandra Stojanovic

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nevada (Reuters) – The United States, Britain and Australia conducted joint aerial exercises on Wednesday over the Nevada desert and beyond in an effort to simulate high-end combat operations against Chinese fighter jets and air defenses.

Reuters followed British forces for several hours during the three-week US-sponsored Red Flag exercise on a British KC-2 Voyager that refueled US and British fighter jets on Wednesday.

U.S. Air Force Col. Jared J. Hutchinson, commander of the 414th Fighter Training Squadron, which runs Red Flag, said the annual exercises are not related to any recent events. On Saturday, a US fighter jet shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon near the coast of South Carolina, raising tensions.

“(China is) just a challenge that we’re training for to be ready… We think if we’re ready for China, we’re ready for anybody,” Hutchinson said, citing U.S. policy.

The drills focused on addressing the long distances that the United States, Britain and Australia would struggle with when operating across the Pacific, and improving the interoperability of the three countries’ air forces.

For the crew aboard the Royal Air Force’s Voyager, that means serving as a kind of gas station in the sky – providing air-to-air fuel for fighter jets flying a simulated mission.

Air Commodore John Lyle, commander of the RAF’s air mobility force, told Reuters the mission during the Red Flag exercise would simulate bringing air forces into “an area where there has been an invasion of a hostile country”.

“So our role will be to support the force to effectively proceed into the area that is occupied and undertake the targeting of key assets to enable us to degrade the enemy’s capabilities,” Lyle said, without mentioning China by name or identifying which simulated area was being attacked.

The Pentagon has expressed growing concern in recent years about Beijing’s pressure on self-governing Taiwan, an island China sees as a breakaway province.

In addition to tanker aircraft, Britain also flew Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft in the exercises. Australia contributed EA-18G Growler aircraft, according to organizers Red Flag.

The US government has identified China as a top strategic priority for the US military, even as it allocates billions of dollars to support Kiev in repelling an invasion by Russian forces.

Speaking in Washington last week, US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns also warned that the United States knew “as a matter of intelligence” that Xi had ordered his military to be ready to invade self-ruled Taiwan by 2027.

“It doesn’t mean he’s decided to invade in 2027 or any other year, but it’s a reminder of the seriousness of his focus and his ambition,” Burns said at an event at Georgetown University in Washington.

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