Exercise Maple Flag 50

Backgrounder / May 23, 2017

Ottawa – National Defence / Canadian Armed Forces

Exercise Maple Flag 50 will take place at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, from May 29 to June 23, 2017, aiming to prepare both the Royal Canadian Air Force and international aircrew, maintenance and support personnel for the rigours of operations in the modern aerial battlespace. 

The exercise scenario sets the stage for participants to Fly In Formation as they fight their way into a conflict zone, eliminate approved targets and fight their way home.

Participants will use a fictitious scenario, which pits them against live and simulated threats using the latest in tactics, weaponry and technology. The goal is to hone their skills within a realistic, evolving and challenging operating environment, enabling all participants to become an Agile and Integrated force, with the Reach and Power (AIRPower) to achieve the mission. For the RCAF, this exercise provides an opportunity for our personnel to embrace AIRPower, and refine their capabilities as guarantors of Canadian Sovereignty.

Specific training activities for Exercise Maple Flag 50 include command and control; air-to-air and air-to-surface operations; air-to-air refueling; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; tactical airlift; tactical aviation; and close air support.

These activities will be conducted primarily inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR), a vast tract of land to the north of 4 Wing and Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake.

Allied and participant forces include: The United States Air Force, the United States Air Force Reserve, the United States Marine Corps, the Republic of Singapore Air Force, the Royal Air Force, the French Air Force and the Belgian Army. In addition, 19 nations will participate in the International Observer Program.

The Air Force Tactical Training Centre (AFTTC), located at 4 Wing Cold Lake, directs and hosts Exercise Maple Flag. AFTTC’s fundamental mandate is to provide realistic training to participants in order to simulate modern air combat operations.

Conducted annually since 1978, Exercise Maple Flag has only been cancelled on a handful of occasions, most recently due to CF-18 operations during Operation Impact in 2015.

History of Exercise Maple Flag

Exercise Maple Flag is the Canadian variation of the United States Air Force’s Exercise Red Flag, which is held several times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The Flag series of exercises were developed in response to observations made during the Vietnam War. During this conflict, it was noticed the majority of aircraft losses occurred during an aircrew’s first ten combat missions.

Those who survived these critical first ten missions were deemed more likely to survive the remainder of their combat tour and beyond.  Flag exercises were designed to provide junior aircrews with these critical first ten missions. In many ways, this same structure still exists today.

Initially conceived as Exercise Red Flag NORTH in 1977, the Canadian version was later renamed Exercise Maple Flag in 1978. Two four-week exercises were held each year until 1987. After that time, it became an annual event lasting between four and six weeks, broken into two or three self-contained, two-week periods.

Traditionally, the main focus of the exercise was fighter operations and supporting airframes, with a primary focus on the Large Force Employment of those entities.

Over the years, the exercise has evolved and transformed in response to real-world operations and advances in technology, expertise and technique. The exercise used to almost exclusively involve fighters, large bombers, fighter-interceptor-bombers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft and Airborne Warning and Control Systems.

Today, many of those same airframes are still involved, but now include integration with various Air Force elements like tactical airlift, helicopters and electronic warfare, as well as the Army.

Since 1987, Exercise Maple Flag has only been cancelled on four occasions. Cancellations occurred in 1991 due to Gulf War I, in 1999 due to the Kosovo conflict, in 2011 due to Operation Mobile and finally in 2015 due to Operations Impact and Reassurance. These cancellations all occurred as a result of real-world RCAF operational commitments, and in response to mandates set forth by the Government of Canada.

The real-world training gained during Exercise Maple Flag can only be matched and exceeded by actual real-world operations. When engaged in conflict, there is little need to conduct large scale operationally focused exercises. The motto ‘train how you fight so you can fight how you train’ rings true for the participants of Exercise Maple Flag; if engaged in actual combat, intense training becomes somewhat superfluous.

The Cold Lake Air Weapons Range (CLAWR)

The CLAWR is part of a vast group of three airspaces which include the Air Combat Maneuvering (ACM) area and a low-level flying area, all of which are controlled and managed by 4 Wing Operations.

In its entirety, the airspace group spans from British Columbia to Manitoba, and from the Northwest Territories to central Alberta. In total, it is the size of central Europe.

The smallest of the three airspaces – the CLAWR – is itself 1.17 million hectares in size and sits approximately 70 kilometers north of 4 Wing Cold Lake. This specific piece of land is a restricted operating zone, and is the airspace which contains the more than 90 target complexes (over 640 individual targets) and threat simulators which will be used during Exercise Maple Flag 50.

The available target sets include seven full-scale mock military airfields, simulated military infrastructure, and simulated surface-to-air threats. Nearly all targets inside the CLAWR permit the use of inert conventional and precision laser and/or GPS guided munitions. Several surface targets can be defended by systems which simulate the signals sent from common surface to air threats.

Rounding out the already robust set of training aids inside the CLAWR are several live-fire areas, including air-to-air and air-to-ground gunnery ranges, where pilots can practice with live munitions against both surface and airborne targets.

International Observer Program

The International Observer Program provides potential future participants of Exercise Maple Flag the opportunity to experience the exercise up close, without committing large amounts of resources. The aim of this program is to secure other nations’ future participation in Exercise Maple Flag.

This year, program participants come from a variety of allied and partner nations, including: Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Germany, Greece, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates.

Specific participants and their role during Exercise Maple Flag 50

Exercise Maple Flag 50 participants include the following nations, units and aircraft:


  • 1 Wing with 6 x CH-146 Griffon Helicopters and 2 x CH147F Chinook Helicopter flying in a utility and tactical helicopter role;
  • 401, 409, 425 and 433 Tactical Fighter Squadrons and 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron with up to 22 x CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft, flying in a close air support, air interdiction, defensive counter air, offensive counter air and opposing force roles;
  • 414 Electronic Warfare Squadron riding in the rear seat of contracted Discovery Air Defence Services’ 8 x Dornier Alpha Jets in an opposing force role;
  • 426 and 436 Transport Squadrons with 2 x CC-130J Super Hercules flying in a tactical airlift role;
  • 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron with 1 x CC-130T Hercules flying in an air to air refueling role;
  • 42 Radar Squadron providing ground based tactical radar services;
  • Data Link Network Design and Management providing connectivity services; and
  • Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment in support of the Advanced Tactical Aviation Course.

United States of America:

  • United States Air Force 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron with 1 x E-3 Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role;
  • United States Air Force 965th Airborne Air Control Squadron with 1 x E-3 Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role;
  • United States Air Force Reserve 93rd Fighter Squadron with up to 12 x F-16 Falcons fighter aircraft flying in a close air support, air interdiction, defensive counter air and offensive counter air role;
  • United States Marine Corps, Marine Wing Support Squadron 473 with personnel and equipment, providing logistical support to the exercise to include Forward Arming and Refuelling Points for participating helicopters, an expeditionary mobile Air Traffic Control team, convoy operations, demolition training as well as Opposing Ground Forces; and
  • United States Marine Corps, Marine Air Control Squadron 2, augmenting the tactical radar controllers from Canada’s 42 Radar Squadron.


  • Escadron de détection et contrôle Aéroporté 00.036 with 1 x E-3F Sentry aircraft flying in an airborne command and control role;
  • l’Équipe de Marque Avions de Transport Tactique 01.338 with 1 x A400M in a heavy tactical airlift role; and
  • Special Forces in a joint terminal air controller role.

Republic of Singapore:

  • 425th Fighter Squadron with 10 x F-16 Falcons fighter aircraft flying in a close air support, air interdiction, defensive counter air and offensive counter air role.

United Kingdom:

  • Working with a variety of participants and in a joint terminal air controller role.

- 30 -

Related Products

Media Advisory

Associated Links

Ex Maple Flag 50 Website
Ex Maple Flag 50 Image Gallery
RCAF Facebook



Captain Mathew Strong
4 Wing Cold Lake Public Affairs Officer
Royal Canadian Air Force, Department of National Defence
(780) 840-8000 Ext 8121

Media Relations
Department of National Defence
Phone: 613-996-2353
Toll-Free: 1-866-377-0811
Email: mlo-blm@forces.gc.ca


Join the RCAF - Dare to be extraordinary

Air Combat Systems Officers plan, coordinate and direct the missions of aircraft and crew. They manage the operation of precision tactical navigation systems, sophisticated sensors, communication systems, electronic warfare equipment and weapon delivery systems.

Air Combat Systems Officers often direct and coordinate the tactical activities of other units. They lead a variety of missions, including:

         - Search and Rescue
         - Anti-Submarine Operations
         - Maritime Surface Surveillance and Targeting
         - Sovereignty and Fisheries Patrols
         - Counter-Narcotics Operations
         - Air-to-Air Refueling
         - Humanitarian Relief
         - Combined Operations with Foreign Militaries
         - Electronic Warfare Training and Support
         - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle
         - Operations


Date modified: