The USAF has announced it will activate an aggressor squadron at Nellis AFB near Las Vegas equipped with the F-35A Lightning II.
The squadron will operate 11 F-35As in the aggressor role, simulating the tactics and capabilities of low observable adversaries such as the Chinese J-20 and Russia’s Su-57. The aircraft will be operated by the resurrected 65th aggressor squadron (AS) which previously flew the F-15C/D in the aggressor role before being disbanded in September 2014.
“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s,” US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David L. Goldfein said in a statement. “They provide a dose of realism in air exercises and their training value is crucial. These F-35 aggressor aircraft will keep us ahead of adversaries for years to come.”
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson added, “This move will allow us to repurpose early production F-35s to help train Airmen for the high end fight.”
Many of the early low rate initial production (LRIP) F-35As used for testing and development are structurally sound but have immature Block 1 and 2 systems configurations and had been considered marginally economical to bring up to the latest Block 3F and follow-on Block 4 standards.
The USAF also says it will also emply two F-35As currently assigned to the test force at Edwards AFB to the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nellis. The 24th TASS is an F-16 squadron primary engaged in supporting and performing close-air support training.
Nellis AFB is home to the Red Flag series of air combat exercises, and is located adjacent to the Nellis Test and Training Range which features high fidelity threats and target complexes.
The USAF operates three squadrons of F-16 aggressors, one at Nellis and two at Eielson AFB in Alaska, and also uses contractor adversary support services through companies such as Draken International which flies former RAN and RNZAF A-4K Skyhawks and L-39s. The US Navy operates adversary squadrons of F-5E/F and F-16N fighters, and has recently acquired additional former Swiss Air Force F-5E/Fs to bolster this capability.