Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
The F-35 is about to become the Air Force's ultimate enemy
The Air Force is preparing Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to host an aggressor squadron flying F-35 stealth fighters.
The Air Force in May 2019 announced it would re-establish a defunct squadron that flew F-15s to simulate the enemy force in realistic war games. The service in 2014 shuttered the 65th Aggressor Squadron as a cost-saving measure.
The 65th Aggressor Squadron in its new form would operate nine early-model F-35A stealth fighters that the Air Force considers unsuitable for combat. The "red air" F-35s would help the Air Force to copy the tactics of Russian and Chinese squadrons respectively flying Su-57 and J-20 stealth fighters."
Capt. Andrew "Dojo" Olson, F-35A Lightning II Demonstration Team pilot, performs over Miami Beach, Fla., May 24, 2019 (U.S. Air Force/.Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)
The unit, which will include 194 military personnel and 37 contract personnel, will require an additional 60,000 square feet of facilities and 300,000 square feet of ramp space," Col. Travolis Simmons, commander of the 57th Adversary Tactics Group, told Air Force magazine's Amy McCullough.
"The exact military construction ask is still being worked out, but Simmons said the service will need to build one new hangar and more sunshades."
Between the 64th Aggressor Squadron's F-16s, Draken International's fleet of contracted red air, and visiting aircraft that fly in for large-scale exercises such as Red Flag, real estate already is at a premium at Nellis, but Simmons said the service doesn't expect to have to increase the ramp space.
"Obviously, at Nellis we're working through that right now, where that space is going to be," he said, noting the military construction projects likely will be funded in the service's fiscal [year] 2021 budget.
The 65th Aggressor Squadron's F-35s, which currently are with a training unit at Eglin Air Force in Florida, may be some of the least capable of the Air Force's roughly 200 F-35s, but they still represent a major upgrade for the service's aggressor force.
"The F-35's ability to play the bad guy will surpass that of any aircraft ever tasked with the mission before," The War Zone editor Tyler Rogoway wrote.
The aircraft is uniquely suited to replicate a wide range of threats with unprecedented high fidelity. I have talked with sources about this in the past and they have noted that the F-35's software alone should be able to be manipulated to replicate the sensor, sensor fusion, electronic warfare and communications capabilities of adversary threats.
In other words, applications could be designed to limit various aspects of the F-35's capabilities—and enhance others synthetically via data-link—to better mirror that of the aircraft it is masquerading as. In addition, it can be equipped with bolt-on radar reflectors that may be able to be manipulated to better replicate certain radar signatures of enemy aircraft, including those that aren't even stealthy at all.
Once the 65th Aggressor Squadron stands up, the Air Force will have three dedicated red-air units. The 64th Aggressor Squadron flies F-16s from Nellis. The 18th Aggressor Squadron and its F-16s are based in Alaska.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have their own adversary squadrons flying F-16s, F/A-18s and F-5s. The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps also contract with civilian companiessuch as Draken for red-air services.
The Air Force isn't waiting for the 65th Aggressor Squadron to form before it sends F-35s to portray enemy planes. For two weeks starting in late April 2019, F-35s from the active-duty 388th Fighter Wing and reserve 419th Fighter Wing played the part of enemy fighters in a wide-ranging war game at Hill that also involved Air Force pilot trainees flying F-16s as well as adversary planes from Draken.
The F-35s alongside F-16s and Draken's own planes played the part of the enemy force. "We flew 100 F-35A missions with 22 aircraft, integrated on 56 F-16 missions and defended vulnerable assets for a 16-hour window," the 388th Fighter Wing stated on social media.
The "blue force" F-16s outnumbered the "red force" F-35s, F-16s and adversaries. "We were severely outnumbered," said Maj. Thomas Meyer, a weapons officer with the 388th Fighter Wing. "We had a five-to-one aggressor ratio and we were tasked with defending a list of assets over an eight-hour tour time block. We had aircraft sitting in alert status to respond to whatever enemy threats were presented."
Maj. Benjamin Walters, an F-16 instructor pilot, praised the F-35 pilots playing red air. "These guys are getting really good at flying the F-35 and they can present some aggressive situations that force young pilots into errors," Walters said.
This article originally appeared on The National Interest.
More from The National Interest:
- NATO Fears Russia Jamming Its GPS Systems in a War. They Might Have a Solution
- The Story of Why Russia Suddenly Scrambled Half Of Its Stealth Fighters
- This U.S. Ally Almost Built Its Very Own Mach 3 'SR-71' Spyplane
WATCH NEXT: An F-35 Fires 5 Paveway IVs At The Same Time
At least one Air Force base is on the lookout for a sinister new threat: angry men who can't get laid.
Personnel at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland were recently treated to a threat brief regarding an "increase in nationwide activity" by self-described "incels," members of an online subculture of "involuntary celibacy" who adopt an ideology of misogyny, mistrust of women, and violence in response to their failed attempts at romantic relationships.
The brief was first made public via a screenshot posted to the popular Air Force amn/nco/snco Facebook page on Tuesday. An Air Force spokesman confirmed the authenticity of the screenshot to Task & Purpose.
"The screenshot was taken from a Joint Base Andrews Intel brief created following basic threat analysis on an increase in nationwide activity by the group," 11th Wing spokesman Aletha Frost told Task & Purpose in an email.
A Navy installation blasted 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at high volume for 3 days straight, scaring the crap out of its neighbors
From Long Beach to Huntington Beach, residents were greeted Saturday, June 15, at precisely 8 a.m. with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Then 12 hours later, the "Retreat" bugle call bellowed throughout Seal Beach and beyond.
At first, people wondered if the booming sound paid tribute to Flag Day, June 14. Seal Beach neighbors bordering Los Alamitos assumed the music was coming from the nearby Joint Forces Training Base.
But then it happened again Sunday. And Monday. Folks took to the Nextdoor social media app seeking an answer to the mystery.
Key witness says Eddie Gallagher stabbed wounded ISIS fighter in the neck but does not remember specifics
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — The main thing to remember about Navy SEAL Chief Craig Miller's testimony on Wednesday is that he didn't seem to remember a lot.
Miller, considered a key witness in the trial of Chief Eddie Gallagher, testified that he saw his former platoon chief stab the wounded ISIS fighter but was unable to recall a number of details surrounding that event. Gallagher is accused of murdering the wounded fighter and separately firing on innocent civilians during a deployment to Mosul, Iraq in 2017. He has pleaded not guilty.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — An enlisted Navy SEAL sniper testified on Wednesday that Chief Eddie Gallagher told his platoon prior to their deployment that if they ever captured a wounded fighter, their medics knew "what to do to nurse them to death."
In early morning testimony, former Special Operator 1st Class Dylan Dille told a packed courtroom that he had heard the phrase during unit training before the men of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon deployed to Mosul, Iraq in 2017.
Navy SEAL under investigation for allegedly manipulating (and hitting on) the widow of the Green Beret he helped kill
A Navy SEAL sentenced to one year in prison for the death of Army Special Forces Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar is under investigation for allegedly flirting with Melgar's widow while using a false name and trying to persuade her that he and another SEAL accused of killing her husband were "really good guys," according to the Washington Post.