Who Exactly Was The Bad Guy In ‘Top Gun’?

Entertainment

In 1986, Top Gun flew into theaters — and into our hearts. Sure, Tony Scott's military rom-com opus didn't wow critics and moviegoers when it first premiered, but it quickly became one of America's favorite military classics. I mean, Top Gun has everything. Tom Cruise! F-14 Tomcats! Angry, cigar-smoking staff officers! Sweet motorcycles! Volleyball!


But despite the film's glory, there's one element of Top Gun that's been the cause of angry yelling much debate in the Task & Purpose office in recent days: just who, exactly, are those ballsy Navy aviators supposed to be fighting?

While the film leaves the identity of the antagonists intentionally vague, a combination of dialogue, markings, and behind-the-scenes trivia from the producers and screenwriters provide we can give a good guess at who this mystery enemy is.

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Let's break it down. The enemy planes encountered by Cruise in the closing act of the film are actually F-5E Tiger IIs of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, the lightweight aircraft used as aggressor aircraft during exercises in the 1980s (the aggressor aircraft Tom Cruise kills below the hard deck in the film was, in fact, a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk).

The MiG-28 moniker reportedly evolved from a pile of script rewrites, likely a slight nod to the then-secretive MiG-29 Fulcrum. But it's worth noting that in one draft of the script by Chip Proser, the enemy fighters are MiG-21s, an aircraft that has existed since the late 1950s. This suggests that early drafts of the script were in the works well before the 1986 release. Interestingly enough, F-14s did engage MiG-21s in air-to-air engagements — but they were Iranian F-14's squaring off against Iraqi MiG-21's.

Based on the timing the of the script-writing process and Top Gun's actual release, the go-to assumption is that the MiG-28 is a Soviet fighter. However, the markings on the fictional MiG-28 aren't Soviet. The MiG-28 in the film has a single red star surrounded by a yellow circle on their tail as their only marking, while Soviet aircraft traditionally had a white trim to their red star (just to cover my bases, the North Korean Air Force uses a blue trim). However, one country does, in fact, use yellow trim on their red star insignia: China.

That the enemy was never officially established in Proser's early draft or Jack Epps Jr's final script. This was likely intentional: villainous governments in the movies are routinely left vague as to not piss off their real-world counterparts, with the exception of North Korea, possibly because North Korea doesn't have a strong market for movies or video games. Indeed, the video game "Homeland" and the Red Dawn reboot film, both of which involve a North Korean invasion of the U.S., made course corrections in production to keep from angering the Chinese government.

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Despite the markings, North Korea is still a good guess. Producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson had more than one writer working on the Top Gun script. Along with Proser's draft, Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. were hired to write another draft of the screenplay for the film that initially identified North Korea as the threat that Maverick and Co take on in the thrilling finale. Per Dr. Bob Arnett's research on the topic:

After graduation, Kirsten and Maverick part. The squadron returns to its carrier. A hostage situation with an American ship surrounded by North Koreans develops. Maverick and Wolfman fly into action against North Korean MIGs. Wolfman is killed. Maverick is wounded, but still manages to finish off the remaining MIGs. In the last pages, Maverick appears at Kirsten's gym and tells her he's back to be an instructor at the Top Gun school. Maverick, then, is "restored" to his hero status and to the romance with Kirsten.

After this draft was picked up for the feature film, it was rewritten by legendary script doctor Warren Skarren, who not only added the timeless flipping of the bird in the initial MiG scene but shifted the encounter's setting location of the Indian Ocean. This is a key change, one that eliminates North Korea and China from likely operating in this area due to geographic realities: In the 1980's, China was not operating any aircraft carriers, and as mentioned above the closest sea border to China from the Indian Ocean is in the South China Sea, which is ostensibly part of the West Pacific.

The intentionality of keeping the villain an amorphous combination of three countries is almost ingeniously done by combining impossible geography, mismatched markings, and fictional aircraft. According to one theory, the United States was in the process of cooling things down with North Korea, so the producers didn't want to overtly call the enemy North Korea and ruin Reagan's foreign policy agenda.

However, if we look towards Occam's Razor, which states that the simplest solution is almost always the best one, a very simple answer reveals itself. VFC-13, a U.S. Navy aggressor squadron used a yellow outlined red fill color scheme to imitate potential foes for Top Gun fighter pilots to practice against. It is entirely possible that the production designers simply imitated the scheme and painted it onto the models used to play MiG-28s.

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Yes, Top Gun is not a documentary. But it is honestly a credit to the film's greatness that even the most discerning audiences were able to easily suspend disbelief over details like these. Perhaps taking a fun movie too seriously is the wrong approach — but if we don't hold the production folks in Hollywood liable for their terrible military design choices, no one will.

This article was originally published on April 18, 2018

(Photo: CNN/screenshot)

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — A Navy SEAL sniper on Wednesday contradicted earlier testimony of fellow SEALs who claimed he had fired warning shots to scare away civilian non-combatants before Chief Eddie Gallagher shot them during their 2017 deployment to Mosul, and said he would not want to deploy again with one of the prosecution's star witnesses.

Special Operator 1st Class Joshua Graffam originally invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege before Navy Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh gave him immunity in order to compel his testimony.

Graffam testified that Gallagher was essentially justified in the shooting of a man he is accused of unlawfully targeting, stating that "based off everything i had seen so far ... in my opinion, they were two shitheads moving from one side of the road to the other."

Spotting for Gallagher in the tower that day, Graffam said, he called out the target to him and he fired. He said the man was hit in the upper torso and ran away.

Graffam, who joined the Navy in 2010 and has been assigned to SEAL Team 7's Alpha Platoon since September 2015, deployed alongside Gallagher to Mosul in 2017, occasionally acting as a spotter for Gallagher when the SEALs were tasked with providing sniper support for Iraqi forces from two towers east of the Tigris River.

Another SEAL, Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Dalton Tolbert, had previously testified under direct examination by prosecutors that, while stationed in the south tower of a bombed-out building in June 2017, he had observed Gallagher shoot and kill an elderly civilian.

"He ran north to south across the road," Tolbert testified on Friday. "That's when I saw the red mark on his back and I saw him fall for the first time. Blood started to pool and I knew it was a square hit in the back." Over the radio, he said he heard Gallagher tell the other snipers, "you guys missed him but I got him."

Former SO1 Dylan Dille, who was also in the south tower that day, testified last week that he watched an old man die from a sniper shot on Father's Day. He said the date stuck out in his mind because he thought the man was probably a father.

Later that day, after the mission, Graffam said he spoke with Dille about the shooting and they disagreed about the circumstances. Dille, he said, believed the man was a noncombatant.

"I, on the other hand, was confident that the right shot was taken," Graffam said, although he said later under cross-examination that the man was unarmed. Dille previously testified that the SEALs were authorized to shoot unarmed personnel if they first received signals intelligence or other targeting information.

Photo: Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

Graffam described the man as a male between 40 and 50 years old wearing black clothing, giving him the impression of an ISIS fighter who was moving in a "tactical" manner. He testified that he did not see anything like Dille had described.

Graffam further testified that he didn't see Gallagher take any shots that he shouldn't have on that day or any other.

Although Graffam said he did not hear of allegations that Gallagher had stabbed a wounded ISIS fighter on deployment, he testified that he started to hear rumblings in early 2018. Chief Craig Miller, he said, asked him at one point whether he would "cooperate" with others in reporting him.

When asked whether he would like to serve with Miller again in a SEAL platoon, Graffam said, "I don't feel as confident about it." A member of the jury later asked him why he'd feel uncomfortable deploying with Miller and he responded, "I just wouldn't."

Graffam said he would serve with Gallagher again if given the chance.

Under cross examination by prosecutors, Graffam said he couldn't say whether there were warning shots fired that day, though Dille and Tolbert both said happened. "There were multiple shots throughout the day," Graffam said.

Prosecutors also asked him about his previous statements to NCIS, in which Graffam said of Miller that "he has good character" and was "a good guy." Graffam confirmed he said just that.

Defense attorney Tim Parlatore, however, said those statements were back in January and "a lot had happened since then." Parlatore said Graffam had also said at the time that Gallagher was a good leader.

"That part remains unchanged, correct?" Parlatore asked.

"Yes," Graffam said.

The defense is expected to call more witnesses in the case, which continues on Thursday.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexi Myrick)

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