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Aggressors – coming to Combat Aircraft

Photo: A new matt black aggressor F-16C of the 18th AGRS at Eielson AFB, Alaska. USAF/A1C Isaac Johnson


Aggressors, adversaries, or Red Air, the mission commands several identities but it has one clear goal — replicating enemy forces in realistic aerial combat.

 ‘Know, teach, replicate’, the mantra of the aggressor community — designed to expose front line fighter aircrews to the kind of threats they are most likely to encounter in actual combat.

US military aggressor programs date back to the early 1970s as the US Air Force and Navy realized that its pilots had struggled to match North Vietnamese MiGs during the conflict in South-East Asia. The need for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) became a clear requirement, above and beyond fighting their squadron mates during daily skirmishes. There was a clear need to pit their wits against different types with mismatched performance characteristics. The aim being to give regular squadron pilots a taste of what they could realistically expect in real combat— fighting an opponent that provided an effective approximation of what it would be like in a shooting war.

The USAF in particular plunged into the world of Foreign Material Exploitation (FME) to understand the mindset, the tactics and the capabilities of foreign adversaries. The 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron stood up at Nellis AFB, Nevada, in 1972, equipped with T-38s initially and then with F-5Es. It became a highly sought after training unit that helped pave the way for the famous ‘Red Flag’ exercises, that have run since 1975.

The Navy too stood up Top Gun, which shared many of the same values. Even today, the Naval Fighter Weapons School, as it is more formally known, continues to major on the complex, high-end, air-to-air fight.


In the new September issue of Combat Aircraft, we present a 36-page supplement dedicated to the range of aggressors that fly around the world.

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