Nellis aggressors — bad guys on the rise

Photo: Jamie Hunter


As the temperature hits 30-degrees, four pilots step into the searing heat of a bright Nevada morning, quickly slapping on their sunglasses for protection from the glare. Greeted with a sharp salute from each of their crew chiefs, these ‘Viper’ masters quickly inspect their mounts before climbing aboard.

As they strap in, their respective flying helmets — perched carefully on the cockpit sill — reveal that each visor cover carries an unmistakable red star and Cyrillic writing. For these crack aviators, today’s intent is the same as any other — to prepare their opponents for what they might expect from a highly-capable opponent in the air.

The 64th Aggressor Squadron is one of just two dedicated ‘red air’ units in the US Air Force that specialize in replicating adversary aircraft types such as the MiG-29. However, this community of ‘bad guys’ is growing and big changes are on the radar scope.

Lt Col Zach ‘EASI’ Manning is the current commander of the 64th AGRS. ‘From a Nellis perspective, we have very high demand for our services,’ he says. ‘Everybody [in the USAF] wants professional adversaries. Take a look at our Weapons School syllabus and our aircraft — as we start adding fifth-gen capabilities — they need more adversaries to really challenge their systems.’

Brig Gen Rob Novotny is a Weapons School graduate and the current commander of the 57th Wing. Under direct instruction from chief of staff Gen David Goldfein, Novotny has become a champion of the value of the aggressors and has charged them with spearheading the effort to get each and every Combat Air Force (CAF) unit where it needs to be.

The advent of fifth-generation fighters — the F-22 and F-35 — has radically transformed the aggressor world. Novotny says: ‘Then you have an animal like the F-22 or the F-35; it will go to an all-you-can-eat buffet and you can’t feed it enough! One of those will ‘kill’ all nine of those guys. We’ve got to give them three-to-one opposition just to get their heart rate up. So, to make everyone more lethal, we had to work as hard as we could to fly more aggressors and advocate for modernization where possible, to make the aggressors tougher.’

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The new ‘Ghost’ F-16C takes off from Nellis AFM on May 23. USAF/SSgt Tabatha McCarthy

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