Military Aviation

At Red Flag 21-3 F-35 Aggressor Pilots are making already daunting training scenarios more difficult to successfully overcome

‘My job is to give blue the absolute toughest day that I can. And the way for me to do that is to bring the F-35 into the fight,’ Col. Scott Mills, F-35 aggressor pilot.

During Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada, blue air participants will for the first time go head-to-head with F-35 Lightning II aggressor pilots, making already daunting training scenarios all that more difficult to successfully overcome.

As reported by Christie Vanover, 57th Wing Public Affairs, in the article Nellis AFB aggressors, F-35 pilots ‘punish’ blue air to develop unstoppable force, Lt. Col. Chris Finkenstadt, 64th Aggressor Squadron commander, said F-35s are being introduced this Red Flag to expand upon the F-16 Fighting Falcon aggressors’ threat capabilities. He said this changes the scenario so it more accurately represents advanced enemy fighters.

While F-35s have augmented aggressors in previous Red Flag exercises, they have not been manned by dedicated aggressor pilots.

“What aggressors are able to present to them is a more challenging problem for blue air assault,” he said. “The aggressors know the threat replication a little bit better, and they have studied the adversary and the way that the adversary would actually react to a specific situation. Based on our focus toward great power competition, we need to make sure that those guys are ready, and we do that by presenting the best possible atmosphere we can.”

Col. Scott Mills, 57th Operations Group commander and an F-35 aggressor pilot, said the addition of the F-35 will showcase what blue can do against low-observable type threats similar to what adversaries are developing.

“At the end of the day, my job is not to give blue an easy day. My job is to give blue the absolute toughest day that I can. And the way for me to do that is to bring the F-35 into the fight. And the F-35 is going to make it exceptionally difficult for blue to achieve their objectives. They’re going to need to take every bit of capability they have, every bit of integration they can, to achieve their intent,” Mills said.

During the initial sorties, there are a lot of red air victories. Blue air pilots go up preparing for a one-to-two-hour fight, but because of a tactical mistake, red air capitalizes on that error and sends them back quickly.

“It’s a defeating call hearing your call sign and dead,” Mills said.

As a former blue air pilot who lost to previous aggressors, he said the debrief after each mission is invaluable, because that’s when pilots re-attack their mission planning. They look at how they reacted, what the threat was, what they didn’t see and what they didn’t do.

“The first two days, blue’s nose gets pretty bloodied. And then by the end of week one, you start to see their lessons learned are getting passed around and they’re starting to figure things out a little bit,” Finkenstadt said. “Then, day one or two of week two, they may get their nose bloodied again, because we tend to ramp it up a little bit. It usually takes a couple of days to start figuring out different game plans and how they want to package their forces to solve their problems.”

As already reported, the US Air Force (USAF) is reactivating the 65th Aggressor Squadron and moving 11 F-35A Lightning IIs to Nellis AFB, as part of a larger initiative to improve training for fifth generation fighter aircraft.

The action came after Gen. Mike Holmes, former Air Combat Command commander, recommended improving training for fifth generation fighter tactics development and close-air support by adding F-35s to complement the fourth generation aircraft currently being used.

To support this requirement, the USAF decided to create a fifth generation aggressor squadron at Nellis AFB and move nine non-combat capable F-35A aircraft from Eglin AFB, Florida, to the squadron. Aircraft transferring from Eglin AFB to Nellis AFB will not occur until newly produced aircraft arrive at Eglin AFB to replace them. New aircraft are planned to arrive at Nellis AFB beginning in early 2022.

The 65th AS, which previously flew F-15 Eagle aircraft, was inactivated in September 2014.

This print is available in multiple sizes from – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-35A Lightning II 56th OG, 61st FS, LF/12-5050 / 2014

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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