According to the 57th Wing Public Affairs news release, Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mark Kelly flew his F-15E Strike Eagle against the unit’s first assigned F-35 and newest commander, Lt. Col. Brandon Nauta, immediately prior to the ceremony.
“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC fifth- and sixth-gen fighter development, we must use a portion of our daily fifth-generation aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson, and now Nellis, to replicate adversary fifth-generation capabilities,” Kelly said. “Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we do replicate a fifth-gen adversary, it has to be done professionally. That’s the Aggressors.”
As already reported, US Air Force (USAF) General Kenneth Wilsbach, Commander, Pacific Air Forces, said on Mar. 14, 2022 during a discussion posted on the YouTube channel of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies (see the video below) that US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters have had at least one encounter with Chinese Chengdu J-20 Mighty Dragon stealth fighters, and that the Shaanxi KJ-500 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft has a key role in long-range air-to-air kill chains.
However, as first noted by Flight Global, Wilsbach did not specify when the F-35/J-20 encounter took place, or if there have been more than one.
“It’s a bit early to say what they intend to do with the J-20, so really all we’ve seen it do is air superiority,” he said about the role played by the Mighty Dragon.
“But we notice that they are flying it pretty well. We recently had – I wouldn’t call it an engagement – where we got relatively close to the J-20s along with our F-35s in the East China Sea, and we’re relatively impressed with the command and control associated with the J-20.”
“We’re seeing relatively professional flying and it’s still too early to tell exactly what they intend to do with [the J-20] – whether it’s going to be more like an F-35 that’s capable of doing many, many missions or more like an F-22 that is primarily an air superiority fighter that has an air-to-ground capability.”
In 2019, the then-Air Combat Command commander and Secretary of the Air Force approved the activation to improve training for fifth-generation fighter tactics development, advanced large force training and operational test support. The decision underwent compliance with the National Environmental and Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.
The 65th AGRS was previously active at Nellis from 2005 to 2014. During that time, the unit replicated tactics and techniques of potential adversaries with a fleet of F-15 Eagles. When they inactivated, the 64th AGRS continued the aggressor mission with F-16 Fighting Falcons.
“This significant milestone marks our ability to bring fifth-generation capabilities to the high-end fight, and will allow us to enhance our premier tactics and training with joint, allied and coalition forces,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander.
The aggressor program began in the 1970s to provide pilots the opportunity to train against a US aggressor force that replicated advanced and credible adversary tactics. Since then, the adversary capabilities have improved significantly and so did the need to replicate these threats.
“Using the F-35 as an aggressor allows pilots to train against low-observable threats similar to what adversaries are developing,” said Col. Scott Mills, 57th Operations Group commander.
For the first time during Red Flag-Nellis 21-3, the 57th Operations Group introduced dedicated F-35 aggressors to expand upon the F-16 Fighting Falcon aggressors assigned to the 64th AGRS.
“Working in concert with the 64th Aggressor Squadron, the F-35 aggressors dismantled significant components of the Blue Air game plan and ensured that our combat forces had to work hard for every win,” said Mills.
The F-35s will be employed into large Combat Air Forces exercises, US Air Force Weapons School missions, joint exercises, and operational test and evaluation events that are only conducted at Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test and Training Range.
“Our message to our joint, allied and coalition forces is simple: come to Nellis to fight. The aggressors are ready, and our mission is to ensure you are too,” said Mills.
Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Josey Blades / U.S. Air Force and Alert5 via Wikipedia
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