Military Aviation

The F-35A Lightning II is playing the role of Aggressor at Red Flag for the First Time

With both F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs flying as adversaries (with the latter playing this role for the very first time), Red Flag 21-3 strives to create a greater challenge for the Joint Force.

Currently underway at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), exercise Red Flag 21-3 includes an expanded airspace, an advanced surface-to-air threat and cutting-edge air-to-air threats. As explained by Tech. Sgt. Robert Hicks , Joint Base Langley-Eustis, in the article Joint force trains against stronger Red Flag threat, with both F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs flying as adversaries (with the latter playing this role at Red Flag for the very first time), this exercise strives to create a greater challenge for the Joint Force.

“Training in this environment is very beneficial for our team,” said Lt. Col. Evan Parr, 27th Fighter Squadron director of operations. “When we train at home, we fight a mix of F-22s and T-38 Talons as our adversaries. Here, we get to train against multiple high-end threats teamed with the F-16s from the 64th Aggressor Squadron whose primary mission is to study our adversaries’ maneuvers and techniques and use them against us.”

The 64th AGRS Airmen go through a lengthy certification process where they gain a comprehensive understanding of US adversaries and their tactics. This preparation ensures each aggressor can provide a challenging, yet realistic, threat to maximize joint force training.

“We’re subject matter experts when it comes to our enemy air forces,” said Lt. Col. Chris Finkenstadt, commander, 64th AGRS. “Based on our focus toward great power competition, we need to make sure that blue air is ready, and we do that by presenting the best possible atmosphere we can.”

Alongside the 64th AGRS, the 414th Combat Training Squadron makes air-to-ground employment more challenging with complex target areas and camouflage and concealment techniques across multiple spectrums.

“Red Flag’s goal is to challenge, disrupt and if able, deny our communication and interoperability,” Parr said. “They force errors and punish mistakes. We get better by working through these problems in the air and as we debrief each fight.”

Noteworthy, the use of the F-35 as aggressor maybe the first step toward the reactivation of the 65th AGRS.

As already explained in fact, the US Air Force (USAF) is reactivating the 65th AGRS and moving 11 F-35A Lightning IIs to Nellis 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 Air Force will also assign two F-35A aircraft from Edwards AFB, California, to Nellis AFB to join the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron. The 24th TASS is an F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron whose primary function is supporting and performing close-air support training. Introducing the F-35As from Edwards AFB will allow additional training for the F-35As as close-air support assets.

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: 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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