Currently the Reserve Tactical Support Wing of the Navy Air Reserve uses a fleet of 31 F-5 Tiger II and 27 F/A-18 Hornet fighters as adversary aircraft.
As reported by Alert5, Vice Adm. John Mustin, chief of Navy Reserve, disclosed in a statement submitted to the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee that VFC-12 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia, will being its transition to the Super Hornet Block 1 this year.
“Due to the extremely high projected cost per flight hour (+$44,000) of these ‘Legacy Hornets,’ the Navy is accelerating divestment from the F/A-18A-D aircraft,” the admiral said. “VFC-12’s transition from the F/A-18A-D Hornet to the Block I FA-18E/F Super Hornet in [fiscal 2021] is the first step towards accelerating Legacy Hornet divestment.”
Moreover, as there are not enough Block 1 Super Hornets, the service is hoping to replace legacy Hornets with used Air Force and Air National Guard F-16s to recapitalize its adversary fleet. VFA-204 at NAS Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana is the other unit that is using the legacy Hornet for adversary training.
Mustin also said in an extensive piece appeared on Sea Power Magazine that he hopes that new capabilities such as Infrared Search and Track systems and an Adversary data link known as RedNet can be installed on the adversary fleet.
Currently the Reserve Tactical Support Wing of the Navy Air Reserve provides the fleet with adversary services to train crews in aerial combat between dissimilar aircraft and does so using a fleet of 31 F-5 Tiger II and 27 F/A-18 Hornet fighters.
“The Reserve Tactical Support Wing (TSW) maintains 31 F-5N/F aircraft to provide low-to-mid level threat replication,” Mustin said.
The F-5Ns are refurbished F-5Es procured from the Swiss Air Force, and the F-5Fs are two-seat versions procured from the manufacturer and later refurbished. These aircraft are flown by two squadrons, VFC-13 at NAS Fallon, Nevada, and VFC-111 at NAS Key West, Florida. In order to increase the number of adversary aircraft, the Navy purchased a further 11 F-5E/F aircraft from Switzerland in fiscal 2020.
“Prior to delivery, these aircraft will receive modern avionics and an airframe reconfiguration to match the current active Navy airframe configuration,” Mustin said. “These 11 aircraft will deliver to TSW squadrons from 2022-2025 as F-5N+/F+, increasing both capacity and capability.”
Despite plans to ‘sundown’ the F-5 in 2015, the Navy is now looking at ways to keep them relevant for modern training, and to extend them out past 2030.
The Tiger II in fact is ideal for the adversary role; cheap to operate, simple to maintain with no complex systems. However, the aircraft in its current state only realistically offers MiG-21 ‘Fishbed’ threat replication and desperately needs to be modernised to offer credible modern-day opposition.
Photo credit: Jose M. Ramos / Draken International via U.S. Navy