USAF Reactivating 65th Aggressor Squadron
IndraStra Open Journal Systems
IndraStra Global

USAF Reactivating 65th Aggressor Squadron

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: A rendering published by the 57th Wing commander on his FB page shows an F-35A in China's J-20 livery. The markings are those of the 64th AGRS though.

Image Attribute: A rendering published by the 57th Wing commander on his FB page shows an F-35A in China's J-20 livery. The markings are those of the 64th AGRS though.  

On May 9, 2019, the United States Air Force (USAF) announced the reactivation the 65th Aggressor Squadron and moving 11 F-35A Lightning IIs to Nellis Air Force Base (Nellis AFB), Nevada, as part of "a larger initiative to improve training for 5th generation fighter aircraft."

In addition, the USAF also revealed that Eglin Air Force Base (Eglin AFB) in Florida is the preferred alternative to receive a second F-35A Lighting II training squadron. Kindly do note, Eglin AFB will only receive the additional F-35 training unit if the F-22 Raptor formal training unit temporarily operating at Eglin AFB is permanently moved to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

The "decision to reactivate 65th Aggressor Squadron" came after Gen. James M. "Mike" Holmes, Air Combat Command (ACC) commander, recommended improving training for 5th generation fighter tactics development and close-air support by adding F-35s to complement the 4th generation aircraft currently.

To support this requirement, the USAF decided to create a 5th generation aggressor squadron at Nellis AFB and move nine non-combat capable F-35A aircraft from Eglin AFB, Florida, to the squadron.

“This move will allow us to repurpose early production F-35s to help train Airmen for the high-end fight,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. The primary reason to use an old inventory of F-35A is to allow the USAF to copy the tactics of Russian and Chinese squadrons respectively flying Su-57 and J-20 stealth fighters.

“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s,” said USAF Chief of Staff Gen. David Lee “Fingers” Goldfein. “They provide a dose of realism in air exercises and their training value is crucial. These F-35 aggressor aircraft will keep us ahead of adversaries for years to come.”

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. No tentative date announced for the unit's reactivation. 

The USAF 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 reactivation of the 65th Aggressor Squadron and the addition of aircraft to the tactical air support squadron will add approximately 194 additional military personnel and 37 contractors to the base.

As part of the strategic basing process, "the USAF determined Nellis AFB was uniquely suited to support the requirements of these missions because it hosts large Combat Air Forces exercises, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Weapons Instructor Courses, a test and evaluation squadron, and a close air support integration group."

The USAF will make its final basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.

History of 65th Aggressor Squadron

Image Attribute: A file photo of F-15E with Sukhoi-27 "Flankers" Livery / Source: Wikipedia

Image Attribute: A file photo of F-15E with Sukhoi-27 "Flankers" Livery / Source: Wikipedia

The Aggressor program began in the fall of 1972 with the activation of the 64th Aggressor Squadron. This program started as a direct result of the high air combat loss rate experienced in the Vietnam War. A professional adversary force conducting a program of intense dissimilar air combat training was identified as the best means to reverse this result. This new training replaced pilots flying the same type aircraft in mock combat at their home bases with Aggressor pilots and controllers flying and employing tactics that emulated the former Soviet Union and other potential adversaries. 

Over the years the Aggressor Squadrons have flown the T-38, F-5, F-15 and F-16 aircraft. As a result of defense budget cuts, the 65th Aggressor Squadron was deactivated in September 2014 and at that time it was the part of 57th Adversary Tactics Group at Nellis AFB. At that time of deactivation, the squadron was operating F-15s aircraft, providing a realistic, threat-representative, contested environment for US and coalition combat units to train against. F-15s were later reassigned to various Air National Guard bases.