Military Capabilities

US Air Force to reactivate F-35 training aggressor squadron

10 May 2019

The USAF is reactivating an aggressor squadron that will have Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters to improve fifth-generation fighter aircraft training. Source: USAF

Key Points

  • The USAF is reactivating an F-35 aggressor squadron to help improve pilot skills in fifth-generation aircraft
  • They will fly missions including electronically simulated surface-to-air (SAM) missiles and anti-aircraft artillery

The US Air Force (USAF) is reactivating the 65th Aggressor Squadron and moving 11 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II conventional variant aircraft to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada as part of a larger initiative to improve fifth-generation fighter aircraft training.

General Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command (ACC) chief, had suggested improving training for fifth-generation fighter tactics development and close-air support (CAS) by adding F-35s to complement the fourth-generation aircraft currently being used, according to a service statement. To support this requirement, the air force created a fifth-generation aggressor squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, the 65th Aggressor Squadron, and will move nine non-combat capable F-35As from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to the squadron.

USAF Secretary Heather Wilson, in a statement, said that this will allow the air force to repurpose early production F-35s to help train airmen for the high-end fight.

USAF spokesperson Robert Leese said on 10 May that the aircraft that will be re-purposed are not combat capable because the low-rate initial production (LRIP) F-35As did not have all of the capabilities found in the current F-35As, including gun capability. He said it would be cost-prohibitive to retrofit early production aircraft to make them fully combat capable.

Leese noted that the 65th Aggressor Squadron will consist of 11 F-35As while the other aggressor squadron on the base has Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons. The two squadrons will complement each other, he said.

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