Military Capabilities

US temporarily bans US Air Force F-35A LRIP aircraft use in aggressor training

31 December 2019

US lawmakers want a plan from the US Air Force before the service is allowed to use low rate initial production F-35A aircraft in aggressor training. Source: US Air Force

Key Points

  • New legislation temporarily prevents the US Air Force from using LRIP F-35A aircraft as aggressor aircraft
  • The service wants to use them to accurately replicate fifth-generation threats that it will see from Chinese and Russian fighters

The US has temporarily halted the US Air Force's (USAF) plan to use Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) conventional variant low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft for aggressor squad training until the service provides further details to Congress.

The fiscal year 2020 (FY 2020) National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed into law on 20 December, said the service cannot use these aircraft for aggressor squad training until the chief of staff, currently General David Goldfein, submits to lawmakers a comprehensive plan and report on the strategy for modernising its organic aggressor fleet.

This plan must include: potential locations for F-35A aggressor aircraft, including analysis of installations that have the size and availability of airspace necessary to meet flying operations requirements. It must also analyse installations that have sufficient capacity and availability of range space, are capable of hosting advanced threat training exercises, and meet or require minimal addition to the environmental requirements associated with the basing action.

The report must also examine the potential cost and benefits of expanding aggressor squadrons currently operating 18 primary assigned aircraft (PAA) to a level of 24 aircraft. Congress also wants an analysis of the cost and timelines associated with modernising the current USAF aggressor squadrons to include upgrading aircraft radar, infrared search and track (IRST) systems, radar warning receiver, tactical datalink, threat-representative jamming pods, and other upgrades necessary to provide a realistic advanced adversary threat.

Congress supports the USAF having access to an advanced adversary force prior to foreign powers such as China and Russia fielding a fifth-generation operational capability.

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