Our Military Aggressor Aircraft Scrapbook
The United States operates a number of military aviation aggressor squadrons. Branches that have aviation units dedicated as adversarial training assets include the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. There are a number of private contractors which are beginning to operate as training assets too. A wide range of aircraft are used to simulate the possible adversaries during a future combat situation. Not only is the dissimilar performance of diverse aircraft models used as a teaching tool, but different and unique electronic equipment can be carried and utilized as a teaching tool, as well as specially trained aggressor pilots and camouflaged aircraft.
Original aggressor operations can be traced back to World War II, when captured aircraft were test flown by U.S. pilots to understand the capabilities of hardware. Some Nazi aircraft that were captured still exist today in U.S. museums. A Soviet MiG-15 was flown to a U.S. base during the Korean War by a defector; one of the pilots who test flew the MiG was none other than Check Yeager! Sometimes the captured aircraft were flown against seasoned U.S. pilots to learn how to counter the foreign threat.
By the initial stages of the Vietnam War, The USAF began to develop an adversarial training plan. In 1972, the 64th Fighter Weapons Squadron stood up at Nellis AFB, and soon Red Flag exercises, complete with specially-trained pilots who flew the Northrop T-38 trainers and F-5 fighters simulating early Soviet MiGs were launched. Today, The Air Force operates Aggressor Squadrons from Nellis AFB and Eielson AFB, utilizing F-16 Fighting Falcons. After the F-5E/F years, both F-16 and F-15 Eagle Aggressor squadrons were operated.
In 1969, the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School – otherwise known as “Top Gun” – began operating Douglas A-4 Skyhawks in the adversary role. Soon, Northrop F-5s were mixed in, and later purpose-built F-16N jets were operated. The Marines have operated the F-5 for a number of years now; the Navy has new batches of F-5s and F-16Ns.
Also, dedicated Navy F/A-18 Hornets, operated by Navy Reserve Squadrons, are utilized. Even F-14 Tomcats were sometimes used to simulate certain Soviet hardware.
Over time, a number of other military aircraft were utilized as aggressors, such as the Martin EB-57 Canberras, LTV EA-7L Corsair IIs, Douglas ERA-3B Skywarriors, and even imported F-21 Kfir fighters.
Other military operators of aggressor jets included Canada, with CF-100, CC-117 Falcon jets, CE-133 Silver Stars (the Canadair-built T-33) and CE-144 Challenger jets.
A number of civilian operators utilize various retired military aircraft and civilian transports. They offer contractor- provided training by civilian pilots, many of whom have previous military flight experience. Some North American companies are long-established, and others are up and coming adversaries, including:
Draken International – Denel Cheetah (ex- South African AF), Mirage F1M (ex-Spanish AF), A-4K Skyhawk (ex-New Zealand AF), MB-329, Aero L-159E Honey Badger and L-39 Albatross, and Mi9G-21bis jets.
Textron Airborne Solutions (formerly ATAC) – Hawker Hunter F.58A (ex-Swiss AF), F-21 Kfir (ex-Israeli AF), L-39 Albatross, Mirage F1M (ex- French AF).
Tacair F-5AT (ex- Jordanian AF), CF-5D, Embraer A-27, SIAI-Marchetti SP-260TP.
Top Aces – Dornier Alpha Jet (ex-Luftwaffe), Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (ex- Israeli AF), Lockheed F-16A, Lear 35A, A-4 Skyhawk).
Air USA – Aero L-59 and L-39, Dornier Alpha Jet, BAe Hawk.
Phoenix Air – Lear-35, Gulfstream I.
Other solutions for aggressor aircraft include Northrop T-38A Talons being used by the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley AFB in Virginia. The all-black painted trainers tangle with F-22s in a dissimilar air combat role.
Future plans for the newest aggressor forces include Naval Reserve Squadron operating F/A-18E Super Hornets and a Nellis AFB-based squadron operating F-35 Lightning IIs (some of the earliest delivered airframes).
Here are some photos of various types and color schemes of aggressor aircraft used in the past and present:
Douglas A-4 Skyhawks
Northrop F-5/T-38 Aggressors
McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle Aggressors
Lockheed Martin F-16 Aggressors
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Aggressors
Miscellaneous Aggressor Aircraft