US unveils F-35 to represent China's planes in training

F-35 Aggressor USA China

The US Air Force (USAF) unveiled on Thursday (09) its first F-35 stealth fighter to be used as an aggressor aircraft. The aircraft will be operated by the re-established 65th Aggressor Squadron, where it will represent China's advanced aircraft such as the J-20. 

The unit's reactivation ceremony, held at Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada), was attended by the plane, an F-35 from the first batches and without combat capabilities. The fighter received a painting with shades of light and dark gray, already adapted with radar absorbing coatings (RAM). 

The 65th AGRS flew the F-15 Eagle from 2005 until its decommissioning in 2014, but now it returns with a specific mission: to replicate the advanced airpower capabilities emerging from China, flying exclusively the F-35As. 

Photo: Airman 1st Class Josey Blades/USAF.

“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC [People's Republic of China] fifth and sixth generation fighter development, we must use a portion of our fifth generation daily aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson and now Nellis, replicate the fifth-generation adversarial capabilities”, said Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mark Kelly. “Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we replicate a fifth-generation adversary, it must be done professionally. These are the aggressors.”

According to The War Zone, the squadron will be outfitted with early-production F-35s, including the one unveiled on Thursday. The aircraft in question was initially delivered to the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, also from Nellis, in 2013. 

“There is discussion about taking F-35s and putting them in an aggressor unit, but the fact is we have some older F-35s that will never be put into combat – let's take those assets, lower some of their capability and make them a perfect representation of Chinese threats,” explained Colonel Scott Mills, Commander of the 57th Operations Group. 

“Nellis has reached a tipping point. We are focusing on edge threats, edge missions”, says the officer. 

“The attackers themselves represent a huge conglomeration of subject matter experts, who focus primarily on Russia and China. The 65th will focus on China, and we're talking about doctrine, their training and their capabilities, so that when [the 65th AGRS is] flying, we're really modeling the pace challenge as closely as possible. Using the F-35 as an aggressor allows pilots to train against barely observable [stealth] threats similar to what adversaries are developing.”

The aggressor aircraft program (or adversaries as they are called in the Navy) began in the 1970s to provide pilots with the opportunity to train against a US aggressor force that replicated advanced and reliable adversary tactics. Since then, adversary capabilities have improved significantly, as has the need to replicate these threats.

USAF USA Aggressor Russia China
F-16 and F-15 fighters from the 64th and 65th AAGRS flying together. Photo: Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald/USAF.

The F-35s will be deployed in major Air Force Combat exercises, US Air Force Weapons School missions (the Navy's TOP GUN equivalent), joint exercises such as Red Flag, and operational test and evaluation events that are held only at Nellis Air Force Base and Nevada Test and Training Range.


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Gabriel Centeno

Author Gabriel Centeno

Journalism student at UFRGS, spotter and military aviation enthusiast.

Categories: Military, News, News

Tags: Aggressor, China, USA, F-35, usaexport