Old F-35s Won't Be Turned Into 'Enemy' F-35s For Training Purposes (For Now)

David Axe

Federal lawmakers have delayed the U.S. Air Force’s plan to establish an aggressor unit flying early-model F-35 stealth fighters. Aggressors portray the enemy in aerial war games.

“The draft 2020 defense policy bill prohibits the Air Force from transferring any low-rate initial production F-35s to the adversary air role until the chief of staff submits a report to Congress detailing the service’s plan for modernizing its organic aggressor fleet,” Amy McCullough reported at Air Force Magazine.

The Air Force still could get its stealthy aggressors, but Air Force chief of staff Gen. David Goldfein first must submit a report to lawmakers.

The law requires the report to detail “potential locations for F-35 aggressors, including an analysis of installations that have the size and availability of air space necessary to meet flying operations requirements; 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.”

In addition, Congress requires Goldfein to lay out the Air Force’s vision for its existing aggressor force, which includes two squadrons that fly F-16s.

Representatives are interested in the Air Force’s plans for “upgrading aircraft radar, infrared search-and-track systems, radar warning receiver, tactical data-link, threat-representation jamming pods and other upgrades necessary to provide a realistic advanced adversary threat.”

The Air Force in May 2019 announced it would re-establish a defunct F-15 aggressor squadron to operate the roleplaying F-35s. The service in 2014 shuttered the 65th Aggressor Squadron as a cost-saving measure.

The 65th Aggressor Squadron in its new form would operate nine early-model F-35A stealth fighters that the Air Force considers unsuitable for combat. The “red air” F-35s would help the Air Force to copy the tactics of Russian and Chinese squadrons respectively flying Su-57 and J-20 stealth fighters.

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