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New aggressor units expand training capabilities

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Nov. 17, 2006) -- Unit changes at Nellis and Eielson Air Force bases have resulted in two wings that, together, create better opportunities for Air Force pilots to train for combat against potential adversaries.

In January, the 65th Aggressor Squadron was reactivated under the 57th Adversary Tactics Group at Nellis AFB, Nevada. The 65th AGRS, an F-15 Eagle unit, is a sister squadron to the existing 64th AGRS, an F-16 Fighting Falcon unit.

About 2,300 miles north of Nellis, at Eielson AFB, Alaska, the 354th Operations Group is also adding an aggressor squadron. There, the 18th Fighter Squadron is preparing to swap its current fleet of Block-40 F-16 Fighting Falcons for the Block-30 version. In October 2007, the unit will change its name to the 18th AGRS.

An aggressor squadron such as the 65th AGRS acts as a training aid for other military pilots. Aggressor squadron aircraft are flown by pilots specially trained to act as enemy aircraft during air combat exercises. While Air Force aggressor pilots fly aircraft such as the F-16 and the F-15, during exercises they fly as though they are in adversary aircraft, and they only use aircraft capabilities that would be available to enemy pilots.

The most visible use of that training comes during exercises called "Red Flag - Nellis" and "Red Flag - Alaska." In those exercises, "friendly" blue forces -- the participating units -- fly against "hostile" red forces -- the aggressor squadrons -- in mock combat situations. In the past, only Nellis hosted Red Flag exercises.

With two Air Force bases now hosting the exercises, there are more opportunities for mission-ready pilots to test their combat mettle in lifelike air-to-air scenarios. And though the two Red Flag exercises are held in different parts of the country, they both provide the same level of training to pilots who attend, said Brig. Gen. David J. Scott, commander of the 354th Fighter Wing at Eielson.

"They're not going to be identical, they're not going to be perfectly the same -- what they're going to be is complementary and compatible," he said. "And what we mean by that is you can go to either one of them and get the full spectrum. If a Spangdahlem (pilot) shows up at Nellis or at Eielson, it won't matter. The T-shirt may be a different color, but it will be the same training."

The full spectrum of training includes more than just training against enemy aircraft. The 527th and 26th Space Aggressor Squadrons at Schriever AFB, Colo., replicate enemy threats to space-based systems while the 177th Information Aggressor Squadron at McConnell AFB, Kan., replicates hostile threats to information systems. These units round out the 57th ATG's ability to present a complete array of threats to friendly forces -- air, ground, space and cyberspace.

In December, the group's 507th Combat Training Squadron will become the 507th Air Defense Aggressor Squadron. The redesignated squadron will focus on operating ground-based elements of an "enemy" integrated air defense system including early warning, ground-controlled intercept and acquisition radars, and surface-to-air missile systems.

While Eielson will not be adding similar squadrons to its 354th OG, the units will be shared between both Red Flag - Nellis and Red Flag - Alaska, adding new dimensions to the exercise, said Col. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, commander of the 57th ATG.

"What we are trying to do is put all our adversary forces under one umbrella -- to get the synergy of having multi-discipline folks together in one effort -- so when we present a threat we don't present it in one dimension, but in an integrated fashion," he said. "We'll have our surface-to-air threat, our air threat, the information operations side, (the) advanced electronic warfare issues, and even our space aggressors, to try to present what we call the complete enemy target set."

Red Flag exercises are attended by pilots and ground crews alike. And with the addition of Red Flag - Alaska, there are now more opportunities for pilots and ground crews to train. Air Force, Navy, and allied air forces participate in the exercises.

Everybody who attends a Red Flag will now be challenged by the variety of new capabilities that have been included with the addition of the new types of aggressor units. But the primary goal of Red Flag remains the same -- to ensure that mission-ready pilots are made as sharp as possible in a controlled, safe environment, before they are sent out to fight America's real-world battles, General Scott said.

"If you look back through history, during the first 10 sorties in a war, if (pilots) hadn't had any training, that's when they suffered the highest losses," he said. "What we want to do is get the young wingman across very intense-type scenarios so he already has those in his hip pocket. So when he does go to Iraq, Afghanistan or wherever we send him, he has that and has already lived under those kinds of high-intensity, stressful situations."