The U.S. Air Force has been aiming to finish an Adversary Air Capabilities Development Plan by the end of the year–a roadmap to fulfill a service requirement of 90,000 training sorties per year without contractor support by 2030.

During the Red Flag 21-3 exercise at Nellis AFB, Nev. in August, pilots from the 64th Aggressor Squadron flew Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35As as dedicated adversary air training planes for the first time.  The 64th previously had had Lockheed Martin F-16s. The Air Force has also been preparing to re-establish the 65th Aggressor Squadron and equip the latter with F-35As to help provide training to Air Force flight crews on the aerial combat tactics of potential adversaries (Defense Daily, Jan. 5). The service de-activated the 65th Aggressor Squadron in 2014.

In May, 2019, the Air Force announced it would reactivate the 65th Aggressor Squadron with 11 F-35As moving to Nellis–nine from Eglin AFB, Fla. and two from Edwards AFB, Calif.

Nellis is also to receive F-22s from Tyndall AFB, Fla. for aggressor training.

“The Air Force’s current adversary air program includes a mix of F-16 Aggressors, T-38A/Bs, units’ own aircraft used for training, and air support contracts,” according to Military Air Support: DoD Has Increased Its Use of Contracts to Meet Training Requirements, a Dec. 21 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report for the House Armed Services Committee.

“According to an Air Force contracting official, air support contracts are used as a bridge until the Air Force adversary air program develops greater military capabilities to conduct training,” the GAO study said. “The Air Force’s plan shows that the use of air support contracts for adversary air training are expected to phase out in 2030 as the Air Force implements other training options with enhanced capabilities. Specifically, the Air Force plan states that it will replace air support contracts that provide adversary air capacity and bolster existing training capabilities through several lines of effort, including by reactivating formal aggressor squadrons. In addition, the Air Force is exploring options to acquire new manned and unmanned adversary air platforms in the future.”

Both the Air Force and the U.S. Navy have said that live adversary training has been and will be a priority, and both services want to co-develop a future advanced jet trainer at an affordable cost per flying hour to replicate some high-end threats, GAO said.

In October, 2019, the Air Force awarded adversary air and close air support training for Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) contracts potentially worth $6.4 billion to Air USA, Inc.; Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), LLC., a subsidiary of Textron [TXT]; Blue Air Training, LLCCoastal Defense Inc.Draken InternationalTactical Air Support, Inc.; and Top Aces Corp. (Defense Daily, Oct. 21, 2019). Those awards would come under the Combat Air Forces/Contracted Air Support program.

Aircraft provided to the Air Force under those contracts would include Draken International’s L-159E ALCA “Honey Badger” by Aero Vodochody and A-4Ks at Nellis for adversary air training; ATAC’s Mirage F1s by Dassault for adversary air training at Eglin, Luke AFB, Ariz. and Holloman AFB, N.M.; and Top Aces’ F-16s.