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The Air Force Is Using ‘Aggressor’ F-35s to Simulate Fighting China’s J-20

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the Netherlands. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The U.S. Air Force has activated a unit packed with F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets in an attempt to replicate Chinese fifth-generation combat capabilities.

Activated last week, the 65th Aggressor Squadron is designed to put American fighter jets against what they might encounter in the future in the skies of the Indo-Pacific.

The Aggressors 

The Air Force approved the activation of the Aggressors back in 2019. The primary objective of the F-35 unit is to know, teach, and replicate the fight-generation capabilities of adversaries.

That essentially means China and Russia—to a much lesser extent. The former can field the J-20 Mighty Dragon and FC-31 Gyrfalcon while the latter the Su-57 Felon.

“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC fifth- and sixth-gen fighter development, we must use a portion of our daily fifth-generation aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson, and now Nellis, to replicate adversary fifth-generation capabilities. Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we do replicate a fifth-gen adversary, it has to be done professionally. That’s the Aggressors,” General Mark Kelly, the commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command (ACC), said in a press release.

Just before the official ceremony, the general flew an F-15E Strike Eagle against an F-35A in a mock dogfight; Lieutenant Colonel Brandon Nauta, the commanding officer of the Aggressors, flew the F-35A.

“This significant milestone marks our ability to bring fifth-generation capabilities to the high-end fight, and will allow us to enhance our premier tactics and training with joint, allied and coalition forces,” Brigadier General Michael Drowley, the commanding officer of the 57th Wing, said.

“Using the F-35 as an aggressor allows pilots to train against low-observable threats similar to what adversaries are developing. Working in concert with the 64th Aggressor Squadron, the F-35 aggressors dismantled significant components of the Blue Air game plan and ensured that our combat forces had to work hard for every win,” Colonel Scott Mills, the commanding officer of the 57th Operations Group, stated.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

A fifth-generation stealth multi-role fighter jet, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the most advanced aircraft to ever take to the skies.

The stealth fighter jet specializes in six different mission sets: Strategic Attack, Close Air Support, Air Superiority, Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), and Suppression Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) and Destruction Enemy Air Defense (DEAD).

However, what makes it a great aircraft for the battlefield is its ability to use its advanced sensors to fusion intelligence from across the battlefield and feed that intelligence to other aircraft and ground and naval units. In a sense, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the quarterback of the skies.

The U.S. military is considering buying approximately 2,500 F-35 stealth fighter jets of all three types. The F-35A is the conventional take-off variant; the F-35B is the short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) version; and the F-35C is the aircraft carrier variant. The Air Force wants around 1,700 F-35As, the Marine Corps about 350 F-35Bs and 70 F-35Cs, and the Navy 270 F-35Cs.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business InsiderSandboxx, and SOFREP.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.