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Aggressor squadrons feel the pinch of DoD cuts

Ongoing Department of Defense (DoD) defence cuts are impacting on the ability of the Aggressor units to deliver up-to-date training to US Air Force (USAF) and allied squadrons, a senior officer told IHS Jane's in early March.

Speaking at the 'Red Flag 14-2' exercise at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB) in Nevada, commander of the 57th Adversary Tactics Support Squadron (ATSS), Lieutenant Colonel Jon Berardinelli, said that Aggressor units such as his are fleeing the cuts especially, and that it is affecting the delivery of realistic training scenarios.

"On the adversary side, we are feeling the impact of budget cuts. That just impacts our capability to replicate the newest threats. While we are pulling back the adversaries and not upgrading the equipment that we use to replicate the threats, those threats are getting better equipment. The older [Lockheed Martin] F-16s and [Boeing] F-15s are going to approach the point where we aren't quite replicating country-X's fighter or air defence system," he said.

Although he wouldn't be drawn on specific programmes, Col Berardinelli's comments are likely to refer to hopes to fund upgrades for the 64th Aggressor Squadron's Block 30 F-16Cs to enable them to better replicate enemy fighters. This includes an ambition to bring them up to System Capabilities Upgrade-8 (SCU-8) configuration, alongside Air National Guard examples. SCU-8 primarily includes the Thales Scorpion Helmet-Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT) system and the new CDU (Center Display Unit).

The Aggressor F-16s also do not possess an infrared air-to-air missile that simulates the Russian R-73 (AA-11) 'Archer', and a captive-carry Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder capability is desirable.

The Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control 'SpectIR' pod-mounted infrared search-and-track (IRST) system, that was packaged into a LANTIRN targeting pod in early 2012 and trialled during the only 'Red Flag' of 2013, has also not re-appeared at this year's events. The pod was reported to have successfully acquired targets on 'first pass' and 'maintained a tight track throughout the engagement, providing the pilot with a passive, weapons-quality cue that enabled weapon employment.'

However, despite the budget cuts and their effects on the Aggressor units senior USAF officials were keen to stress the continued importance of the 'Red Flag' series of exercises.

Deputy commander of the 414th Combat Training Squadron (CTS), Lieutenant Colonel Jordan Grant, told IHS Jane's : "Everyone recognises the value of 'Red Flag'. It's even more important if you are going to have a smaller force [as] it is important that you invest in the right places in training.

"If you look at the cost of putting on a good 'Red Flag' it's fairly small compared to buying another platform. You have all this money invested in your equipment around the air force but it doesn't do any good if you're not trained to use it. Here you get value out of your investments. In my estimation ['Red Flag'] is probably going to grow.'

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