The Air Force is reactivating the 65th Aggressor Squadron and moving 11 F-35A Lightning IIs to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, as part of a larger initiative to improve training for fifth generation fighter aircraft.
The action came after Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, recommended improving training for fifth generation fighter tactics development and close-air support by adding F-35s to complement the fourth generation aircraft currently being used.
To support this requirement, the Air Force decided to create a fifth generation aggressor squadron at Nellis AFB and move nine non-combat capable F-35A aircraft from Eglin AFB, Florida, to the squadron. “This move will allow us to repurpose early production F-35s to help train Airmen for the high end fight,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson.
“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s,” said US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein. “They provide a dose of realism in air exercises and their training value is crucial. These F-35 aggressor aircraft will keep us ahead of adversaries for years to come.”
Aircraft transferring from Eglin AFB to Nellis AFB will not occur until newly produced aircraft arrive at Eglin AFB to replace them. New aircraft are planned to arrive at Nellis AFB beginning in early 2022. The 65th AS, which previously flew F-15 Eagle aircraft, was inactivated in September 2014.
The US Air Force will also assign two F-35A aircraft from Edwards AFB, California, to Nellis AFB to join the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron. The 24th TASS is an F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron whose primary function is supporting and performing close-air support training. Introducing the F-35As from Edwards AFB will allow additional training for the F-35As as close-air support assets.
The reactivation of the aggressor squadron and the addition of aircraft to the tactical air support squadron will add approximately 194 additional military personnel and 37 contractors to the base. As part of the strategic basing process, the Air Force determined Nellis AFB was uniquely suited to support the requirements of these missions because it hosts large Combat Air Forces exercises, U.S. Air Force Weapons School, Weapons Instructor Courses, a test and evaluation squadron and a close air support integration group.
The Air Force will make its final basing decision following compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other regulatory and planning processes.