Assuming the US Air Force can secure the funding it needs (not a sure thing in this budget environment), the service hopes to upgrade its Aggressor F-16 fleet with new center displays, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS) and electronic attack pods to better replicate enemy threats.
As it stands right now, the Aggressors under-replicate the threat, according to Air Combat Command. As one highly experienced pilot explains, there is no sophisticated method inside an Aggressor F-16′s cockpit to tell the pilot if he’s within the right parameters to shoot. “They were using grease pens to mark the [Weapons Employment Zone] on the canopies,” he says. “You can imagine what that equates to with regard to accuracy of shots. If the Air Force wants to get serious about the fidelity of training–FMTs can only do so much– they need to equip the Aggressors with CATMs [Captive Air Training Missiles] and eventually helmets.”
One other thing, apparently the F-15C is a far better aggressor than the F-16 due to the Eagle’s airframe characteristics and performance, according Maj Gary Barker at ACC–the baseline threat is a Flanker, so that makes sense. Barker is a former aggressor pilot himself and flew the F-16. The fate of the 65th Aggressor Squadron’s Eagles is “pre-decisional”.
“The Department of the Navy currently fields F-5, FA-18 and F-16s in an adversary role. These aircraft with trained adversary pilots keep our fleet of Navy and Marine Corps pilots ready for worldwide contingencies. As future platforms are acquired, the DoN will conduct an analysis to see what technologies will synergize to give the best training to the warfighter, at the lowest cost. It is envisioned at this time that both live aircraft and Virtual/Constructive technologies will play a role by 2025. These future combinations of training have the potential to provide Naval Aviation with the ability to rapidly evolve to confront the changing trends in technology, communications and conflict.”
In the future, as stealthy enemy aircraft begin to emerge, the F-35 appears to be the only candidate as a potential live fly “red air” threat. If it happens, “accurate replication of a valid threat will still be difficult,” one senior USAF officer says. “We have spent–wasted–literally thousands of hours and millions of dollars on F22 red air replication. The jet was never designed to do it, and to my knowledge the F35 isn’t either.”