The 65th Aggressor Squadron, which last flew in 2014, is being reactivated as an F-35 squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
The move is part of a larger initiative to improve training for the Air Force’s fifth-generation aircraft, according to a Thursday news release.
Nine non-combat capable Lightning IIs will move from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, to Nellis, but not until replacement aircraft arrive in early 2022.
In addition, two F-35A aircraft from Edwards AFB, California, will join the 24th Tactical Air Support Squadron at Nellis. The 24th TASS, an F-16 Fighting Falcon squadron, conducts close-air support training. The aircraft from Edwards will allow additional training for the F-35As as close-air support assets, according to the release.
Nellis was chosen 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.
Gen. Mike Holmes, the head of Air Combat Command commander, recommended the moves to augment fighter tactics and close-air support training for the Air Force’s fifth-generation stealth fighters. The new 65th AS will complement the fourth-generation aircraft now being used in the aggressor role, according to the release.
“This move will allow us to repurpose early production F-35s to help train airmen for the high-end fight,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in the release.
When last active, the 65th AS flew F-15C Eagle aircraft painted in camouflage schemes identical to those on Russian Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters. It operated in conjunction with the 64th Aggressor Squadron, which performs a similar task using F-16 Fighting Falcons and is assigned to the 57th Adversary Tactics Group at Nellis.
The 65th AS was inactivated in September 2014 due budget constraints in the fiscal 2015 budget.
“Aggressor squadrons have been honing the skills of Air Force pilots since the early 1970s,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein in the release. “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.”
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.
An environmental impact study must be completed before a final basing decision is made.