The Aggressors are bringing new capabilities to the fight, so they can better replicate new threats and train US and allied forces to counter them.
The first two “new” F-16s for the 18th Aggressor Squadron arrived last week at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. These Vipers, acquired from Dannelly Field Air National Guard Base, Alabama, are the first scheduled to arrive throughout 2023 to replace the aircraft currently assigned to the squadron. While the 18 AGRS was already flying the F-16C Block 30, the jets coming from the Air National Guard have been significantly upgraded and bring new capabilities that will allow the Aggressors to improve the quality of the training they provide.
“The Air Force is using a great opportunity to recapitalize investments made by the National Guard and upgrade the capabilities of the current Aggressor fleet,” said Lt. Col. Chad Richards, 354th Operations Group deputy commander. “This is going to provide more capability and realism so that the aircraft and the pilots that are being trained here in the JPARC (Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex) can have a better adversary and they can train to a higher quality threat.”
The upgraded avionics allow the Aggressors to replicate more advanced threats and provide realistic training to Department of Defense and partner nation aircrews in exercises like Red Flag-Alaska. Combined with the more than 75,000 square miles of airspace in the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, Eielson is a hub of training for advanced airpower operations.
“The updated aircraft are going to amplify their efforts and produce even more valuable training to all of our partners and allies,” said Lt. Col. Richards. “We’re able to offer unparalleled training, both to the United States Air Force, our joint partners, as well as many partner nations across the Pacific. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Aggressors get to do with them and how we make our Air Force stronger.”
The Air Force’s Aggressors are not the only ones upgrading their rides, as also the famous Fleet Composite Squadron (VFC) 13 Fighting Saints of the U.S. Navy is receiving upgraded F-16s. In fact, the unit is in the process of fully transitioning from the F-5N Tiger II to the F-16C Block 32, with the first aircraft received in October 2022 from the Arizona Air National Guard already flying out of Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.
The squadron change of command ceremony held in December 2022 was also used to officially introduce the Fighting Falcon into service with the Saints, with one of the F-16s painted in the Have Glass V scheme becoming the new Commander’s aircraft. As the unit receives approximatively 12 F-16s, its F-5s will re-equip VFC 204 River Rattlers at NAS/JRB New Orleans, Louisiana.
According to Scramble Magazine, official US Navy budget documents released in 2021 show that 20 single-seat F-16Cs Block 32 and six two-seat F-16Ds Block 25 are being transferred to the Navy to support adversary missions for the fleet. VFC-13, in fact, is not the only unit to be re-equipped with F-16s, as Fallon’s Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) will receive the remaining eight F-16C and six F-16D to replace its remaining legacy F/A-18C/D Hornets, which will be withdrawn from use.
The F-16s of the Air National Guard received various upgrades throughout the years, such as the Center Display Unit, the Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display (HMD), the Litening targeting pod and the AN/APG-83 SABR (Scalable Agile Beam Radar) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. The CDU replaces the analogue instruments of the center console pedestal with a 6×8 inch display, providing at the same time a larger screen to show with more detail the feed from the new targeting pod and radar.
The cockpit of a Naval Red Air Viper, one of the recently acquired Block 32s. Taking up the entire center console is the 6 x 8 inch pedestal display that has become synonymous with the F-16V upgrade outside of the US. It’s really nice to finally be able to see one properly. pic.twitter.com/gjg5hqE1Vc
— Abd Nav (@AbdNav2K2) October 29, 2022
The new AESA radar reached the Full Operational Capability (FOC) on the U.S. Air Force Air National Guard F-16s in October 2020, while the radar upgrade was completed this year. It is not known if 18 AGRS and VFC 13 received APG-83-equipped F-16s, however this is unlikely, as only 72 aircraft were upgraded with the new radar and they are assigned to the homeland defense mission because of their improved performance over the mechanical APG-68.