Air-to-air dogfights have been lacking in recent years.
In one sense it is a good thing – it means the United States has been able to take control of the air very quickly. But American pilots still need to be able to practice – and not everyone can get to Red Flag or the Navy's equivalents.
Recently the Air Force has been using Northrop T-38 Talons to help alleviate the problem. The T-38 Talon is a supersonic trainer that served as the basis for the F-5 "Freedom Fighter" and the F-5E/F Tiger. The F-5s were light, day-time fighters that were very maneuverable, and they have served as Navy and Marine Corps aggressors for the long time.
The Air Force has been using T-38s to supplement F-16s at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada and at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
A T-38 Talon participates in the 2004 Lackland Airfest. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)
Aggressor training, developed after the Ault Report showed shortcomings in naval aviation, has helped keep American airmen good, and emerged in the late stages of the Vietnam War. The famous "Top Gun" school, in particular, had a marked effect, sending kill ratios skyrocketing to over 13:1.
Many of the aggressor pilots are currently members of the military, but according to a report by Aviation Week and Space Technology, that is changing as the Air Force seeks to hire contractors. Part of the reason has been an ongoing pilot shortage.
An air-to-air right side view of an F-21A Kfir (young lion) aircraft. The Israeli-built delta-wing tactical fighter was used as part of the Navy's aggressor training. (US Navy photo)
The other reason is that some of the private companies can offer planes beyond the T-38 for these missions. A 2016 report from DefenseOne.com noted that one company has a mix of F-21 Kfirs, A-4 Skyhawks, Hawker Hunters, and L-39 Albatross jets. Among the companies getting into the mix is Textron, which makes the Textron AirLand Scorpion.
The final reason. though, maybe the most important.
That is because turning the aggressor training over to contractors could make them even tougher opponents for Air Force and Navy pilots. While many an Air Force pilot has non-flying billets at various points in their career, contractors will be able to just keep flying and dogfighting. This will make the military pilots they face off against sweat more, but it may prove the wisdom behind one old saying: The more you sweat in training, the less you bleed in war.