LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — We’re taking you inside Nellis Air Force Base to highlight the advanced tactics and technology airmen are using to help defend the country.
Part of this includes learning how to engage the enemy, and there is a specific squadron that does just that: the Aggressors.
Menacing machines fly high in the sky. Pilots prey on American aircraft.
Although the threat feels real, it is a simulation, carried out by some of the most able airmen in the country.
Meet the Aggressors.
“I like to equate it to running a marathon and playing four games of chess at the same time while you’re in the air,” said Lt. Col. Jan Stahl, deputy commander of the 57th Operations Group, which oversees the Aggressors at Nellis.
Right now, the Aggressor Squadron consists of roughly 30 aircraft and 60 pilots. The F-16s act as our enemies in the air to help prepare the U.S. Air Force against any attacks.
“The very specialized mission of the Aggressors, specifically, is to train like we fight to the absolute highest degree of precision,” Stahl explained.
That involves real hardware and tactics our rivals would use. The Aggressors work with the intelligence community to constantly update their simulations.
But how exactly are they able to emulate enemy technology?
Stahl answered, “As you can imagine, it’s a closely guarded secret.”
When the Aggressors take to the skies, they need enough air space to make the threat as realistic as possible. That is where the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) comes into play.
“There isn’t another place in the continental United States to be able to do what we can do here,” said Col. Cameron Dadgar, commander of the Nevada Test and Training Range.
Dadgar says the NTTR is roughly the size of the State of Maryland. The large space — and lack of air traffic above — allow airmen to do everything, from mid-air maneuvers to mock missile drops.
“They are able to now actually go out and do their techniques, their tactics, their procedures to the full extent against an adversary that most best replicates what they might face in combat,” Dadgar said.
The Red Flag exercise, one of the air force’s largest combat training events, is hosted at the NTTR. This is when the Aggressors are truly out in full force.
“Red Flag is where we throw the whole kitchen sink at them, in other words, the entirety of the threat spectrum,” Stahl said. “It’s the closest thing to fighting an actual war you possibly could.”
Once complete, airmen flying against the Aggressors are considered equipped to engage with the enemy — and that is the ultimate goal.
“They’re going to be ready and they’re going to be safe,” Stahl said.