Support: Tales Of The South Pacific


December 14,2008: Like migratory birds, the U.S. Air Force 18th Aggressor Squadron, which is based in Alaska, flies south for the Winter. The reason is simple. The worst weather in the planet is in the north Pacific, and flying conditions during Alaskan Winters are pretty grim. The 18th spends most of its time at home during the other seasons, conducting realistic combat training. An Aggressor Squadron has instructors and pilots well versed in the air combat tactics of foreign air forces, and normally pilots from other squadrons fly in for seminars, classes and lots of realistic combat flying against the aggressor squadron pilots.

During this training, older aircraft carry a pod, the size of a heat seeking missile, that contains a GPS locator, and other electronics, that record everything the aircraft does, and supplies appropriate signals for sensors to simulate various threats (enemy radars and the like) and weapons. Aircraft manufactured since the 1980s, have this stuff built in. After pilots have completed a practice bombing or air-combat mission, they can transfer the data from the pod to analysis software running on a PC (even a laptop), where they can replay their performance, and see where they screwed up, or could have done better. The same data is used for post-exercise analysis and critiques by unit commanders. When an Aggressor Squadron is present, the air-combat missions are flown against aggressor pilots in aircraft (usually F-16s these days) painted to resemble potential foes.

Since the early 1970s, the U.S. has been using warplane training areas that were equipped with radio towers to collect information on where the participating aircraft were during the exercise, and what they were doing. These were the "Top Gun" (U.S. Navy) and "Red Flag" (U.S. Air Force) training systems. The facilities included "enemy" aircraft (often actual Russian fighters, but also U.S. aircraft flown in the same manner as Russian ones). The "enemy" (or "aggressor") pilots knew how to fight like various enemy pilots (usually Russian, during the Cold War). On the ground, there were mockups of Russian air defense systems, including transmitters putting out the same kinds of electronic signals the Russian gear would. But all of this is expensive. The arrival of GPS enabled one to dispense with the radio towers, and put all the electronics on the aircraft, via a bomb size pod, or internally. The 18th Aggressor Squadron has such a training facility at its home base in Alaska.

The "rangeless" training is not as realistic, particularly for operations against ground targets, as the specially built ranges. These have "enemy" airfields and air defense installations that look like what pilots would encounter in wartime. But with the GPS based gear, pilots fire "electronic" (simulated) missiles and drop similar smart bombs on these targets. But you can do the same thing with rangeless equipment, you just miss the realistic views of what's on the ground.

 The rangeless system made it possible for any fighter squadron, no matter where it was stationed, to get realistic training. Basically, if you could afford the fuel to let your pilots fly at least a hundred hours a year, you could afford to use these training systems. So now, pilots who got a lot of hours in the air, were even more important, because those flight hours were being used much more effectively. And for the 18th Aggressor Squadron, Winter has become the time to tour U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons throughout the Pacific, to impart wisdom, and avoid the horrendous non-flying weather back home. For the tour, the 18th takes along 128 personnel (mostly maintainers for the ten aircraft, both transports and F-16s, that make the trip.)



Article Archive

Support: Current 2022 2021 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close