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18th AGRS, joint partners replicate adversary tactics for Northern Edge 2021

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcos assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron take off May 6, 2021, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in support  of flight operations above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and Gulf of Alaska during Exercise Northern Edge 2021 (NE21). Navy, Air Force and Marine aircraft executed flight missions during NE21 demonstrating seamless, joint combat capabilities during NE21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members are participating in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces May 3-14, 2021. NE21 is one in a series of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises designed to sharpen the joint forces' skills; to practice tactics, techniques, and procedures; to improve command, control and communication relationships; and to develop cooperative plans and programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcos assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron take off May 6, 2021, at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in support of flight operations above the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and Gulf of Alaska during Exercise Northern Edge 2021 (NE21). Navy, Air Force and Marine aircraft executed flight missions during NE21 demonstrating seamless, joint combat capabilities during NE21. Approximately 15,000 U.S. service members are participating in the joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces May 3-14, 2021. NE21 is one in a series of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises designed to sharpen the joint forces' skills; to practice tactics, techniques, and procedures; to improve command, control and communication relationships; and to develop cooperative plans and programs. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Beaux Hebert)

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --

The 18th Aggressor Squadron is pairing up with other U.S. military branches to effectively train the Department of Defense’s assets and personnel by knowing, teaching and replicating adversary tactics during Northern Edge 2021.

For NE21, the Aggressors will be playing the ‘red air’ – or simulated enemy opposition – but this time they will have help from joint partners. Other units will be augmented alongside the Aggressors to provide different combat situations.

Together, the units will test the ‘blue air’ – or the friendly joint force – in air-to-air combat scenarios over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex and the Gulf of Alaska. The U.S. Navy and Marines are each flying their versions of the F-35 Lightning II alongside and against the Aggressors during the exercise.

“The 18th AGRS are playing the opposing force (OPFOR) for all the joint ‘blue air’,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Abraham Lehmann, the 18th AGRS director of operations. “We provide a high-end enemy to train against so when they go into a real-world combat scenario they have the training needed to successfully accomplish their mission.”

Lehmann said, as the OPFOR, a different mentality is needed to effectively train our joint partners.

“Most pilots are type-A personalities, and they always want to win, but that’s not the case with our mission,” he said. “At the Aggressors, we have to step back and tell ourselves we are not here to necessarily win, we are here to provide a realistic replication of what our enemy might look like so that ‘blue air’ can learn how the enemy presents themselves in a combat environment.”

Lehmann said Northern Edge 2021 has turned out to be a massive logistical exercise for the Aggressors and all participating units. The unit has had to pay close attention to detail while planning out the scenarios.

“For this exercise, there are a lot of aircraft in the air at one time,” he said. “Some of these ‘fights’ have over 100 aircraft participating. We have to balance meeting the training objectives with safety and making sure no one runs out of fuel due to the exercise being spread out over Alaska.”

Another challenge for the Aggressors has been communication between joint partners. Each branch of the U.S. military uses a different language for their operations, and the Aggressors have to work with the other military branches to ensure they communicate clearly.

“Whenever you work with joint partners, it’s important to be on the same page,” Lehmann said. “We have to find a common ground, so we can operate safely and effectively. The more we practice together, the more we can learn how we each operate.”

This year, fifth generation fighters such as the F-35s and the F-22 Raptors are players in the exercise. The Aggressors fly F-16 Fighting Falcons, a fourth generation aircraft, and the unit has had to come up with ways that challenge the new generation of fighters.

“Although the F-16 is an older aircraft, it is still more than capable of not only keeping up with the fifth generation fighters, but challenging them in ways that are unmatched by any other aircraft,” Lehmann said.