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Unstoppable: What Recent Wargames Reveal About the F-35

By National Interest

The F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighter continues to dominate every wargame it fights in. Established in 1975, Red Flag is the U.S. Air Force’s premier air combat exercise platform. The exercises originated as a relatively simple air-to-air wargame between “red” and “blue” players but grew in complexity over the decades to encompass surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and strike scenarios.

“The aggressor is the person who’s here to train blue by providing a realistic and robust adversary that they, being blue, have to actively fight against. They have to use every bit of the capabilities that they have and every bit of integration that they can compile to achieve what their intent is for that day,” explained F-35 pilot Col.

Scott Mills. The red pilots are tasked with pushing the blue team to its limits, identifying and ruthlessly exploiting vulnerabilities as a real adversary would. “The aggressor nation here is one of the best in the world at finding those niches, finding those gaps and seams, and absolutely punishing those mistakes that blue air makes,” Mills added.

The latest Red Flag exercise, which is held multiple times annually, took place at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada last month. An Air Force press release accompanying the exercises noted that, for the first time, F-35 stealth fighter jets will assume the role of red aggressor pilots.

The Air Force decided to add F-35 jets to the red team in order to acquire a greater and more sophisticated threat than the one posed by F-16 Fighting Falcons. In doing so, the Red Flag wargames can more accurately represent the advanced capabilities of next-generation fighters like Russia’s Sukhoi Su-57 and China’s Chengdu J-20.

“The aggressors know the threat replication a little bit better, and they have studied the adversary and the way that the adversary would actually react to a specific situation,” said Lt. Col. Chris Finkenstadt, commander of the 64th Aggressor Squadron.

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