As first reported by The War Zone, the U.S. Navy is now lining up the acquisition of additional F-16 aggressor jets to supplement the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets that are now headed to one of its dedicated adversary squadrons, VFC-12, the “Fighting Omars,” based at Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia. The F-16s are required since there’s a shortage of the earlier Block I Super Hornets available for the high-end adversary mission.
The move was confirmed recently by Seapower Magazine, who quoted Vice Admiral John Mustin, chief of Navy Reserve, in his statement to the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on May 4. Mustin outlined plans to boost the Navy’s high-end adversary force with second-hand F-16s drawn from Air Force and Air National Guard stocks.
The plan to add more Vipers on top of those F-16A/Bs already operated by Topgun instructors at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, is just one part of a revamp of the adversary fleet that Mustin recommended. He also called for upgrades to these jets, including infrared search and track systems and further evolution of the ‘Red Net’ tactical and situational awareness datalink that you can read more about here.
It also follows the trend established by the U.S. Air Force when that service announced it was to enhance its aggressor capabilities by using early examples of the F-35A and younger F-16C/Ds to equip the 65th Aggressor Squadron.
The possibility of acquiring more Navy F-16 aggressors emerged last year and was addressed in this piece of ours detailing the Navy’s plans to replace the ‘legacy’ Hornets within VFC-12 for early examples of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. That transition is scheduled to be completed by October this year and it will also bring some new color schemes representative of aircraft flown by certain threat nations.
In the process, VFC-12 will become the first Navy aggressor unit to fly the Super Hornet as part of the Navy’s ongoing process of retiring the ‘legacy’ Hornet, although Topgun also operates a handful of F/A-18E/F, toos. Many of the ‘legacy’ Hornets have extremely high flight hours, making them increasingly costly to operate, with a stated cost per flight hour for the type pegged at $44,000. The new jets will also bring some notable enhancements to meet increasing demands for more robust ‘bandit’ threat training.
But that leaves another high-end adversary squadron, VFA-204, the “River Rattlers,” still flying ‘legacy’ Hornets out of Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, Louisiana. Between them, VFC-12 and VFA-204 now fly 27 F/A-18A+ and C/D model Hornets and with VFC-12 poised to swap its jets for Super Hornets, VFA-204 would likely receive the second-hand F-16s. Otherwise, only the U.S. Naval Test Pilot’s School (TPS), and the Naval Fighter Weapons School, better known as Topgun, are still flying the Navy ‘legacy’ Hornets.
Outside the high-end adversary community, the Navy also flies 31 F-5N/F Tiger II jets for replicating low-to-mid level threats. These serve with VFC-13 at Fallon and VFC-111 at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida and the force will be expanded by adding another 11 F-5E/F…