An F-16 Fighting Falcon, assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron, takes off in support of exercise Valiant Shield on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 8, 2020.U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Sean Martin
Pilots assigned to the 354th Fighter Wing’s 18th Aggressor Squadron are trading in snow-capped mountain ranges for the open ocean as they head south to participate in Exercise Valiant Shield 2020.
The 18th AGRS sent a mobile training team consisting of eight F-16 Fighting Falcons to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Sept. 8 to participate in VS-20, a U.S. only, biennial field training exercise aimed at ensuring the joint force is ready to conduct a wide range of combat operations.
Aggressor pilots are responsible for knowing, teaching, and replicating enemy threats in order to train other pilots to overcome them. While they primarily act as “red air” over the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex during RED FLAG-Alaska exercises, mobile training team missions provide an opportunity for them to take this unique training method anywhere in the world.
“Our primary goal during this exercise is to provide world-class training to our joint service brothers and sisters, ensuring they are prepared to face the most capable threats and tactics out there on day one, and to do so safely,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Lloyd Wright, 18th AGRS assistant director of operations.
“The most valuable part of the exercise will be experiencing the real-world combat feel of a much longer training period. Figuring out how to flow forces over the course of many hours, which includes multiple aerial refuelings, force swap-outs, and long distances traversed, will be more representative of a ‘real war’ than a ‘single tank of gas fight.’”
While 18th AGRS pilots are no strangers to training exercises, large-scale joint events such as VS-20 offer new perspective to all involved.
“It is a strategic-level exercise, which means extremely long training periods, massive forces such as an entire carrier strike group, and a much larger logistical footprint,” explained Wright. “We are not only honing the tip of the spear, but rather the entire spear and the arm that wields it.”
That “entire spear” includes personnel and equipment from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps. While those in operations roles have a lot to gain from participating in large exercises such as VS-20, support personnel can benefit just as much.
“The 18th AGRS have a unique role and in order for them to provide the best adversarial training possible they have to have a safe and reliable aircraft,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Aaron Scott, 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent.
“[The 18th AGRS and 354th AMXS] not only provide readiness training to other units, but these exercises provide readiness training for our own personnel. The flying schedules are often similar to what would be seen in a combat environment so even though we as the aggressors are providing the training we are also training our personnel to meet the demands of a combat environment.”
Exercise Valiant Shield 2020 is scheduled to conclude Sept. 25.