What are Russian MiGs & SUs Doing at US Bases in Nevada, Alaska and Virginia?

Friday, March 30, 2018
By Paul Martin


The recent Red Flag 18-1 drills at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada saw the US and its allies simulate tactical air combat against the ‘probable aggressor’. Over the years, the US Air Force’s collection of ‘enemy’ aircraft painted to look suspiciously similar to Russian and Iranian planes has come to include real Russian fighter jets.

The drills, which took place across the 12,000+ square km training area at the Nellis Air Force Base between late January and mid-February, included simulations of enemy jamming, air-to-air combat, offensive counter air missions, air defense suppression, close air support, and more.

USAF Col. Michael Mathes called Red Flag 18-1 the largest-ever drills of their kind. Simulating the first 10 days of a major large deployment and engagement with the prospective enemy, drills involved planes from the US, the UK and Australia. The so-called Red Forces’ ‘aggressors’ consisted mostly of US F-16s painted in aircraft camo patterns eerily similar to those of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

Origin Story

Investigating the history of US air combat training involving ‘aggressor’ fighters, Rossiya Segodnya military journalist Vadim Saranov recalled that the training missions were first organized in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, Northrop F-5s were painted in the Soviet Air Force color scheme. The training was organized to prepare pilots psychologically for contact with the Soviet enemy in the event of war.

In 1973, the USAF got its hands on its first real Soviet fighter, a MiG-21F-13 captured by the Israelis from the Arabs and given over to the US military. A few years later, Soviet MiG-21bis and MiG-23s joined the ranks of the 64th Aggressor Squadron based at the Nellis Air Force Base.

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR and the Soviet bloc, USAF “Aggressor Squadrons” received more modern aircraft. Following unification, German Air Force Mig-29s regularly visited the US to take part in drills, and in December 2016, an enthusiast in Nevada spotted an Aggressor Squadron Su-27 simulating a dogfight with an F-16.

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