The Air Force will need to rely on private aircraft for “red air” opposition training, though it also needs to build up its own aggressor force to provide the best possible training, the head of Air Combat Command said at ASC16. ACC chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle said he would like to set up another aggressor squadron, even though USAF just stood down an F-15 aggressor squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev., in 2014 because of sequestration. “We need red air inside the services,” so we can build the expertise needed for high-level training, Carlisle said. However, for the next 15 to 20 years, the Air Force will need contractor augmentation. USAF already has contracts with companies such as Draken International, which flies A-4 Skyhawks and L-159E Advanced Light Combat Aircraft for opposition training. The Air Force is looking at how to increase the contractor support, but there will always be a need for military pilots to fly red air, Carlisle said.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.