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USMC cites aggressor training as vital for future success

17th May 2022 - 12:00 GMT | by Trevor Nash in Holsworthy

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An F-5N from VMFT 401 on detachment to MCAS Beaufort. (Photo: DVIDS)

Are plans to bolster USMC aggressor training capability sufficient to address a known shortfall?

The bullish nature of the FY2022 Marine Corps Aviation Plan (MCAP) highlights the importance of virtual and live training to improve the operational readiness and capabilities of USMC operations in the future.

On the live side of the equation, the USMC currently has one aggressor squadron operating to service west coast live training requirements. Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT 401), a reserve unit based at Yuma, Arizona, operates 12 F-5N and F-5F Tiger II aircraft and these are being replaced by F-5N+ and F-5F+ plus aircraft in the next few months.

The + designation is a result of the Avionics Reconfiguration and Tactical Enhancement/Modernization for Inventory Standardization (ARTEMIS) programme that involves upgraded cockpit, avionics and supporting aircraft architecture.

A total of 22 additional Tigers were procured from Switzerland to support ARTEMIS and the initial delivery of an ARTEMIS Tiger II airframe is expected in late 2022.

In 2023, a second aggressor squadron (VMFT 402) will be formed at Beaufort, South Carolina, to support USMC aviators on the East Coast. According to the MCAP, VMFT 402 will start operations in FY2023 and will be ready to provide training in early 2024.

The equipment plan for the new squadron will see them equipped with three F-5N+ aircraft and that number will increase to eight single-seat F-5N+ and a pair of twin-seat F-5F+ aircraft. The MCAP indicates that the additional aircraft will be delivered over a three-year period.

The basic F-5 design is an old aircraft but the USMC fleet has gone through a number of upgrades to make them a serious adversary threat platform by extending airframe life and adding capabilities. As well as new avionics, engine improvements and radar upgrades, the aircraft will be able to operate the Collins Tactical Combat Training System Increment II (TCTS II) that will provide an ACMI and I-LVC capability. This will be a major boost to current USMC adversary training.  

According to the MCAP document that has been analysed by Shephard, the USMC believes that adversary capacity is the ‘greatest issue’ in air-to-air training, followed closely by ‘range availability and modernisation, and training simulator capabilities’.

In other words, the USMC has recognised a series of training shortfalls that is must address.

Despite the formation of VMFT 402, the USMC will still have an aggressor shortage and so it is now looking at the option of issuing contracts for commercial providers. At the moment, that adversary shortfall amounts to around 11,000 sorties per year.

Despite the formation of VMFT 402, the USMC is not out of the woods yet.

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