The US Air Force’s 65th Aggressor Squadron based at the Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada will “soon” use older versions of the fifth-generation US F-35 fighter jet to simulate state-of-the-art Russian and Chinese warplanes Su-57 and J-20, respectively, the website Military.com reports.
“We're talking about the early F-35s, so in order to bring them up to Block 4 [software configuration] standards, it would take about $15 million a piece to retrofit them. Instead, we can use them as aggressors quite well. We need to be able to simulate a high-end adversary, and this is a pretty cost-effective way to do it", Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson told the news outlet.
Military.com also underscored that the fifth-generation Su-57 and J-20 are pushing the US “in the competition to possess the best fifth-generation fighters in the world”.
But it seems that it may prove a tricky task given a wide array of troubles related to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter which was described by Business Insider Pentagon correspondent Ryan Pickerell as the single most problematic defence project being developed for the US military.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office calculated that between May and November of last year, only 27 percent of the F-35 aircraft in the US military's arsenal were fully mission capable during the period, while nearly 30 percent of the planes were unable to fly entirely due to parts shortages.
Earlier, the Project on Government Oversight, another US watchdog, complained that the F-35 version for the US Navy was nowhere near operational, unprepared "to face current or future threats", and potentially dangerous for personnel operating the jets.
It remains unclear how the fourth-generation F-16C will be able to simulate all of the advanced capabilities of the fifth-generation Su-57 given that the Russian warplane is decked out with a special paint to avoid radar detection, whose composition has never been revealed.
Painting aircraft to look like potential Russian, Chinese, Iranian or other adversaries is not uncommon for the US Air Force which has accumulated a sizeable collection of such aircraft at bases scattered across Alaska, Nevada, Virginia and Florida since the end of the Cold War.