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Art of War: fifth-gen, allies train to defeat future adversaries

U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in formation during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The exercise simulated a highly-contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment where U.S. pilots, allied pilots and ground crews tested their readiness, enhanced interoperability through combined operations, to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in formation during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The exercise simulated a highly-contested, degraded and operationally-limited environment where U.S. pilots, allied pilots and ground crews tested their readiness, enhanced interoperability through combined operations, to develop new tactics, techniques and procedures. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Fourth and fifth-generation U.S. Air Force aircraft fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. Both generations of aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force participated in the exercise to provide differing capabilities needed in a highly contested airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Fourth and fifth-generation U.S. Air Force aircraft fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. Both generations of aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force participated in the exercise to provide differing capabilities needed in a highly contested airspace. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force planes fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The exercise was designed to allow the sharing and development of techniques, tactics and procedures between the U.S. Air Force, FAF and RAF frontline fighters in order to fly, fight and win in modern highly-contested, anti-access/area denial environments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force planes fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The exercise was designed to allow the sharing and development of techniques, tactics and procedures between the U.S. Air Force, FAF and RAF frontline fighters in order to fly, fight and win in modern highly-contested, anti-access/area denial environments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A 71st Fighter Training Squadron T-38 Talon flies above U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force planes during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons played the roles of adversary aircraft during the exercise, testing the coalition team's capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A 71st Fighter Training Squadron T-38 Talon flies above U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force planes during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons played the roles of adversary aircraft during the exercise, testing the coalition team's capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., acts as an agressor aircraft during a training fight during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17, April 20, 2017. ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 is an exercise that focuses on leveraging fifth-generation fighter capabilities with partnering nations, including the United Kingdom and France. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

A U.S. Air Force T-38 Talon assigned to the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., acts as an agressor aircraft during a training fight during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17, April 20, 2017. ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 is an exercise that focuses on leveraging fifth-generation fighter capabilities with partnering nations, including the United Kingdom and France. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

An F-15E Strike Eagle breaks-off from a formation flight during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-15Es, assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, teamed with local T-38 Talons as adversary aircraft during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

An F-15E Strike Eagle breaks-off from a formation flight during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-15Es, assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, teamed with local T-38 Talons as adversary aircraft during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Fourth and fifth-generation aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-35 Lightning II was incorporated in the exercise, along with the F-22 Raptor and fourth-generation assets to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that can be used during future coalition fights. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

Fourth and fifth-generation aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-35 Lightning II was incorporated in the exercise, along with the F-22 Raptor and fourth-generation assets to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that can be used during future coalition fights. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Edward Galloway, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, returns from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons played the roles of adversary aircraft during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Edward Galloway, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, returns from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons played the roles of adversary aircraft during the exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

(From left) U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Edward Galloway and Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilots, return from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. This exercise was designed to encourage
the sharing and development of air combat practices with both the French and Royal air force against a range of potential threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

(From left) U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Edward Galloway and Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilots, return from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. This exercise was designed to encourage the sharing and development of air combat practices with both the French and Royal air force against a range of potential threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, returns from a combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The 1st Fighter Wing hosted the exercise to focus on greater integration of the
U.S. Air Force's fifth-generation capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, returns from a combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The 1st Fighter Wing hosted the exercise to focus on greater integration of the U.S. Air Force's fifth-generation capabilities. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, deplanes after a combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The aggressors are the aerial adversaries of the exercise, which focuses on harnessing fifth-generation capabilities with fourth generation fighters from partnering nations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, deplanes after a combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The aggressors are the aerial adversaries of the exercise, which focuses on harnessing fifth-generation capabilities with fourth generation fighters from partnering nations. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, fills out a mission data sheet after returning from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The exercise's intent is to allow for the sharing and development of techniques, tactics, and procedures between U.S. Air Force, French Air Force, and Royal Air Force frontline fighters in order to fly, fight, and win in modern highly-contested, anti-access/area denial environments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)
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U.S. Air Force Maj. Nathaniel Lightfoot, 71st Fighter Training Squadron aggressor pilot, fills out a mission data sheet after returning from an air combat training mission during ATLANTICTRIDENT 17 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 18, 2016. The exercise's intent is to allow for the sharing and development of techniques, tactics, and procedures between U.S. Air Force, French Air Force, and Royal Air Force frontline fighters in order to fly, fight, and win in modern highly-contested, anti-access/area denial environments. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
Imagine an enemy who knows how you operate.

They know your game plans, have been in your position and used your gear. On top of that, they outnumber your team and have the ability to regenerate.

The 27th Fighter Training Squadron's T-38 Talon red air pilots were that opposing force during the allied exercise, ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17.

Through their mass in numbers and understanding, the red air adversaries posed a viable threat to the participating blue forces, which included U.S. Air Force fifth-generation aircraft and partnering nations' fourth-generation aircraft that may operate together in future contingencies.

"Having a former (F-22) Raptor pilot fly the T-38 essentially allows them to get inside our brains a little bit; they know where a good plan could fail,"said Capt. Michael, 94th Fighter Squadron F-22 Raptor pilot. "For me, and I think any blue pilot in general, when you see a lot of adversaries out there, you have that, 'Alright, here we go,' moment. It's a problem to solve-and that's what we like doing, solving problems out there."

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According to Lt. Col. Charles Hebert, 71st FTS commander and aggressor pilot, the red air pilots don't need Raptor cockpit experience to understand what the Raptor can do, or to expose any weaknesses that might unveil during a coalition training like ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17.

"A guy like Champ has flown adversary air and even though he doesn't have fighter jet experience prior to being here, he's as capable as anybody in the squadron flying adversary air," Hebert said pointing to a 71st FTS adversary T-38 pilot. "He briefs and debriefs with the Raptor (pilots) day-in and day-out; he's deployed, he's mission planned for the Raptor, he's flown Raptor sims-the guy knows how the Raptor employs in a broad sense; therefore, he knows how to fight against it and may expose weaknesses."

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According to Michael, finding those weaknesses is what the exercise was all about. The blue and red teams work much like any sports teams, they go into the fight with a coach that talks over the plan, the expected interruptions and contingencies. During that fight, if the blue team experiences something they didn't see coming, they can add a play to their books for use in future operations against real adversaries.

During this exercise, the coach, or mission commander rotated, giving not only experience to all the allied pilots, but the ability to share lessons learned as well as tactics and techniques with allied air forces.

"We give an initial game plan during mission planning, poke holes in that plan and toward the end, we pose questions like 'well, what if they do this,and how are we going to tackle that?'" said Michael. "The French (air force) and U.K. (Royal Air Force) definitely bring a unique perspective on how they would tackle a problem and that is helping everyone. They tackle problems differently and give us that unique perspective a coalition force brings."

In addition to partnering with allied nations to take on red air, the Raptors also teamed up with a fellow fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II.


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While both the Raptor and Lightning provide fifth-generation stealth capabilities, the aircrafts' strengths are in different specialties that, when combined with fourth-generation partners, create an ideal line-up.

"What this exercise really helps us with, in regard to our foreign partners, is figuring out how are we going to integrate and how we all get on the same sheet of music, so that when something kicks off, we can go in there with very little prep time and know how we're going to integrate with those forces," said Hebert. "It's the same with the F-35 just coming online and the unique challenges that the aircraft brings to the fight. It's about how we come together and work together to maximize the efficiency of the entire fighting force out there."

To utilize the allied force to its best capabilities, the fighters are placed in certain roles. The French and Royal air forces' fourth-generation fighters act as the linebackers bringing a larger fleet and a heavy load of weapons while the F-22 and F-35 act as running-backs and quarterbacks,bringing a stealth aspect but specializing in different areas.

"Where we do our work best is in those separate arenas," said Michael. "The F-35 takes care of the air-to-ground while backing us up in the air-to-air side of the house and vice versa."

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In addition to fine tuning tactics, techniques and procedures between the U.S., French and Royal air forces against future adversaries, ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 also aimed to give future F-22 pilots a unique perspective through the red air program. Much like the advantage red air has in understanding the F-22, the adversaries learn to think like an enemy.

"What benefits adversaries like Champ is, he is thinking about adversary weapons all the time because he is employing them during this assignment," said Hebert. "When he moves over to the Raptor, he's going to have that filed in the back of his mind knowing what kind of threats, and depending on what part of the world he is in, what weapons they have."

The adversaries who were on their way to playing on blue team as F-22 pilots were able to attend the blue team meetings - getting an inside look to how their future team operates in a coalition environment.

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"Getting to sit in on all the briefs and debriefs is very eye-opening in that I get to see how everything is integrated together-so that is a great knowledge base," said Duston "Champ" Obrien, 71st FTS aircraft commander. "Talking to everybody here, from the Raptors to the (F-15E) Strike Eagles or British and French, getting to see their perspective on how things are supposed to go and how they operate is great for us because all we know is what we've seen from the Raptors. "

While predicting what the next fight looks like may be possible, it isn't a guarantee that the prediction will be accurate. However, through each training where the world's most technologically advanced aircraft teams with the U.S. Air Force's oldest allies, the red and blue players gain more insight, techniques and tactics to add to the coalition playbook.