US Marine Corps Adversaries

The VMFT-401 insignia incorporates the image of ex-Israeli IAI F-21A Kfir fighters which were operated by the squadron as an aggressor from 1987 to 1989
The VMFT-401 insignia incorporates the image of an IAI F-21A Kfir fighters which were operated by the squadron as an adversary from 1986 to 1989

VMFT-401 “SNIPERS”

Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401) “Snipersis a United States Marine Corps adversary squadron (aggressors) based at MCAS Yuma in Arizona (the premiere aviation training base of the USMC). An adversary squadron is tasked with providing realistic training for USMC fighter pilots by acting as an enemy aircraft (an aggressor). They implement tactics and flying techniques of potential adversaries to provide the best training possible to improve Marine Corps pilot air-to-air combat readiness and also work closely in training with the US Navy, USAF and allied nations.

VMFT-401, a USMC Reserve squadron is the only USMC adversary squadron (the USAF and US Navy operate similar squadrons) and they fly the Northrop F-5N/F Tiger II fighter (the N model is a single-seater and the F is the two-seat trainer variant). The F-5N is similar to the performance and flight characteristics of smaller earlier combat aircraft of Soviet origin but does not have the Mach 2.0+ capability of more modern fighters (the top speed of the F-5N is Mach 1.6). It is cheaper to run though! The F-5N/F fighters are painted in all sorts of wonderful camouflage schemes to represent those aircraft of potential adversaries around the world (Russian style blue-grey “ghost” schemes and various desert schemes).

Northrop F-5N Tiger II adversary of VMFT-401
Northrop F-5N Tiger II adversary of VMFT-401 “Snipers” at the 2015 Yuma Airshow
Northrop F-5N Tiger II adversary of VMFT-401
Thus F-5N is sporting a Soviet/Russian style camouflage scheme

The reservist pilots in VMFT-401 are former enlisted USMC pilots and today many of them are airline pilots and the like in their day jobs but don’t let that fool you these guys are some of the best of the best! They average 2,500 flight hours in fighter aircraft and are air combat tactics instructors with most of them having graduated from the famous “Top Gun” United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (SFTI) or the Marine Corps Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (WTI).

USMC VMFT-401 Snipers Northrop F-5N Tiger II Yuma Airshow 2015
VMFT-401 “Snipers” F-5N/F Tiger II adversaries take-off at the 2015 Yuma Airshow (love the colour schemes!)

VMFT-401 HISTORY

VMFT-401 is under the command of the 4th Marine Aircraft Wing and was activated at MCAS Yuma on March 18th, 1986.  Until 1989 the squadron operated Israeli Air Industries (IAI) F-21A Kfir (Young Lion) fighters leased from Israel as their adversary fighter. The Kfir was selected due to its fast acceleration Mach 2.0 performance and relatively poor maneuverability, which were similar characteristics to the then contemporary Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger Mach 2.3 capable variable-geometry fighter widely used by the Soviets and Eastern Bloc nations. 25 modified IAI Kfir C.1 fighters (re-designated as F-21A) were leased from 1985 to 1989 for use by both the US Navy (12 which were returned in 1988) and USMC (13).

VMFT-401
VMFT-401 “Snipers” IAI F-21A Kfir Adversaries sporting various Eastern Bloc camouflage schemes (US Navy Photos)
USMC VMFT-401 F-21A Kfir Adversaries Red 03, 05 and 07
VMFT-401 F-21A Kfir Adversaries Red 03, 05 and 07 (US Navy Photos)
A nice view of the various colour schemes adopted by VMFT-401 for their IAI F.21A Kfir fighters
A nice view of the various colour schemes adopted by VMFT-401 for their IAI F.21A Kfir fighters (US Navy photo)
IAI Kfir C.2 (F-21A) as used by VMFT-401
IAI Kfir (F-21A) as used by VMFT-401 “Snipers” in the adversary role until 1989 – curiously displayed in USMC and Israeli Air Force markings (photo taken during my visit aboard the USS Intrepid Museum in NYC 2010)
Israel Aircraft Industries F-21A Kfir (young lion) aircraft of the U.S. Navy fighter squadron VF-43 in 1985 (US Navy Photo)
Israel Aircraft Industries F-21A Kfir (young lion) aircraft of the U.S. Navy fighter squadron VF-43 “Challengers” in 1985 (US Navy Photo)

In 1989 VMFT-401 re-equipped with Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters (the US Navy had already been operating the type in the Adversary role). In 2006 the US Navy/USMC purchased 36 low flight hour ex-Swiss Air Force F-5E/F’s to replace older adversary aircraft and fitted them with improved avionics including an AN/APG-69 pulse doppler radar. These were re-designated as the F-5N Tiger II.

USMC Northrop F-5 Tiger II Adversary MCAS Miramar
USMC Northrop F-5E Tiger II adversary at the Flying Leathernecks Air Museum – MCAS Miramar in 2013
USMC F-5E tiger II Adversary Joe Davies Heritage Airpark Palmdale Plant 42
USMC Northrop F-5E Tiger II adversary of VMFT-401 “Snipers” at the Joe Davies Heritage Airpark in Palmdale California in 2014
An interesting head on shot of a USMC VMFT-101 F/A-18 Hornet and VMFT-401 IAI F-21A Kfir and probably a US Navy F-5E Tiger II in training circa 1989 (US Navy Photo)
An interesting head on approach shot of a USMC VMFT-101 F/A-18 Hornet, a VMFT-401 IAI F-21A Kfir and probably a US Navy F-5E Tiger II in training circa 1989 (US Navy Photo)

The designation of “N” is standard today for USMC and US Navy adversary aircraft that are not frontline operational aircraft of that service i.e. the US Navy in addition to the F-5N Tiger II also operates the General Dynamics F-16N Falcon (modified F-16C/D’s) and the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter in the adversary role but the various models of the F/A-18 keep their standard designations as they are operational on aircraft carriers. In the past the US Navy also operated nimble Douglas A-4E/F/M Skyhawk attack aircraft and the TA-4J two-seat trainer version in the adversary role but began to retire them in 1993 with Fleet Composite Squadron 8 (VC-8) the last to retire its A-4’s in 2003 (A-4’s were featured in the classic Top Gun movie from 1986 as were the F-5E’s as fictional MiG-28’s).

US Navy F-16N adversary at the Palm Springs Air Museum, California in 2015
US Navy F-16N “Top Gun” adversary at the Palm Springs Air Museum, California in 2015
A US Navy TA-4J Skyhawk adversary at the Palm Springs Air Museum, California in 2015
A VC-8 US Navy TA-4J Skyhawk adversary at the Palm Springs Air Museum, California in 2015

USMC McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters from Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron VMFAT-101 “Sharpshooters based at MCAS Miramar have also been painted in adversary schemes and used in that role when required for training exercises. VMFAT-101 is responsible for training combat ready USMC aircrews.

VMFAT-101
VMFAT-101 “Sharpshooters” F/A-18A Hornet in an adversary scheme at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum at MCAS Miramar in 2013

2015 YUMA AIRSHOW

1 twin seat lead F-5F and 3 single seat F-5N fighters of VMFT-401 “Snipers” conducted a number of flyby formation passes at the 2015 Yuma Airshow at MCAS Yuma. During the announcers commentary about the pilots flying on the day of the airshow, many of them listed “annoying their wife/kids” as a hobby in their bio. I guess that’s a good thing for someone who is flying as an adversary. You want to annoy the “enemy” and not let them outfly you!

Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401)
Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401) “Snipers” at the 2015 Yuma Airshow
USMC VMFT-401 USMC Yuma Airshow 2015
The F-5F two-seater leads the F-5N formation pass
Flyby of Northrop F-5N Tiger II adversaries of VMFT-401
Flyby of Northrop F-5N Tiger II adversaries of VMFT-401 “Snipers” at the 2015 Yuma Airshow
The skilled adversaries of VMFT-401 are based at MCAS Yuma in Arizona
The skilled adversaries of VMFT-401 are based at MCAS Yuma in Arizona
F-5N coming in to land behind a USMC Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey Yuma Airshow 2015
F-5N coming in to land behind a USMC Bell Boeing MV-22B Osprey
VMFT-401 USMC F-5N Yuma Airshow 2015
The “Snipers” return
The
The “Snipers” return in pairs from their flybys at the 2015 Yuma Airshow
USMC f-5 adversary Yuma 2015
F-5N/F adversaries rolling by
F-5N USMC Yuma Airshow 2015
The F-5N is an affordable adversary fighter for the USMC

The “Snipers” provided an entertaining and colourful alternative to the normal low-visibility grey military aircraft that normally fly at an airshow. I was happy to see them zipping by and it was one of many highlights from the 2015 Yuma Airshow.

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