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A pilot with Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 lands a F-5 after completing a training flight with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, aboard the air station, Aug. 4. The squadron often trains with Miramar squadrons over California's deserts. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin)(Released)

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

Adversary squadron trains MCAS Miramar Hornet pilots

4 Aug 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

An F/A-18 “Hornet” pilot scans the sky for an unseen “enemy” fighter as he flies over the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly, an F-5 appears behind the Hornet and obtains a missile lock.

Instead of firing a missile, the adversary gives the Hornet pilot some advice and the two break off to practice more aerial maneuvers during a training flight.

Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401, the Marine Corps’ only adversary squadron, flew their F-5F and F-5N aircraft from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., to the air station, Aug. 3 through 14, to provide air-to-air training support for Hornet squadrons here.

The squadron, known as the “Snipers,” flew an average of 18 to 22 sorties daily, supporting Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, also known as the “Sharpshooters,” and other Marine Aircraft Group 11 pilots.

“The first time you see a dissimilar aircraft you don’t want to be in a combat situation,” said Maj. Mike A. Marmon, a pilot with the Snipers. “Many of the new student pilots here aren’t used to seeing the F-5’s, let alone flying against one. It’s like in basketball when you play against a different team it gives you experience and an idea of their plays. When you train with different aircraft it has the same effect.”

The MAG-11 aviators went against seasoned Hornet pilots from the Snipers. As an adversary squadron, the Snipers bear a motif reflecting former Cold War enemy aircraft. The squadron’s aircraft feature the Soviet star painted on the vertical stabilizer and the pilot name patches bear the former Soviet Union “Hammer and Sickle” image.

“We are here to help train 101, our primary customers, and the MAG-11 squadrons,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Frank, the commanding officer of the Snipers. “The benefit to having us here is that we can brief and debrief face to face.”

When the Snipers flew as enemy aircraft against the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing squadrons, their F-5’s provided a challenge for the Hornet pilots.

The F-5’s slender fuselage and small size creates a smaller target for the Hornet pilots, explained Capt. Steve B. Bowden, an instructor pilot with the Sharpshooters. The aircraft can be harder to see, so the students have to pay more attention to their radar when training against the adversaries. Their aircraft colors are blue and tan which camouflage them when flying over the ocean or the desert.

“Air-to-air fighting is the most difficult and dynamic mission a pilot can expect in his career,” said Frank. “Those combat skills are the most perishable. This means you have to continuously train in air-to-air combat tactics. It’s one thing to fly against targets in a fixed position on the ground, it’s another to fight an enemy moving as fast as yourself.”

When the time comes for a Hornet pilot to fly against a dissimilar aircraft, the Marine can use his training to react before he becomes a target. Having helped the active component train against an unfamiliar target, the reserve squadron returned to Yuma where they will continue aiding 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing squadrons with training.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing