A Modeler's Guide to Being Aggressive

How to get more out of your adversary...

Aggressor squadrons, or adversary squadrons as they are known in Navy and USMC parlance, are employed to facilitate a simulated air combat experience for fighter pilots. Though they fly older DoD air frames, they are trained to utilize enemy tactics in order to emulate potential threats. It gives other fighter squadrons the opportunity to train against dissimilar aircraft, a technique that traces back to 1969 and the birth of Navy Fighter Weapons School, better known as TOP GUN. If you recall in the movie, the A-4s played the role of adversary, providing dissimilar training to the much larger F-14.

Fast forward to today, NFWS has since relocated from Naval Air Station Miramar to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center at NAS Fallon, Nevada. While there are civilian contract companies still operating the A-4, the Skyhawk no longer flies with the USN/USMC as an adversary, replaced largely by the F/A-18 and F-16A (yes, the Navy operates F-16s). Squadrons of aggressors and adversaries can be found elsewhere, including NAS Key West, MCAS Yuma and Nellis AFB, also in Nevada.
To further enhance the guise of adversarial combat, the aircraft are painted in schemes meant to reflect potential enemies. It is this characteristic alone that should be appealing to model builders keen on fancy paint jobs. Aggressors give modelers the opportunity to build US subjects while being able to avoid the more boring gray-on-gray schemes in favor of the sexier Russian-esque livery.

Clean lines and dazzling camo work on this 64th Aggressor Squadron F-16C.

These camouflage patterns are impressive but you should know by now that I waste little energy on models that are clean and unimaginative. These aircraft are bright and fun to paint, if you love masking. But they also present a unique opportunity to add some visual interest to your model that you may otherwise be overlooking.

The benefit of having lots of aircraft in a squadron utilizing multiple paint schemes is that, thanks to every day maintenance practices, these patterns may be mixed and matched. 

Here you can see aircraft of NSAWC on the flightline, several different schemes to choose from. Though there is nothing in particular of note in the photo, I want you to focus on the F/A-18 in the foreground. Notice how it is undergoing maintenance with several components removed from the right wing, including the aileron. With older air frames this is probably a common occurrence. Whatever the case may be, if replacement parts are not to be had then suitable components will be taken from other operational aircraft within the squadron. This is called cannibalization and leads to interesting mash-ups like this...

Note the closest F-16A is painted overall in various blues but the right ventral fin on the rear fuselage is brown, taken from an aircraft that would have had a similar finish to the F-16 next to it.

This F-16B's ventral fin is gray. Damage to a ventral fin can occur during a landing with an angle of attack that is too high.

Another off colored ventral fin.

Less noticeable for those who lean more towards subtlety, the nose wheel door is blue.

You may also notice different colored pylons. In this case, brown weapons pylons are hung on a gray aircraft. 

If you don't think this type of modeling is aesthetically pleasing, there are ways to tone it down and still achieve some visual interest.

I was surprised by the lack of mismatched panels among adversary F-5's but I did find this example with the tip of its vertical stabilizer in primer.

This F-18's left rudder is in primer.

The leading edge and trailing edge of this Hornet's outer right wing were replaced.

Like a game of where's Waldo, the oddity here is the primer yellow left rudder of the gray camouflaged Hornet.

These characteristics are not exclusive to Navy subjects either. The Air Force operates aggressors that share the USN's propensity for replaced parts.

This F-16C of the 64th Aggressors has swapped its right horizontal stab with another aircraft featuring a different style paint scheme. Also, the speed brakes are in primer.

Notice the camo scheme demarcation lines do not match up in various sections on this Viper.

Again, I was slightly disappointed to find few references of aggressor F-15Cs with color issues. However, this example appears to have had its right rudder replaced.

My goal for posts like these is simply to provide you with more options. Any one can copy the color call outs provided in the instructions, but if you take the time to look closer at your references, you might just see a detail that will give your aircraft a little extra pop. To me, modeling is about story telling. Finishing your model this way adds a realistic human element to it. It conveys age. It conveys a maintenance process. Ultimately, it makes the viewer wonder just a little bit more about it. And if you can get the community wondering, then you've built a fantastic model.
Thanks for reading!


  1. Brilliant article I enjoyed the hell outta this brand new post while I'm working my way through your previous years of blogs. Finding your blog is a goldmine for guys like me, 33 years in modelling and just enjoy pondering the ponderable when I can't be at my bench.

    I worked as a flightline engineer on RSAF Super Puma's for a few years and was involved in heavy maintenance 'G-Check' which were complete strip-down to the bare bones airframe as part of a 20 yearly rebuild program.

    I was involved a lot with the paint shop side of the build and as a modeller found it fascinating how varied the supposed FS-standard/Mil-Spec camo schemes were. Camo was freehand painted and we literally had A3 size plans to eyeball - not even paper masks!

    I remember umming and ahhing as to whether we should do the usually matt-black areas (radome/exhaust heat shields) in a gloss black for easier cleaning. We went with gloss simply because it was a hell of a lot easier to keep clean! These are OCU training aircraft after all so we were not worried about camouflage per-se.

    I've got loads of photos if you're interested - as well as building the MRH-90's for the Australian Army.

    Thanks for the great content, I'll stop raving and go check out more of your previous blogs.

    Paul Rose


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