Aggressor units, also sometimes known as the "Opposing Force," or OPFOR, are typically well-versed in the doctrine and tactics of possible adversaries, or the "red" force. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

By now, many of us have seen the Tom Cruise film, Top Gun, where US Navy and US Marine pilots sharpen their skills against an aggressor force, amid much aerial combat drama and a touch of romance.

The school — which was later relocated to Fallon, Nev. from Miramar, Calif. — does in fact exist, and it churns out top notch fighter pilots and instructors.

Not to mention a Hollywood movie or two — a sequel is on the way, although the premiere has been pushed back to July 2, 2021, because of Covid.

The concept actually does work, which is why the US Navy’s submariners have finally got on board — quietly and secretly launching an “aggressor force” in 2019 to battle its nuclear submarine fleet, Joseph Trevithick of The War Zone reported.

The unit, abbreviated AGGRON, is part of the Navy’s Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC).

It has elements at both the UWDC’s headquarters at Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut and at the Point Loma Annex in San Diego, California.

The Navy formally established the squadron between the spring and summer of 2019, according to issues of Undersea Warfare magazine, the official publication of the Submarine Force, War Zone reported.

“Its goal is to employ an effective cadre of experts (red team) versed in opposition warfighting philosophy, strategy, and tactics to stress submarine crews in warfighting scenarios. Red team expertise will be available locally or virtually to support training and certification,” Navy Vice Admiral Charles Richard, then Commander, Submarine Forces, wrote in the Spring 2019 issue of Undersea Warfare.

“Additionally, we are working on connectivity between attack center locations to allow remote red team engagement, and we are exploring the possibility of employing select SSN(s) [nuclear attack submarines] as a standing red opposition force for live at-sea play.”

“All school houses are in receipt of an updated ‘red’ playbook and are working with the Aggressor Squadron to ensure that crews receive the best blue vs. red (vice blue vs. blue) training scenarios,” Richard wrote.

Aggressor units, also sometimes known as the “Opposing Force,” or OPFOR, are typically well-versed in the doctrine and tactics of possible adversaries, or the “red” force, War Zone reported.

The idea is that these elements provide added realism to training exercises, giving friendly “blue” forces an opportunity to get a feel for how potential opponents might operate and explore how existing and improved concepts of operation might work against them.

An internal job listing the Navy issued on Aug. 13, 2020, says that the squadron wants an individual with “cryptologic experience in submarine operations to assist with various Electronic Warfare (EW) projects.”

While we don’t know exactly what these projects are, electronic warfare, broadly, is a rapidly growing area of interest across the US military, as a whole, as well as among possible adversaries, especially Russia, War Zone reported.

In 2018, Vice Admiral Richard had described the still notional unit as a version of the Navy’s famed Top Gun fighter pilot training program, but for submariners.

It’s worth noting that Top Gun also trains individuals to be able to return to their primary units, including both operational and training squadrons, and act as instructors and pass on what they have learned, a concept that could also be very advantageous for the submarine community, War Zone reported. 

As Richard noted in Undersea Warfare last year, AGGRON is already working to share lessons learned and more with other operational and training elements.

The new unit will be able to provide similarly important benefits for US anti-submarine warfare elements – a much broader community that includes surface warships, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters – looking to hone their skills against more representative threats, as well.