The U.S. Air Force originally ordered the T-38A Talon in the 1950s as an advanced, supersonic flight trainer. The Talon's maneuverability also made it useful as a trainer, fighter lead-in, and as the first in a series of aggressor aircraft.
Before the Lead-in-Fighter Trainer (LIFT) program began in 1975, new pilots went directly from the T-38s they flew in Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) to the advanced fighters of an operational fighter squadron. The LIFT program reduced the training load on new pilots because they could learn fighter basics in a familiar aircraft. Also, since the AT-38B was much less expensive to operate than a fighter, the LIFT program reduced costs. The LIFT program ended in 1993 when the USAF incorporated this type of training into UPT.
Modified with a weapons pylon and a gunsight, the Talon became the AT-38B (LIFT). AT-38Bs could carry gun pods, rockets or practice bombs, and trainee pilots learned basic combat maneuvers and air-to-ground weapons delivery in them.
The USAF's relatively low air-to-air kill ratio in the Southeast Asia War led to the creation of the very successful "aggressor" air-to-air combat training program in 1973. Mimicking Soviet tactics, USAF aggressor pilots flew T-38As against other USAF fighter pilots flying frontline USAF fighters. In 1976 the similar, but more capable, Northrop F-5E began replacing the T-38A as the USAF's aggressor.