# Gimbal ID of a possible jet?

#### MclachlanM

##### Active Member
I think it’s worthwhile starting a thread to potentially ID the jet in the GIMBAL video, working off of the assumption that it is a jet, consistent with the DCS recreation I did based off of the angles and ranges from the stuff done in GeoGebra, here:

If this is what we see in the original video then we are looking for a jet flying with the following approximate values:
240knots IAS, M0.6
20,000 – 25,000 ft
12-15 nmi away
Roughly the size of a hornet (13.6m span, 18m long)

There are a number of possibilities but we can use the transcript to possibly narrow these down.
“That’s a [expletive] drone bro ” (maybe sounds dismissive?)
It seems strange to me that a pilot would see something very hot and fast at 25,000ft and immediately say it’s a drone. Generally what we see in the clip is not characteristic of common military drones:
MQ-9 Reaper – turboprop, cruise speed of 170 knots
CASC Rainbow – turboprop, max speed of 200 knots, normal altitude of 3000ft

“There is a whole fleet of them, look on the SA”
As for the fleet aspect, is it possible that this is just a single jet using RADAR deception?
“11.2.2.8 Range deception. … If a repeater transmitted a series of time-displaced pulses, identical to the radar pulse, it could produce a series of spurious targets, each at different ranges.”
“11.2.2.9 Angle Deception. … Sidelobe angle deception. First, the sidelobes in the antenna radiation pattern must be evident to the ECM unit. A false target pulse is then transmitted while the ECM unit is at the azimuth of a sidelobe of the victim radar. The radar circuitry is designed to register target angular position in the main lobe only, and therefore displays target video with an angular error equal to the angular displacement between the main lobe and the sidelobe involved. This technique can be applied to any radar with ineffective sidelobe suppression or cancellation. By combining this method with range deception, many false targets at different ranges and bearings can be generated, causing confusion over the entire search volume of the victim radar, with much less required average power than equivalent noise jamming.”
https://fas.org/man/dod-101/navy/docs/fun/part11.htm

A nice example of the sort of deception which could explain the apparent confusion between the WSO and pilot about the ATFLIR looking at the L&S track. As well as the testimony Lt Graves, it is certainty reminiscent of what he draws in the video from the History channel:

Admittedly this sort of thing sounds a bit farfetched but there are stories of mix-ups happening due to this sort of thing before. B-52 story about accidently deceiving ATC:

Source: https://youtu.be/wLCuiRtolpM?t=68

Is this more or less likely than encountering a jet and seeing a ‘fleet’ of different objects coincidently at the same time?

Anyway, the possibilities I have found:

It could just be an F-18 from the same carrier, however a friendly fighter would probably have its’ IFF (Identify-Friend-or-Foe) on and the operators would recognise it immediately as one of their own (it flashes ‘FRIENDLY’ on the HUD to prevent friendly fire).

It could be a civilian jet as there are a number of fighters owned privately e.g.:

Source: https://youtu.be/WsHPoQygnVQ?t=114

Yes the ATC would be aware of it but remember that this is only a 30 second clip out of context. Would ECM and RADAR spoofing equipment be allowed by customs and the FAA?

It could also be an enemy fighter, this is unlikely as it would need tankers, a carrier or a nearby airport to get close with its range and it would probably be big news so I think that can be dismissed.

My favourite potential explanation is that we are seeing an experimental autonomous X-47B that would have been on the USS Theodore Roosevelt at the time the footage was taken, specifically trialling its’ integration with manned aircraft.
“Sea trials on the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2014 were intended to test the X-47B's ability to swiftly take off, land, and hold in a pattern among manned aircraft without disruption to carrier operations.”

jackfrostvc has already found this and has a good post here: https://www.metabunk.org/threads/ny...ncounter-with-unknown-object.9333/post-250595

It matches the size, oval shape of exhaust and flight characteristics we’re looking for. It would explain why the pilot jumps to the conclusion that it is a drone and sounds dismissive. It even looks like a UFO.

There are a few problems however. Although the X-47B is designed for stealth, it is unclear whether or not the X-47B was ever fitted with ECM capable of deceiving RADAR, the official documents all noticeably leave out ECM in the avionics.

Also even if it did have ECM, why would it have it on?

Do we know how much pilots would know about their airspace, if they would be informed of an X-47B testing ECM 15nmi away? This was all I could find about separation standards from the FAA:
4-4-11c. “When radar is employed in the separation of aircraft at the same altitude, a minimum of 3 miles separation is provided between aircraft operating within 40 miles of the radar antenna site, and 5 miles between aircraft operating beyond 40 miles from the antenna site. These minima may be increased or decreased in certain specific situations.”
https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/publications/atpubs/aim_html/chap4_section_4.html

I realise a lot of this stuff has been repeated over the last few years and it's frustrating to keep hearing it, but I'd appreciate any answers to my questions, additions to the possible jets or a reason we can strike one off the list.

We know the X-47B was part of Project Nemesis as I noted in my post which is all about EW. It's how I got to the X-47B , from the Nemesis EW leeds

You can see even in 2004 they were planning on it being involved with EW

https://news.northropgrumman.com/ne...47b-joint-unmanned-combat-air-systems-program

Along with the X-47B, Nemesis also used Northdrop grumman BAT drones which have EW capabilites

https://defensereview.com/northrop-...dy-for-electronic-warfare-ewattack-ops-video/

Here are the drones supposedly used with Nemesis. X-47B circled

It's a complex system of assets performing thier bits that together perform a task.

You'll also note the X-47B has ESM on it, see below

Here is the X-47B taking off from the USS Roosevelt in August 2014

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The problem with the X-47B hypothesis is that stealth aircraft are also designed to minimize their thermal emissions, but gimbal shows blinding glare. Take a look at the shape of the exhaust:

Of course there's only so much that can be done to avoid thermodynamics, but the kind of bright glare we see in the gimbal video is precisely the sort of thing these engines were designed to avoid.

The problem with the X-47B hypothesis is that stealth aircraft are also designed to minimize their thermal emissions, but gimbal shows blinding glare. Take a look at the shape of the exhaust:

Of course there's only so much that can be done to avoid thermodynamics, but the kind of bright glare we see in the gimbal video is precisely the sort of thing these engines were designed to avoid.

Insuffienct stealth apparently

I'm sure. But that's all there is on it's stealthiness. I have looked for any info on anything mentioning concealing the heat from the engine, couldn't find anything. I think it was only stealth in regards to radar, and not anything to do with concealing heat from the engines which are pratt and witney F100-PW-220U

I'm sure. But that's all there is on it's stealthiness. I have looked for any info on anything mentioning concealing the heat from the engine, couldn't find anything. I think it was only stealth in regards to radar, and not anything to do with concealing heat from the engines which are pratt and witney F100-PW-220U
I can't speak to how effective it is, of course, but you can tell looking at the design that there was at least an attempt to conceal the engine emissions, at least from the ground. They do that by hiding the combustion chamber behind various baffles and surfaces, by making the exhaust a slit shape (maximizing perimeter over area and thus mixing with the ambient air). The actual combustion would only be seen from certain angles, if at all. Things we can't see, but which may be in the design (because they were in similar designs like the B-2) are additional mixing of cool air into the exhaust, and liquid cooling the exhaust pipe itself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealth_technology#Infrared

Some good info here as well:

https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/16876/how-do-stealth-aircraft-reduce-the-heat-signature

It's not a slam dunk or anything, but IMO it makes it a worse fit than, say, another F-18 running red air or something.

I can't speak to how effective it is, of course, but you can tell looking at the design that there was at least an attempt to conceal the engine emissions, at least from the ground. They do that by hiding the combustion chamber behind various baffles and surfaces, by making the exhaust a slit shape (maximizing perimeter over area and thus mixing with the ambient air). The actual combustion would only be seen from certain angles, if at all. Things we can't see, but which may be in the design (because they were in similar designs like the B-2) are additional mixing of cool air into the exhaust, and liquid cooling the exhaust pipe itself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealth_technology#Infrared

Some good info here as well:

https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/16876/how-do-stealth-aircraft-reduce-the-heat-signature

It's not a slam dunk or anything, but IMO it makes it a worse fit than, say, another F-18 running red air or something.

I think given the WSO/Pilot calls it a drone in the GIMBAL video. It's less likely to be a f/A-18 and more likely to be, well, a drone
As Ryan Graves said, apparently it was part of a fleet where the rest comprised of much smaller objects.
This was one of the clues pointing to it being part of the NEMESIS test that was conducted in wargames completed in Feb 2015. Given the timing it , seems it was all part of COMPTUEX.

Also, bit of info. The Roosevelt was part of the group doing COMPTUEX

Sources:

https://web.archive.org/web/20150311161613/http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=85126
https://web.archive.org/web/20150310113704/http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=85147

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We know the X-47B was part of Project Nemesis as I noted in my post which is all about EW. It's how I got to the X-47B , from the Nemesis EW leeds

You can see even in 2004 they were planning on it being involved with EW

https://news.northropgrumman.com/ne...47b-joint-unmanned-combat-air-systems-program

Along with the X-47B, Nemesis also used Northdrop grumman BAT drones which have EW capabilites

https://defensereview.com/northrop-...dy-for-electronic-warfare-ewattack-ops-video/

Here are the drones supposedly used with Nemesis. X-47B circled

The sources on the X-47B's electronic warfare capabilities are very vague, from Northop Gunmann:
The J-UCAS program is an effort by DARPA, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to demonstrate the technical feasibility, military utility and operational value of networked, unmanned, air-combat systems to suppress enemy air defenses, perform electronic attack, conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions, and perform precision strike attacks.

In this phase, Northrop Grumman will produce and flight-test three X-47B unmanned demonstration vehicles with associated mission-control stations and logistical support elements. Flight demonstrations are expected to begin in 2007.
"Consistent with DARPA's objective of fielding demonstrators with warfighting potential, the X-47B promises to be a highly capable air warfare system, well suited to support the full spectrum of military operations," said Scott Winship, Northrop Grumman's J-UCAS program director. "It will be very stealthy and thus highly survivable. It will carry a wide variety of sensors with a large internal weapons payload and be fully networked into the military's emerging joint operational architecture. Aerial refueling will allow it to provide persistent coverage deep into the battlespace from long distances."

The ESM mentioned really only covers identifying other threats, I think the ability to jam/decieve enemy RADAR would fall under ECM (Electronic counter measures) instead:

So it sounds that the X-47B was designed with the precision strike attacks in mind rather than electronic warfare

And although the BAT has RADAR jamming/deception I really doubt it would be flying with the X-47B at sea:
Max. Altitude: 17,000 ft MSL (5.2 m)
Max. Speed (Level Flight): 90 ktas
Loiter Speed: 64 ktas
It's launched using this catapult thing and is caught in a net, I found nothing to say that they have ever been deployed on a carrier and don't see why they would bother testing it on one.

I think given the WSO/Pilot calls it a drone in the GIMBAL video. It's less likely to be a f/A-18 and more likely to be, well, a drone
As Ryan Graves said, apparently it was part of a fleet where the rest comprised of much smaller objects.
This was one of the clues pointing to it being part of the NEMESIS test that was conducted in wargames completed in Feb 2015. Given the timing it , seems it was all part of COMPTUEX.

Do we know if pilots taking part in wargames would be speaking this casually? Swearing in comms seems like something you would avoid unless it was a fairly mundane flight.

Could it be possible that the X-47B was practicing using ECM and pilots like LT. Graves were unaware? My intuition says no but listening to carrier pilots it sounds like they aren't aware of other operations and only focus on there own jobs, an insider opinion could help here.

I can't speak to how effective it is, of course, but you can tell looking at the design that there was at least an attempt to conceal the engine emissions, at least from the ground. They do that by hiding the combustion chamber behind various baffles and surfaces, by making the exhaust a slit shape (maximizing perimeter over area and thus mixing with the ambient air). The actual combustion would only be seen from certain angles, if at all. Things we can't see, but which may be in the design (because they were in similar designs like the B-2) are additional mixing of cool air into the exhaust, and liquid cooling the exhaust pipe itself.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealth_technology#Infrared

Some good info here as well:

https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/16876/how-do-stealth-aircraft-reduce-the-heat-signature

It's not a slam dunk or anything, but IMO it makes it a worse fit than, say, another F-18 running red air or something.

Here is an F-16 using the same engine seen from 12.5nmi directly behind (no afterburner) in DCS (doesn't model glare):

The main point in the stealth exhaust is to deflect hot gasses upwards to avoid detection from the ground.
To hide this massive heat source, stealth aircraft are designed with exhaust vents that mask the exit point of the engine's exhaust from observation by the ground. There's really not a lot you can do design-wise to mask the IR signature from directly behind the aircraft; it's the pilot's job to ensure nobody ends up at that angle within missile range.
So we wouldn't expect the X-47B to be any better than the F-16 in terms of IR from behind.

Do we know if pilots taking part in wargames would be speaking this casually? Swearing in comms seems like something you would avoid unless it was a fairly mundane flight.

Could it be possible that the X-47B was practicing using ECM and pilots like LT. Graves were unaware? My intuition says no but listening to carrier pilots it sounds like they aren't aware of other operations and only focus on there own jobs, an insider opinion could help here.

Not sure the X-47B would be doing ECM (although I'm sure it could be fitted to do so), maybe I didn't explain it properly. NEMESIS is a system of assets that work together to perform a task.
It could be the X-47B is doing the ESM and the other small drones the EW jamming/spoofing otherwise known as Electronic Attack
From the NEMESIS pic I showed, that's what the setup seems to be.

Here is sea trials of the BAT UAS

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I think given the WSO/Pilot calls it a drone in the GIMBAL video. It's less likely to be a f/A-18 and more likely to be, well, a drone
My assumption going into this (somewhat loosely held but consistent with the available info, it'd be nice to get the opinion of someone who actually operates the system) is that one of the pilots (the WSO?) was wrong about the ATFLIR being in L&S mode, since it wasn't boxed on the display, and that's why the other pilot was confused. The pod just looks like it's on optical track. Then it could be that whatever was on their SA page was not whatever they ended up filming; they just thought it was because they tracked something in the same patch of sky. So the "whole fleet" comments could be the result of some sort of EW. Who knows, maybe the X-47B was even involved. But strictly speaking we don't even know whether there was an actual physical object there at all.

The main point in the stealth exhaust is to deflect hot gasses upwards to avoid detection from the ground. So we wouldn't expect the X-47B to be any better than the F-16 in terms of IR from behind.
I found this cutaway view illustrating the airflow through the B-2's engines:

Source:

Things of note:
• There's no direct line of sight to the combustion chamber from anywhere behind it, due to the serpentine shape of the exhaust duct.
• Cool air gets shunted from the front and mixed with the hot exhaust gases.
We don't have a comparable cutaway of the X-47B but it was also made by Northrop Grumman, and the exterior design of the engine exhaust looks similar. Compare this with the above pictures:

The biggest concern is indeed hiding the IR signature from the ground, which is why the exhaust is on the top side of the fuselage instead of centered as it is in designs that don't constraining engine performance for stealth. But the signature is certainly fainter from the back as well. Despite all this, it would almost certainly be detectable from behind (which justifies the comment in that stack overflow engine) but it would not produce as intense a glare as you'd get from that F-16 which has a clear view to its combustion chamber.

My assumption going into this (somewhat loosely held but consistent with the available info, it'd be nice to get the opinion of someone who actually operates the system) is that one of the pilots (the WSO?) was wrong about the ATFLIR being in L&S mode, since it wasn't boxed on the display, and that's why the other pilot was confused. The pod just looks like it's on optical track. Then it could be that whatever was on their SA page was not whatever they ended up filming; they just thought it was because they tracked something in the same patch of sky. So the "whole fleet" comments could be the result of some sort of EW. Who knows, maybe the X-47B was even involved. But strictly speaking we don't even know whether there was an actual physical object there at all.

The ATFLIR would be operated by the WSO and I'm assuming the pilot is operating the radar, in this case the pilot might have a RADAR lock on something (L&S) and the WSO has a autolock on the ATFLIR. So the fact that L&S isn't boxed doesn't tell us anything, just means that the ATFLIR isn't being told where to look by the RADAR. I'd imagine they would work out if the object they're looking at is the same as the L&S target in the next couple of seconds after the clip ends but at this point it's ambiguous.

I agree we could be looking at a standard jet and the fleet is generated by RADAR deception but we can't rule out an actual fleet and this object being the L&S target.

So the fact that L&S isn't boxed doesn't tell us anything, just means that the ATFLIR isn't being told where to look by the RADAR.
That's the reason for my assumption: if the ATFLIR isn't slaved to the MSI trackfile generated by the radar it could be looking at something else. It could also be looking at the same thing, yes, but that's no longer guaranteed. If as Lou Elizondo et al claim, the incident remained unexplained, that seems easier to make consistent with a situation like that where the pilots are confused by the various seemingly inconsistent sensor readouts than with them just looking at a single solid track across multiple sensors.

But you're absolutely right, with as little information and context as we have it's next to impossible to rule anything out.

We have so little actual info, but as this is the same plane/crew as Go Fast so if the range we see in Go Fast is a RADAR range shown because of ATFLIR LOS correlation with a RADAR track we might expect that the same thing would happen in Gimbal but there is no range presented which would seem to lend a tiny amount of weight to it not being the same as any potential RADAR derived L+S track

The ATFLIR would be operated by the WSO and I'm assuming the pilot is operating the radar, in this case the pilot might have a RADAR lock on something (L&S) and the WSO has a autolock on the ATFLIR. So the fact that L&S isn't boxed doesn't tell us anything, just means that the ATFLIR isn't being told where to look by the RADAR. I'd imagine they would work out if the object they're looking at is the same as the L&S target in the next couple of seconds after the clip ends but at this point it's ambiguous.

I agree we could be looking at a standard jet and the fleet is generated by RADAR deception but we can't rule out an actual fleet and this object being the L&S target.
In a two seater the WSO (once known as RIO=radar intercept officer) is tasked with sensors and weapons. The pilot drives and dogfights.

WSO is responsible for ATFLIR and radar. It's his only job. He would need to be spectacularly incompetent to mess up this badly.

In a two seater the WSO (once known as RIO=radar intercept officer) is tasked with sensors and weapons. The pilot drives and dogfights.

WSO is responsible for ATFLIR and radar. It's his only job. He would need to be spectacularly incompetent to mess up this badly.

As far as I can tell the pilot is in complete control of everything and will designate tasks to the WSO like operating ATFLIR, setting ground targets etc. The F/A-18F systems can be decoupled meaning the pilot can do everything he can in a C (single seater) and the WSO can do his own thing.

Real dogfights are incredibly rare and the plane looks like it is in autopilot in the video so what would the pilot be doing if not just sitting there?

Either the WSO is incompetent or it is a simple mix-up caused by poor communication (which seems common in cases where a single seat pilot has been moved to a two-seat and now has to work with someone else).

(Also the second seater in F18s were never called RIOs they were only RIO in F4s and F14s)

I've said it before, I find it hard to believe there was no optical footage. I think they did see that, either before or after the IR footage in the GIMBAL video. That's an assumption of course. Hard to imagine the WSO didn't at least look at the zoomed optical feed

I've said it before, I find it hard to believe there was no optical footage. I think they did see that, either before or after the IR footage in the GIMBAL video. That's an assumption of course. Hard to imagine the WSO didn't at least look at the zoomed optical feed

I think it's a pretty safe assumption that they saw exactly what it was after the video is cut. For reference here are some screenshots from DCS (not entirely realistic but just to get a feeling of what you see at different distances)

~14nmi

~13nmi

~10nmi

In about 2.5 minutes after the video ends, the F-18 would be able to get into formation distance if it went full throttle (without afterburners):

I don't think there is anyway that Elizondo/TTSA could have released the footage with the cut where it is in good faith. If the object in question managed to escape the F/A-18 then it would be much more remarkable than what we see in the footage.

It's possible visibility wasn't great in the optical band so they only got usable IR footage.

Can you deselect the Automatic Gain and Level (ALG), and change it manually?

Try to change gain and level manually to saturate the image. I don't know of that is going to be modelled correctly, but I'm just curious about the result if you try to saturate the image using posibly a high gain.

Can you deselect the Automatic Gain and Level (ALG), and change it manually?

Try to change gain and level manually to saturate the image. I don't know of that is going to be modelled correctly, but I'm just curious about the result if you try to saturate the image using posibly a high gain.

The DCS sim as far as I know does not simulate full IR at all it I imagine it just puts a different shader on the normal visible light view, non of the complex optical effects will be recreated.

I imagine trying to simulate these effects and aberrations is very complex and I wonder if there is any simulator that does to any level.

Sure would be interesting to play with this

https://www.flir.co.uk/products/flirsim/

FLIRSIM is a portable, rapidly deployed, all-inclusive system-level training tool that provides the functional equivalency of an FAA Advanced Aircrew Training Device (AATD) for FLIR Star SAFIRE 380 family sensors.

Well, at least we are learning something in all this

We will all be NAVY, and F/A-18 system experts by the end of this

theres no way on earth we can ID an object that is fully hidden behind glare with a computer game like DCS. the flir technician mick interviewed said glare only happens when the pilots wipe the gimbal screen with their sleeves.

the fact that the x47b looks like a saucer profile wise can be fully neglected because the hypothesis is that we see a glare that looks like a saucer.

if the "the glare rotates and not the object itself" hypothesis is true, we are looking for something that produces a significant heat signature that can cover up the whole craft with its glare. that would rule out stealth aircraft like the x47b especially with a single exhaust, that apparently doesnt have a direct line of sight to its engine

the alternative would be we go the "its not a glare but an actual rotating object route", in this case a UAV with a x47b profile would be possibly realistic again.
it could match profile and maneuvers that were possible without an actual human inside.

however, i have no clue how visible a stealth aircraft like this would be on IR.

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Well, at least we are learning something in all this

We will all be NAVY, and F/A-18 system experts by the end of this

It was nice of them to give us 3 videos all from the same platform, however I wonder if now we know a lot about if we'll ever see an ATFLIR video from them again.

Can you deselect the Automatic Gain and Level (ALG), and change it manually?

Try to change gain and level manually to saturate the image. I don't know of that is going to be modelled correctly, but I'm just curious about the result if you try to saturate the image using posibly a high gain.

I've tried to avoid messing with the settings as much as possible because it's possible to make the picture change quite a bit.

Also important is the contrast knob in the bottom right, this doesn't show its position on the DDI but will dramatically change the look of the ALG settings.

Here are DCS screenshots to get a feel for what the settings do:

Standard settings:

Contrast down/up:

Gain down/up:

Level down/up:

For completeness here is TV and my best guess for the settings we see in the video:

I can't find a source for this but my impression is that the G1 in the bottom right next to setup indicates that the ATFLIR DDI is on a preset set by the WSO, this could be set to anything for all we know.

Re G1 this is seen in the Go Fast video as well.

I imagine trying to simulate these effects and aberrations is very complex and I wonder if there is any simulator that does to any level.
I don't know if DIRSIG or Irma simulate glare.

I don't know if DIRSIG or Irma simulate glare.
I would love to get my hands on either but they are for US gov employees only.

I don't know if DIRSIG or Irma simulate glare.
highly doubt it because the flir technician mick interviewed said it only happens ahen pilots wipe the window with their sleeves

It would be nice to have a good simulator play with but the effort and cost are not worth it compared to the possible benefit we could gain.

### New and Improved Forward Looking Infrared​

In the modern battlefield, a realistic rendering of FLIR sensors is mandatory, not just for aircraft but also for ground units, unmanned systems, and weapon sensor video. Given the need to create the underlying technology and then create thermal maps for all the world objects, terrain surfaces, and units, this has been quite a large task. We will continue to develop this well into 2021 and we hope to deploy this new FLIR enhancement in Q3 2021.
Fingers crossed DCS will be good enough in a few months.

It seems strange to me that a pilot would see something very hot and fast at 25,000ft and immediately say it’s a drone. Generally what we see in the clip is not characteristic of common military drones:
MQ-9 Reaper – turboprop, cruise speed of 170 knots
CASC Rainbow – turboprop, max speed of 200 knots, normal altitude of 3000ft
I'm a bit late to the party and this may have already been picked up on, but you seem to be overlooking target drones:

I suspect that many of these would nicely match the profile you describe.

Avenger (General Atomics):

Performance

• Maximum speed: 460 mph (740 km/h, 400 kn)
• Cruise speed: 402 mph (648 km/h, 350 kn)
• Endurance: 18 hours
• Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,240 m)

RQ-4 Global Hawk (Northtop Grumman):

Performance

• Maximum speed: 391 mph (629 km/h, 340 kn)
• Cruise speed: 357 mph (570 km/h, 310 kn)
• Range: 14,154 mi (22,780 km, 12,299 nmi)
• Endurance: 32+ hours
• Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,000 m)
• Lift-to-drag: 33

I think we can probably rule out Global Hawk...It's a high altitude platform and it is humongous...I believe the navalised Triton does make occasional forays to lower altitude (allegedly that is how Iran shot one down), but it is still very big and I suspect not very hot:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_MQ-4C_Triton

another F-18 running red air or something.
The pilots did initially think "it may be a simulated adversary aircraft as part of the COMPTUEX scenario". Ryan Graves called them "professional land-based 'Red Air'", said they were "aircraft from the coast" which included "old fighters ... things that can move relatively quick, but not necessarily there to engage us in a dog fight", and said these were coming from "land bases" and they were "expected to go intercept them". So I've tried to look into what other jets it could typically be if it's red air.

One can also imagine it being some other jet, not red air, particularly if it had some stealth capability, but I have this intuition that if there's some other unusual activity nearby it would've been easier for someone to put two and two together than if it was something that's so mundane and inconspicuous, given the context of a large force military exercise, that maybe it could've been hiding in plain sight, just at a greater distance than the radar contact they were entirely convinced was the object.

I started from this excellent overview of what red air is by C W Lemoine "Mover", who flew F-18s as red air around the time of Gimbal:

Besides F-18s, the Navy also uses the F-5 Tiger II, for example the navy aggressor squadrons VFC-111 or VFC-12.

As of 2015, a contractor called ATAC was the "incumbent service provider" for Navy training exercises, and at least up until 2011 they "participated in every one of the COMPTUEX, JTFEX and [NAS] Fallon Air Wing training cycles since 2005" . Before 2015 we can see them having at least F-21 KFIR, Mk-58 Hawker Hunter, L-39 Albatros . Here are some videos of them taking off or from behind: KFIR, Hawker, Albatros. These all have under half as much total thrust as an F-18's two engines, but could something still make them any less IR stealthy in some way ? Could it be that the engines don't actually need to put out an unusually large amount of heat, but due to the exposure in the scene being set unusually high at that distance it still ends up looking like an unusually large glare ?

There was another contractor called Draken which at the time had A4-K Skyhawk, L-159E ALCA, MB-339CB, Mig-21 . Its major contracts have been with the Air Force, so it's not clear if they would've participated here, but it's based in Lakeland, Florida about 100 miles south of Jacksonville, so perhaps it could've been convenient to ask for reinforcements if needed ?

I'm not sure if they would do so but if for some reason the Air Force sent some of its own assets as well, then it could even have been T-38, F-16 or an F-15, with the latter having a higher total thrust than the F-18.

The most exotic possibility on this list would be the Sukhoi Su-27s, which the US bought from Ukraine in 2009. A contractor that is certified to fly one is TacAir. It too has a higher total thrust than F-18s. Maybe not the most likely option here, but interesting to mention.

After these red air missions they're supposed to debrief somehow, and the objective is to learn from any mistakes made, but if they were coming from the coast, not returning to the carrier, then I think those who flew these jets would not have been in the room during the debrief related to Gimbal. As I understand it they're supposed to send data to the carrier at least after the mission, but where multiple different entities need to interface together, perhaps there could be some added potential for data loss, perhaps it could've made the job of subsequent investigations more difficult.

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I didn't include the F-35 in the post above because I didn't have evidence of it being used as red air that early, but that has changed somewhat. In a recent conversation between E-2 pilot T.R. Matson "Wombat", F/A-18 pilot Trevor Hartsock "Gonky" and C.W. Lemoine "Mover" they said:
Article:
Wombat: We know our capabilities compared to, say, our adversaries' capabilities, right, so if we have other capabilities that can then squash our capabilities and our capabilities are better than our adversaries' well, guess what, I don't have to test it against our adversary now because I know it's going to beat them.
Gonky: So they're testing against the airwing.
Mover: You know they did that with the F-35. I mean when it was first coming out they would put it in scenarios and not tell anybody.
Wombat: They did it with the Raptor too, I think. It's not uncommon.
It's unclear what timeframe Mover was referring to there as the F-35's first flight was in 2006, but still there were a number of "firsts" related to F-35s, particularly ones flying around carriers, in 2015, so maybe it could still fit some definition of "when it was first coming out", or in any case maybe there could still have been a need to test it against the airwing.
A review for the year 2014 that NAVAIR put out in January 2015 said:
Article:
2014 ended with a flight into the history books for the carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35 C Lightning II completed its first carrier launch and landing from the flight deck of the Navy's oldest aircraft carrier, USS Nimitz. The milestone event was part of the initial at sea developmental testing for the Joint Strike Fighter. Test teams from Naval Air Station Patuxent River used two F-35 C aircraft to perform a variety of test operations to better understand how well the aircraft operates in a shipboard environment. The fifth-generation F-35 C will deliver an unprecedented stealth at sea capability to carrier aviation
A review for the year 2015 said:
Article:
The F-35 C Lightning II flexed its sea legs as it completed its first arrested landing aboard USS Dwight D Eisenhower in October. The milestone event was the second of three at sea developmental test phases for the carrier variant. The F-35's first developmental test at sea took place aboard USS Nimitz in 2014.
...
The Marines are another step closer to fielding the F-35 B short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. ...
The Marine Corps declared the F-35 B's initial operating capability status in July.
It's also unclear what Mover meant by "not telling anybody". Maybe its transponder might've been turned off at least, and then maybe it'd show up on some sensors, but would it necessarily show up on all radars all the time given its stealth capabilities ? If it did show up, given its secretive nature would those sensor readings necessarily have been shared with everyone immediately ? During the debrief if it was not shown that the aircrew encountered another jet, perhaps due to some other (potentially false) radar contacts, perhaps due to a glare that made the jet look unusual, would they necessarily have had a need to know what other secret test flights might've been airborne, and could the few people who did know have failed to make the connection that they were looking at one such test flight ? Over the following years could data from such a test have been lost, or at least not yet found by the UAPTF and most recently AARO ?

The F-35's single engine has a bit more thrust than two of the F/A-18's combined. A recent article in DefenseOne also said:
Article:
The [F-35]’s engines are running twice as hot as designed, boosting maintenance and capping performance. ... The jet relies on a power and thermal management system, or PTMS, that pulls air from the engine to cool its radar and other electronic systems. But planemaker Lockheed Martin discovered in 2008 that cooling requires more “bleed air” than anticipated.
Wikipedia also mentions that:
Article:
As of 2009, P&W developed a more durable version of the F135 engine to increase the service life of key parts. The life expectancy of the parts was reduced because the hot sections of the engine (combustor and high-pressure turbine blades specifically) ran hotter than expected.
So could this issue have been present in 2015 as well and could that extra heat have contributed to a glare that some aircrew at least at the time weren't used to ?

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