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Trigger volunteered for the Penal unit
After apparently shooting down Harling, Trigger is told he won't be able to fly for awhile. This game sets up Mihaly as a sort of deconstruction/foil to the protagonists in Ace Combat games, a man who continues to fly on the front lines even into his 80's, because it's all he lives for, to the point of considering it his punishment to SURVIVE his last battle, never being able to fly again. Back to Trigger, he has effectively 2 choices. Either be dishonorably discharged, and lose his wings... or join the Penal Unit, and have at least the slightest chance of being able to keep flying. This, of course, assumes he even had the choice presented to him, but considering that he has a track record of a devil-may-care attitude towards his own safety, it wouldn't be out of character for him to go to foolhardy lengths to keep his wings, which would certainly bring extra meaning to him being "the biggest dumbass in the unit."

Osean Military Intelligence permitted Trigger the choice of joining Spare Squadron
It's possible that Osean Military Intelligence allowed Trigger to join Spare Squadron, having made everyone else around the world (especially Erusea) think that Trigger was imprisoned back in Osea in order to cover up the fact that a particular mole had given information concerning disguised drones. Having put this information together with the flight data recorders from everyone else's planes, the drone was revealed. But nobody was going to believe that a computerized fighter plane killed Harling.
  • Alternatively, it wasn't a choice. There were enough black boxes and pilot testimonies to eventually exonerate Trigger (granted, this data would take months to sort out), but the inquiry would have been on the back-burner for the entire war. Allowing a court-martial to make a swift conviction and putting Trigger in Spare Squadron (which doesn't legally exist) until more drone activity helped his case was quickest way to get a promising pilot back in the air.
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The reason Mihaly can't take down Trigger is because of Trigger's aggressive style.
Mihaly, at least at his current age and skill, predominantly uses mindgames and predictive thinking to harass, mentally exhaust, and outthink his prey. However, as demonstrated repeatedly, Trigger (and by extension, you) don't fly like someone who follows protocol, doesn't even think of fleeing when other pilots would run, and flies in highly unpredictable patterns. This leads to Mihaly ending up without his primary advantages, forcing him to lean heavily on his aging body and technological crutches. This is demonstrated in the first fight with him by his plane's systems acting up and his flight skills failing, and even in his future fights with Trigger he is at his worst when Trigger is right up on him and not giving him easy missile lock ons. By extension this is why his last fight has him bring a Superfighter and a hitscan EML railgun so that he doesn't have to rely on missile locks that Trigger has already proven adept at breaking.
  • Trigger already displays a skill Mihaly is implied to not have (angle his plane to take missiles in a non-vital area if a missile hit is unavoidable), so this makes sense. A pilot who doesn't follow the usual rules and moves is very unusual, even for an old timer who's almost Seen It All like Mihaly. However, it was already the case with his former pupil Yellow 13 (Mihaly notes his peculiar way of dealing with close encounters is not the way he knows) and Mihaly ended up picking up that skill, so should the war have lasted longer and Mihaly faced Trigger more times, he would've been more apt to counter him.
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Bandog is a bitter, disillusioned AWACS Thunderhead.
Picture this: You're an AWACs controller for a squadron of four planes during the Circum-Pacific War. Through thick and thin, you've been with these guys. You've shared victories with them, seen them face impossible odds and win, overcoming ruthless foes along the way....and you grieved with them when they lost one of their own. At the end of it, you would fly to the ends of Strangereal for these pilots, running support the whole way, making sure they don't lose another.

And then, one morning, they are branded as traitors, and killed trying to flee.

You don't believe it. That's what you told the Vice-commander of the base. Those pilots, the ones you had been with since day one, were nothing more than spies that were shot in the back as they tried to flee like cowards. The top brass, of course, take you in. As their AWACs, you're on the top of the list for suspicion. You're interrogated, but nothing comes of it as it becomes apparent that the spies kept you out of the loop. Still, the entire scandal is enough to effectively end your career at the front lines, and you're quietly rotated away, ending up at some dead-end position far away from Sand Island. Only later do you find out that the vice-commander himself was a Belkan traitor too. You would wonder why he would out his fellow spies to be killed, but by that point, you no longer care.

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Nine years go by, nine years for that feeling of betrayal and disbelief to become resentment and bitterness. The people you thought you could trust were nothing more than selfish traitors. When the cards hit the table, it's every man for himself, and the cowards will always flee. It's this mindset you keep, fueling that bitterness, until one day it bubbles over. You made a bad call. You got in trouble. Nothing by association this time, you did it yourself, and at the end of it, whatever retirement you had planned went up in smoke. Still, you have some use to the Osean military, so you're not locked away just yet. Instead, you're transferred to a base in the middle of nowhere ("Seriously, what the hell kind of name is 'Zapland'?") with a set of dummy runways and a barracks that is more akin to a prison block. Because it is a prison block.

The base commander's a piece of work, that's for sure. Makes old Perrault look like a damn saint. The look in his eyes as he addresses you makes it clear he sees you and everyone else in the room as less than dirt, but you still stand at attention.

"Your new callsign is Bandog."
  • Considering the Razgriz have the ear of the (then) president of Osea and one of their most famous naval officiers, it's not hard to think Harling and maybe Andersen pulled some strings to make sure nobody associated with Wardog (Pops, Perrault, Thunderhead and everybody based to Sand Island) was suspected of anything; considering Nagase has become an astronaut, Wardog were at least pardoned. Methinks Bandog is just the guy who had the bad luck of getting sent to the penal unit after graduating and hates his job.

Harling didn't pilot his aircraft back to the space elevator: his aircraft was actually hacked.

Given that the game established in the last missions that some planes can be hacked and controlled remotely, it suddenly makes more sense about why Harling's aircraft suddenly turns back to the space elevator. Avril and Rosa's debate about Harling's motivation is all just a Red Herring. I mean, what could Harling do to protect/destroy the entire space elevator with his tiny aircraft? No, that's because he never was trying to do those things. After a missile damaged the cockpit and Colonel Johnson is killed, someone (probably a Belkan) took control of the aircraft and forced it to turn back to the space elevator, before setting up to frame Trigger to shoot the plane down. This is reinforced by the fact that there's a moment where Harling attempted to contact the Osean forces, only for his messages to be in static. Whoever hacked the plane prevented any transmission from going out so he couldn't contact his allies. Finally, the Erusean aircraft was just sitting there with its engine already on at the space elevator, conveniently allowing Col. Johnson and Harling to commandeer it. It was all an elaborate trap. Harling's fate was sealed the moment he boarded that aircraft.

  • Hold it! This particular assumption assumes that there was a remote-control unit installed on that plane and that it was SPECIFICALLY delivered just for the purpose of tricking Harling into getting on board, which might backfire since every Erusean drone was shooting at it once it was airborne. How would the aircraft be ferried TO the elevator without getting shot down by the drones first?
  • Remember, the Eruseans also have the IFF-disguising technology they borrowed from the Belkans like that general in Mission 16 explained. It's possible that the aircraft was first registered as an Erusean craft so the drones don't shoot it down by mistake. They let Harling and Johnson board it and take off at first to make their escape attempt convincing. After Johnson is killed, someone remote-controlled the aircraft and pilot it back to the space elevator, before resetting the IFF for the aircraft just as Trigger shoots the missile to down the drone following it, thus the missile - tricked by the sudden IFF change - instead flew into Harling's aircraft and downing it.
  • Missiles don't have IFF systems installed: you aim and point them at whatever you have locked, and they'll go after it - the thinking is the missile doesn't need to carry IFF if the launch aircraft has IFF. Also, while IFF in Ace Combat is linked to the fire control system, in reality IFF is completely independent of the FCS and you can make shots on an aircraft whose IFF reads friendly. This is why in the real world the "Buddy Spike!" radio call is a thing (it means "I've been locked on by a friendly!") The simplest explanation is that when Harling's IFF was reset to to IUN/Osean, he became a fair target for the drones, and there are implications that the drone that shot down Harling was flying with a spoofed IUN/Osean IFF.
  • Next quibble: There's no guarantee that killing Johnson would NOT destroy the remote-control system module. After all, extra "black boxes" plugged into the control interface are NOT guaranteed to be bullet-proof.
  • Another quibble: The shootdown of Harling's aircraft is solely dependent on the destruction of the drones harassing it. If you gun down the drones WITHOUT hitting the tilt-rotor you'll see a missile come in from off-screen, not launched by your aircraft, and strike the tilt-rotor. This blink-or-miss-it moment practically reveals that you were being set up even before you find out about the IFF spoofing.
  • Yet another quibble: Harling is not afraid of being in danger. This is a man who flew, with his assistant and the help of other pilots by radio, a transport plane in the middle of an enemy attack (gunning for him) and with his nation's own defenses treating him as an enemy, then choose to travel to his capital, with the leader of the state Osea is currently at war with, to retake his seat while his cabinet was full of warmongers who danced like puppets in the hands of the Grey Men. There's a good chance he had a plan in mind to do something once he reached the Lighthouse and choose to went back, risks be damned. Whether the radical Eruseans or the drones specifically targeted him to weaken Osea or the drones just popped the first enemy target they spotted is another question.

The Lighthouse War is a direct prelude to the events of the Usean Corporate War.

  • Following the end of the war, numerous governments turned to corporations in order to rebuild key infrastructure following the destruction of the global satellite network. Among those companies is General Resource who bought out the In-sa-net Telegraph and Telephone Company based in Usea, allowing them a strategic foothold on the continent. Meanwhile, the Erusean Air and Space Administration is sanctioned due to the destruction caused by their drone weapons program and are ultimately privatized by the Erusean government, reemerging as Neucom Inc. The IUN Peacekeeping Force is reorganized into the United Peacekeeping Enforcement Organization in order to aid in peacekeeping efforts in other nations affected by the crash of the satellite network as well as to check the growing military power of the corporations. Finally, Simon Orestes Cohen is able to get his hands on some of Schroeder's research data, which will become foundation for the development of the Nemo AI.
    • It seems all the more possible that Schroeder specifies his assistant as Yoko Martha Inoue, mistranslated in English dub as "Massa".
    • Not that likely considering Neucom already exists (the first Neucom planes flew during the Aurelia-Leasath war). However, Cohen (who is, despite fan theory, not Schroeder) might have worked for Grunder Industries, explaining how he got his hands on the drone AI.

The fallout of the Lighthouse War enabled Leasath’s invasion of Aurelia a year later.

  • Under normal circumstances, Diego Gaspar Navarro would not have dared invade Aurelia as the Oseans would have likely intervened over an sudden and unprovoked invasion of a peaceful country, that was occurring on their own continent. However, as Osea was preoccupied with post-war reconstruction efforts in Usea, and likely having had their own infrastructure damaged by the collapse of the satellite network, Navarro saw an opportunity for Leasath to invade Aurelia while Osea was still recovering from the previous war and thus unable to properly support the Aurelians.
    • The extent of the interruption to communications felt by other countries on the Osean continent isn't fully revealed during the game - considering that Aurelia appears to have intact IFF systems during the Aurelia-Leasath War, it is also very much possible that Leasath, a nation which may also have been spared from the communications breakdown chose to take advantage. Osea and Erusea were unable to take part due to their ongoing recoveries from the war. Other Osean Continental countries such as Ustio and Sapin were too weak in military strength or too far away from the region of conflict to offer any realistic support, so they might have opted to remain neutral.
    • Osea might also have reverted to a non-aggressive attitude. All the wars that involved Osea at some point in the series (the Belkan War, the Circum-Pacific War and the Lighthouse War) involved Osea being the aggressed party. They noticably stayed out of the Usean Continental War since they weren't affected. As mentioned during AC X, the whole war is just a publicity stunt by Navarro to promote the Fenrir.

Related to the above, the reasoning for Fenrir's abilities and armament...

...is to stand up to drones like Hugin and Munin.Think about it. The VTOL ability to match the drones' insane speed and agility, the optical camouflage to prevent a drone from getting a radar lock, the High Powered Microwave to wreck a drone's systems, and the LRSWM to outright vaporise a squadron of drones from long range with sheer overpowering Meson energy. At first the loadout make the Fenrir sound like it is overcompensating at first, but then you realise that General Navarro probably witnessed the power of the drones during the Lighthouse War, and thus set out to create a next gen fighter plane with a fighting chance against autonomous aircraft and thus would sell massively in a world now stricken by drone attacks.

  • That would take quite the retcon to admit. It's more plausible that Fenrir, like Nosferatu, was just made to be as overpowered as possible so everybody would want one in case their enemy get one, meaning more profits for Navarro (or Estovakia in the case of Nosferatu). Not to mention even scientific powerhouses like Belka took a very long time to fully develop planes like the FALKEN and the drones, so the Fenrir project was likely started way before the Lighthouse War.

Stonehenge is another representation of Razgriz.
Wtih all of the callbacks and references to Ace Combat 04 and 5, this may or may not be intentional, but when compared to each other, the legend of Razgriz lines up perfectly with Stonehenge's story arc.
  • "When History witness a great change The Razgriz reveals itself." The Ulysses asteroid brings about a great change within Strangereal and brings with it Stonehenge.
  • "First, as a dark demon. As a demon, it uses its power to rain death upon the land. And then it dies." Obviously, this is Stonehenge during the first Continental War as Erusea uses it ravage the entire Usean continent.
  • "However, after a period of slumber, Razgriz returns. This time, as a great hero." The period of slumber is when Mobius One destroys Stonehenge, rendering it dormant until the Lighthouse War, where it finally returns as a great hero by the lone cannon being brought back online for one final time and shooting down the Arsenal Bird.
    • Stonehenge was build to shoot down Ulysses fragments at first, just like Fortress Intolerance, Megalith and Chandelier. Only then it was used as a weapon. The only "true" representations of Razgriz are the Wardog Squadron and, to a lesser extent, Cipher.

Erusean veterans and drone technology.
One of the most major plot points is that the drone tech used by Erusea was pushed forward by the younger members of the Erusean military, while the older Eruseans generally hated it. One could be curious as to why this would be...until you realize that many of those older Eruseans likely weren't so old when they took part in the war fifteen years ago. They watched as a single, human pilot decimated their armies, downed their finest aces, and chased them all the way back to their capital and then some. One pilot was all it took to destroy a military that challenged the continent. No drones, no fancy computers, no weapons of mass destruction, just raw human talent. Now imagine how they felt when they hear the resident Belkan is taking flight data from a similar ace, and putting it into these new drones. Imagine them remembering the destruction that "the Ribbon" brought upon them years ago, and wondering what would happen if there was a squadron, or worse, multiple squadrons of these aces flying around. No wonder they back away pretty quickly from drone tech when given the chance.

Trigger is ethnically Belkan.

It appears that by the time the Lighthouse War the Belkan people are a discriminated group of people, as can be infered by two particular events in the game first when the Erusean Conservatives indiscriminately massacre the Belkan researchers and their families (including children) for developing the drones that started the war; and how Avril thinks Belkans are a bunch of schemers and war mongers when she finds out Tabloid is a Belkan by birth. Trigger after the death of President Harling is pretty much railroaded by a military tribunal and thrown into a penal squadron. Usually a felony trial lasts much longer than a few weeks often taking months or years. Perhaps because Trigger is a Belkan, the Osean Military just assumes that "well he is a Belkan he must have wanted Harling dead. Because of his heritage any defense Trigger might have used is just instantly ignored because of the Fantastic Racism Belkans face in Strangereal. This can also explain why people like Count and Knocker are so dismissive of Trigger's exploits as a pilot. "No way a Belkan could be such a good pilot, they are just a bunch of schemers. Trigger must just be getting lucky."

  • Unlikely considering Tabloid. He was sent to prison because he tossed a rock at an officer during a protest, which no matter the situation, is still assault, but he doesn't seem rejected or disliked that much by the other inmates (who apparently enjoy hearing his stories) and Bandog (who Hates Everyone Equally). Count dislikes Trigger because unlike him, Trigger is competent and doesn't have to boast of inflate his numbers to acquire a reputation of being a badass until Wiseman's death gives him a long overdue reality check. Knocker is more pissed about the whole "This dude killed the best Osean president ever" than anything, and most of his criticisms are directed towards Clown for not keeping an eye on Trigger. As for the whole trial, there's a full scale war going on in the background and all the current evidence incriminates Trigger. Maybe his sentence would have been commuted or he would have been pardoned once the dust settled and a proper investigation could have been done, gathering enough evidence to innocent him. Likewise, Schroeder isn't suffering from any prejudice despite his Belkan name, but if they had the chance, there's a good chance the Erusean conservatives would have slaughtered him with the other scientists out of revenge and not out of prejudice.

Osea’s current President had the Arsenal Birds built.

It doesn’t make any sense for Harling to want the Arsenal Birds built, as unlike the Arkbird, the Arsenal Birds are built solely for combat. So the only explanation for why they were built, was because Harling’s successor in Osea’s 2012 elections had them built to protect the Lighthouse. Harling most likely didn’t agree to their constructions, but since he was no longer the President, he ultimately wasn’t left with a choice.

Osea forced the dissolution of ISAF

ISAF was formed in 2003 with the original purpose of combating Erusean aggression. Yet a year after the Continental War, ISAF still existed as it was involved in silencing Free Erusean terrorists, meaning that they may have also become a de-facto force to deter aggression from outside the Usean continent. This may have posed an obstacle for Osea, who wanted to build the space elevator on the continent. The space elevator provides near-unlimited resources for Usea to recover from both the Ulysses disaster and the Continental War. So Osea offered to build the space elevator on Usea under one condition: ISAF needs to integrate into the IUN. The Usean governments, not in a position to reject this great offer as they desperately needed the resources for reconstruction, had to agree.

  • Considering Harling's and Osea's position towards world peace and the geopolitical situation, this is disputable. The ISAF (who, if it's actually Strangereal's variant of the European Union's own peace-keeping force, also acts as a diplomatic tool to prevent war between member states) stayed out of the Lighthouse situation since the whole mess about the Lighthouse involved Erusea but not the eastern Usean countries. An aggressive stance of Osea towards the ISAF, added to the Erusean grievances about their lost territory, would have probably led to the addition of Erusea to the ISAF (or at least led to a temporary alliance) and all those people would have banded against Osea, who witnessed twice now that the Usean can be mean opponents if pushed (the Usean Coup d'État and the Usean Continental War) and have a tendency to have top notch pilots pop out during a conflict (Scarface 1, Mobius 1, etc.). ISAF with Mobius 1 + Erusea with Mihaly + Belkan tech = bad time for any aggressive Osean administration.

Major McOnie headed the development of the Arsenal Bird

In mission 3, you learn that the Arsenal Bird was developed by the Osean Army. This would be an odd job for a ground-based force, until you realize that Major Deanna McOnie is part of the Osean Army. She really does look like the kind of person to develop it. In fact, she was probably chosen to restore Stonehenge not only because she knew how to do it, but also she knows how to bring down the Arsenal Bird. And there's a tone of confidence when she says, "My program will bring down the Arsenal Bird," like she knew from the get-go that something like Stonehenge will bring it down. Add that to when the team was forced to aim for the Arsenal Bird with manual sighting, she immediately tells Trigger to attack the central propellers to slow it down.

The Radical faction of the Erusean military is run by Free Erusean infiltrators

The third VR mission shows that Free Erusea has access to drone technology with their use of a decoy unmanned transport plane. Operation Katina tells us Free Erusea was founded by ex-Erusean Air Force officers. Free Erusea has proven to be an incredibly resilient terrorist organization, surviving Mobius One's raids against them in 2006, resurfacing again in 2014, and during the events of "Last Hope" in 2019, the Erusean News Network reports a rumor that they are again active. It is likely that in the years following Operation Katina, the group went underground and focused on recruitment efforts to plant operatives within the new Kingdom of Erusea's military. Using their founders' knowledge of how the military recruitment process and command structure works, they were likely able to target strategic personnel positions and fill them with their people. One snippet of Erusean radio chatter in "Last Hope" mentions that the drone-hating conservative faction far outnumbers the Radicals, but that does not matter if the people who are in the key command positions are Free Eruseans and have the authority to impose their directives on the broader military. The 2014 uprising may very well have been a dry run by Free Erusea to test how the Belkan drone technology would work on a large-scale conflict.

  • In addition, during the third VR mission, one of the Free Erusean pilots mentions a rumor that the Ghost Squadron is made up of Erusean pilots who have been reported shot down and use that as legal cover to join Free Erusea: after all, it's a lot harder to prosecute a dead man who's trying to aid and abet a terrorist group. Whoever's managing the HR department for Free Erusea has some serious pull with the Erusean air force if they can manage to keep faking this many deaths, again hinting at a major insider connection.
  • Further confirmation that Free Erusea has serious pull with the Erusean military can be found in content involving two VR missions that were cut: one mission involves an aircraft carrier strike group from the Erusean Navy that attempts to defect to Free Erusea (and further cut dialogue reveals there were elements in the Erusean Army that were also trying to defect), and the other mission involves Free Eruseans trying to capture an Erusean Navy ballistic missile submarine, whose captain was a secret Free Erusean sympathizer and had leaked to them the submarine's extremely classified inspection schedule.
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