Tag: Aggressors

First F-35A in Aggressors Paint Scheme Unveiled At Nellis AFB

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First F-35A in Aggressors Paint Scheme Unveiled At Nellis AFB
Lt. Col. Brandon Nauta, 65th Aggressor Squadron commander, assumes command of the 65 AGRS during an activation ceremony at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, June 9, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Josey Blades)

Here’s the first Aggressor Lightning II of the 65th AGRS (Aggressor Squadron).

On Jun. 9, 2022, the U.S. Air Force reactivated the 65th Aggressors Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. The unit, apreviously flying the F-15C/D, inactivated on Sept. 26, 2014, due to Fiscal Year 2015 budget constraints but a plan to “resurrect” it and move 11 F-35A Lightning IIs from Eglin AFB, Florida, to Nellis, “as part of a larger initiative to improve training for fifth generation fighter aircraft” was announced on May 9, 2019.

“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC fifth- and sixth-gen fighter development, we must use a portion of our daily fifth-generation aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson, and now Nellis, to replicate adversary fifth-generation capabilities,” Air Combat Command commander Gen. Mark Kelly who flew his F-15E Strike Eagle against the unit’s first assigned F-35 and newest commander, Lt. Col. Brandon Nauta, immediately prior to the reactivation ceremony, said. “Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we do replicate a fifth-gen adversary, it has to be done professionally. That’s the Aggressors.”

The emergence of a “stealth threat” among the near peer adversaries was the reason for choosing early production F-35s, aircraft that would be too expensive to upgrade to a mission capable status, for realistic training of U.S. and allied 4th and 5th generation pilots against low-observable threats similar to what Russia and China are developing.

According to the U.S. Air Force, the F-35s will be employed into large Combat Air Forces exercises, U.S. Air Force Weapons School missions, joint exercises, and operational test and evaluation events that are only conducted at Nellis Air Force Base and the Nevada Test and Training Range.

“This significant milestone marks our ability to bring fifth-generation capabilities to the high-end fight, and will allow us to enhance our premier tactics and training with joint, allied and coalition forces,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander.

“Using the F-35 as an aggressor allows pilots to train against low-observable threats similar to what adversaries are developing,” said Col. Scott Mills, 57th Operations Group commander.

Aggressor jets are quite popular for sporting eye-catching paint schemes that replicate the camouflage, markings and insignas of Russian and Chinese combat aircraft, so that pilots in training who come within visual range of these adversary jets get the same sight they would see if they were engaging an actual threat. And, as The Aviationist reported in an exclusive story in September 2020, the F-35 are going to be painted with threat representative color schemes.

In a story that appeared online on Sept. 10, 2020, we also published seven artistic renderings made by Sean Hampton of current Aggressor camouflage schemes sported by 64th AGRS and 18th AGRS’ F-16s, applied to the F-35. As we explained back then, Sean submitted other liveries that are not based on existing Viper camouflages but decided not to release them until the squadron have their unveiling of the chosen schemes.

Here’s a comment this Author added to the article about the renderings:

While we don’t have any idea [as to whether] a camouflage color scheme will ever make its way to an F-35 since the LO (Low Observability) coating is one of the aircraft’s most delicate components and, for the moment, no F-35 was ever given anything more exotic than the standard haze paint of the stealth aircraft and some high-visibility tail markings, these ones, inspired to some pretty popular paint schemes, like the “Wraith“, “Ghost“, BDU Splinter, etc, are truly amazing.

“The current plan is to seek ACC approval to use a threat representative color scheme on the Aggressor F-35s”, told us the 57th Wing PAO Media OPS in an email in September 2020. […] At the moment it is unknown whether the color scheme will be made using paint or decals” the spokesperson added.

And this is the comment this Author wrote in the article that broke the news of the F-35 getting an aggressor paint scheme:

Therefore, there is a plan to give some peculiar threat representative color scheme to the Aggressors F-35, although the thing still need to be approved. It remains to be decided what kind of scheme will make it to the Nellis airframes.

To preserve the LO, the Aggressor paint scheme should be made of a combination of colors approved for use on the F-35. Currently, just 6 Federal Standard Paint colors should be approved for use on the type. However, the Air Force could expand the color palette for these aircraft, considered that they are non-combat coded jets so they’re not held to the stringent rules other F-35s are. It basically depends on how much LO they want to preserve.

At the same time, the use of decals seems less likely: there have been some vinyl-wrapped tails in the past, but for longevity (and considering that decals affect the Low Observability too), it would most probably be paint, possibly a more “toned down” scheme than one of the seven eye-catching ones of the renderings submitted by Sean Hampton.

In the end, the F-35A indeed got a toned-down scheme with three shades of gray that seems to use existing panels painted a lighter gray than the rest of the aircraft, resulting in the peculiar livery. The characteristic saw tooth panel lines of the first type of F-35 coating are quite evident in the nose section.

Let’s wait for some images of the aircraft “flexing” on departure from Nellis AFB to catch some more details about this paint scheme and, above all, let’s see what kind of camo scheme will other F-35s receive.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.

Draken Will Provide Red Air Services To The Royal Air Force

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Draken Will Provide Red Air Services To The Royal Air Force
Draken L-159s in formation in the United States. (Photo: Draken)

Draken’s L-159Es will take over the aggressor role of the recently retired Hawk T1 fleet.

The Royal Air Force awarded a six-year contract to Draken to provide aggressor aircraft to support the training of Typhoon and F-35B pilots, replicating the tactics, techniques and procedures of potential adversaries. This is the first such contract placed in the United Kingdom, although a similar service is currently being delivered by Draken International and other contractors to the United States Air Force.

“This exciting new capability increases the quality of operational training. By improving the currency, capability and survivability in combat of our Lightning and Typhoon fighter pilots we will enhance the potency of the UK’s Combat Air capability”, said Air Commodore Townsend, Senior Responsible Owner. “The Contract was delivered through competition, from inception to contract signature, in an exceptionally short timescale of only six months. It is timely, affordable, deliverable and provides Defence with excellent value for money.”

Beginning from the July, Draken Europe will use the L-159E Honey Badger to provide simulated airborne threat as part of the Interim Red Air Aggressor Training Service (IRAATS) program. This capability was previously provided by the recently retired Hawk T1. As mentioned by the RAF, the L-159E delivers a capability enhancement over the Hawk through increased endurance, an air-to-air radar and a radar warning receiver.

“Draken Europe has been trusted by the UK Government to deliver the world’s most technologically advanced operational readiness training to the RAF and the Royal Navy for many years. Our team takes very seriously the nationally significant role that they have training military personnel from the UK and its strategic allies, providing a range of multi-platform effects using next-generation technologies”, said Paul Armstrong, CEO at Draken Europe. “We’re proud to be bringing an entirely new capability to the UK defence sector – especially so at a time when geo-political events have brought into sharp relief the need for our armed forces personnel to be trained effectively to defend themselves from attack.”

<img data-attachment-id="79328" data-permalink="https://theaviationist.com/2022/04/12/draken-will-provide-red-air-to-raf/raf-hawk-t1-fast-jet-practices-aerobatics-over-north-wales/" data-orig-file="https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Draken_Red_Air_RAF_2.jpg" data-orig-size="1024,571" data-comments-opened="0" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"4.5","credit":"Crown Copyright","camera":"Canon EOS-1D Mark IV","caption":"A Royal Air Force Hawk T Mk1\/1A display fast jet takes to the skies over RAF Valley in Anglesey, North Wales. \r\n\r\nThe Hawk Display team is the public face of Number 4 Flying Training School (4FTS) based at RAF Valley on Anglesey and their full time mission is to train the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy combat pilots of the future.\r\n\r\nThe Hawk display exists to demonstrate the professional excellence of the RAF and promote recruitment to the RAF. Evidence shows that RAF displays have inspired a significant number of people to join the RAF, both as officers and airmen, and to all trades, not just aircrew.","created_timestamp":"1307026342","copyright":"Crown Copyright","focal_length":"70","iso":"100","shutter_speed":"0.00125","title":"RAF Hawk T1 Fast Jet Practices Aerobatics Over North Wales","orientation":"1"}" data-image-title="RAF Hawk T1 Fast Jet Practices Aerobatics Over North Wales" data-image-description data-image-caption="

File photo of a Hawk T1 conducting aerobatic maneuvers. (Photo: RAF)

” data-medium-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-5.jpg” data-large-file=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-2.jpg” class=”size-large wp-image-79328″ src=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-2.jpg” alt width=”706″ height=”394″ srcset=”https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-2.jpg 706w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-5.jpg 460w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-6.jpg 128w, https://getyourpilotslicense.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/draken-will-provide-red-air-services-to-the-royal-air-force-7.jpg 768w, https://theaviationist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Draken_Red_Air_RAF_2.jpg 1024w” sizes=”(max-width: 706px) 100vw, 706px”>

File photo of a Hawk T1 conducting aerobatic maneuvers. (Photo: RAF)

The contract, announced last week, was placed on Mar. 28, 2022 and currently covers three years, with options for up to a further three years. The L-159Es will be based at Teesside International Airport, where Draken’s existing DA20 Falcon aircraft fleet (used for adversary air, electronic warfare training and target and banner towing) are currently located. The L-159s, formerly operated by the Czech Air Force and upgraded by the manufacturer Aero Vodochody, will be registered and regulated by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

As already mentioned, the Red Air capability was provided by the Hawk T1 trainers assigned to 100 Squadron. The Hawk T1 was replaced in its flight training role by the Hawk T2, but it was kept in service as aggressor aircraft. Following the latest Defence Command Paper last year, it was decided to retire the older Hawk model by March 31, 2022, after more than 40 years of service. The only T1s that will remain in service until 2030 are the ones assigned to the Red Arrows.

About Stefano D’Urso
Stefano D’Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he’s also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.

Draken International Acquires Soon-To-Be Retired F-16s From Netherlands And Norway

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File photo of a Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16 landing during the recent exercise “Gioia Falcon”. (Photo: Author)

The 24 Vipers will join the company’s fleet of fighter jets used for the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program in the US.

Draken International announced last week two contracts to acquire a fleet of second-hand F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Netherlands and Norway. The company is set to receive 12 aircraft from each country as they get retired from 2022. The exact timeline is not yet known as the transfer has to be first approved by U.S., Dutch and Norwegian authorities and some classified systems need to be removed before the aircraft can be delivered to Draken.

The sale of the Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s was already expected. As we reported earlier this year, the Dutch Parliament was informed on Jun. 29, 2021, that an interdepartmental Defense Materiel Sales Committee, consisting of representatives of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Defence, approved the sale of 12 F-16s to Draken International. The Falcons will come out of the F-16 End Life of Type (ELOT) program after the Dutch retire their F-16s starting in 2022.

The F-16 is currently operated in the RNLAF by only one unit, the 312 Squadron at Volkel Air Base. The squadron is the last unit to operate the Viper as the other squadrons are gradually moving to the F-35 Lightning II. The remaining F-16s will be retired in batches from 2022 to 2024/2025, when the F-35 is expected to reach the Full Operational Capability and take over the roles of the F-16. Draken has also been offered the option to acquire an additional 28 F-16s from these batches.

Regarding for the Norwegian contract, the Forsvarsmateriell (Norwegian Defense Material Agency) has been working since 2019 to decide what to do with the Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s as they get retired this month and fully replaced by the F-35. As for the Netherlands, only one RNoAF unit is still operating the Viper, the 331 skv at Bodø Air Base. Other than Draken, the government is looking to sell as many of the remaining F-16s as possible to allied countries.

File photo of a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16B in flight. (Photo: RNoAF)

At this time of writing, it is unknown if the two deals with Draken International only include single-seat F-16As or, more probably, also dual-seaters F-16Bs. It will also be interesting to see which systems will be removed from these F-16s before the transfer, how they will be modified after the delivery and eventually the adversary paint scheme they will be given. The aircraft are expected to be refurbished before the delivery and accompanied by their support equipment.

In their current configuration, the F-16s sold to Draken were initially delivered in the Block 1 configuration and later upgraded up to the Block 20 Mid Life Update configuration, with capabilities considered comparable to the F-16C Block 50/52 configuration. Both countries also installed some customized systems on top of the MLU upgrade, which might be the ones that will be removed before the transfer to the US company.

Following these contracts, Draken International will become the second company to provide contracted F-16 for the training of the U.S. Armed Forces, after the Canadian company Top Aces started receiving the F-16s acquired from the Israeli Air Force this year. The Vipers will join the fleets of Mirage F-1s, L-159s Honey Badger and A-4s Skyhawk already operated by the company to support the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support program. The F-16s are considered a step further toward an improved contracted threat replication, as they are 4th gen aircraft and thus more modern and capable compared to the ones currently used in this role.

As we already extensively explained in past articles here at The Aviationist, the original Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40,000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10,000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9,000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three year-extension for a total of over 26,000 flight sorties.

The role of aggressors/adversary units is to train fighter pilots in the most realistic way in extremely important. While some services have their own units that replicate paint schemes, markings, insignias and, above all, the tactics, used in combat by their near peer adversaries, these are usually costly to operate and maintain: experienced aircrews, constant training and the proper assets are not cheap.  For this reason, both in the U.S. and abroad, even those air forces who have the assets, budget and experience to insource adversary support services increasingly rely on contracted aggressor services provided by private companies.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Aggressor F-35s Joined The Fight During First Next Generation Red Flag Exercise

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An F-35 Lightning II from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, takes off during Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 23, 2021. Red Flag was created to increase interoperability, leveraging common perspectives against shared threats. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Miranda A. Loera)

Red Flag 21-3 saw the participation of all services from the U.S. Armed Forces to train next generation joint warfighting against more modern, stronger and dangerous threats, including Aggressor F-35s.

Blue air participants of Red Flag 21-3 found themselves fighting for the first time against F-35 Lightning II aggressor pilots, in one of the most complex exercises ever held at Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada) which included every domain of the modern warfighting. Red Flag exercises have been around for 46 years to tactically train fighter pilots but, as the threats posed by potential adversaries evolve, time has come for the exercise to evolve to its next generation.

“I have air-to-air aggressors. I have surface-to-air aggressors. I have space and information aggressors. The aggressor is the person who’s here to train blue by providing a realistic and robust adversary that they, being blue, have to actively fight against. They have to use every bit of the capabilities that they have and every bit of integration that they can compile to achieve what their intent is for that day”, said Col. Scott Mills, commander of the 57th Operations Group and an F-35 aggressor pilot. “Knowing what I know about those blue air capabilities and the blue air integration, my job is to pick that apart, to pull at the seams,” he continued. “The aggressor nation here is one of the best in the world at finding those niches, finding those gaps and seams, and absolutely punishing those mistakes that blue air makes.”

Lt. Col. Chris Finkenstadt, commander of the 64th Aggressor Squadron, said in the press release that Aggressor F-35s are being introduced during this Red Flag to expand upon the F-16 aggressors’ threat capabilities, so the exercise’s scenario more accurately represents advanced enemy fighters. It should be noted that F-35s already took the adversary role during past Red Flags, but the important difference here is that this time the 5th gen aircraft are operated by 64th Aggressor Squadron pilots, which are specialized in the threat replication thanks to their lengthy certification process where they gain a comprehensive understanding of U.S. adversaries and their tactics.

“What aggressors are able to present to them is a more challenging problem for blue air assault,” said Lt. Col. Finkenstadt. “The aggressors know the threat replication a little bit better, and they have studied the adversary and the way that the adversary would actually react to a specific situation. Based on our focus toward great power competition, we need to make sure that those guys are ready, and we do that by presenting the best possible atmosphere we can.”

The role of the F-35 as Aggressor during Red Flag is important as it will showcase what blue forces can do against low-observable type threats similar to what potential adversaries are developing, like the Russian Su-57 Felon and Su-75 Checkmate and the Chinese J-20 Mighty Dragon and FC-31 Gyrfalcon. The pilots of 4th gen aircraft might be at a disadvantage against those threats, so the F-35’s new Aggressor role should help to develop the tactics that will help pilots to fight and win against 5th gen threats.

“At the end of the day, my job is not to give blue an easy day. My job is to give blue the absolute toughest day that I can. And the way for me to do that is to bring the F-35 into the fight. And the F-35 is going to make it exceptionally difficult for blue to achieve their objectives. They’re going to need to take every bit of capability they have, every bit of integration they can, to achieve their intent,” said Col. Mills.

An F-22 Raptor from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, taxis in preparation for a mission during Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, July 21, 2021. Red Flag takes place over the Nevada Test and Training Range and provides the warfighter a flexible, realistic and multidimensional battle space to conduct advanced training of U.S. military services and coalition forces. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Hicks)

Air Force officials did not provide precise info about the performance of the F-35 during the simulated engagements however, even if they did, those numbers would not make much sense as they are strictly dependent on the actual Rules Of Engagement (ROE) and the training scenario. In fact, the scenario and ROE might even put the fighters in situations that would never happen in a real engagement, just for the training value to have pilots ready for anything and prepared for the worst-case scenario.

“The first two days, blue’s nose gets pretty bloodied. And then by the end of week one, you start to see their lessons learned are getting passed around and they’re starting to figure things out a little bit,” said Lt. Col. Finkenstadt. “Then, day one or two of week two, they may get their nose bloodied again, because we tend to ramp it up a little bit. It usually takes a couple of days to start figuring out different game plans and how they want to package their forces to solve their problems.”

During exercises like Red Flag, the de-brief after each mission is invaluable and maybe even more important than the mission itself, as pilots and crews will go all over their flight planning again, taking a look at how they reacted, what the threat was, what they didn’t see and what they didn’t do. At the same time, the debriefing is where the new lessons learned will help figure out how to best combine everyone’s capability so the joint effort can successfully reach the mission objectives.

“We see walls come down between communities. We see stovepipes disappear. We see teams that have never before worked together, not only working together, but truly integrating their capabilities to achieve an end result. And I’ll tell you when blue air does that, it’s exceptionally difficult for red air to pull that game plan apart,” said Col. Mills. “At the end of the day, the truth is that no one of us, no one capability is outstanding or the best in the world. Our outstanding capability comes from the fact that we work together well through exercises like this. We operate across our joint and coalition partners to form one truly unstoppable blue force.”

And here we reached the second focal point of the latest Red Flag exercise, the joint forces. Red Flag-Nellis 21-3 involved only U.S. personnel, allowing the joint participants from other services and major commands to focus on details and sharpen their skillsets at a high classification and high tactical level against a stronger, more dangerous threat. Alongside the Air Force, the exercise included the Navy, Marine Corps, Space Force, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserves, with more than 100 airframes, including 40 5th generation aircraft.

“When you can bring joint units along with the Air Force in an environment like this, it’s no longer part-task training,” said Lt. Col. Tyler Stef, Red Flag commander. “It is full integration… We will better know and understand their service culture. Red Flag is the opportunity people get to come and start to build those relationships that will ultimately last a career.”

Lt. Col. Stef said that Red Flag 21-3 was focused on a Pacific region threat, an area where the great power competition continues to bring the tensions between China and the USA higher and higher. As mentioned in the press release, Red Flag is another way to prepare and allow participants to experience situations similar to those possible in the real-world, so the Pacific Air Forces brought to the exercise their insight about the different problem sets and unique perspectives of the Pacific region.

“Joint interoperability is important,” said U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Tim Miller, VMFA-115 Marine Fighting Squadron commanding officer. “It allows us to practice how we are going to operate in the event that some real-world combat operation was to arise. That’s kind of where the Department of Defense is focusing now, which has put some additional emphasis on exercises such as Red Flag. It’s all about integration, and we’re still able to get that done in an extremely professional environment. For our maintainers to understand how the airfield operates and functions is a huge combat readiness enabler for us”.

A U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet, assigned to the All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533, taxis out during Red Flag 21-3 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Aug. 3, 2021. Red Flag exercises are conducted on the Nevada Test and Training Range, which houses more than 12,000 square miles of air space and 2.9 million acres of land. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus)

However, while everyone is working to build the joint warfighting machine, someone has to give them some obstacles to face. While the 64th AGRS provides cutting-edge air-to-air threats, the 414th Combat Training Squadron makes air-to-ground employment more challenging with complex target areas, camouflage and concealment techniques across multiple spectrums and advanced surface-to-air threats.

Red Flag, in fact, unleashes the aggressor nation as they refine threat replication, apply advanced jamming and increase threat capabilities to maximize training in non-permissive environments. “Red Flag’s goal is to challenge, disrupt and if able, deny our communication and interoperability,” said Lt. Col. Evan Parr, 27th Fighter Squadron director of operations. “They force errors and punish mistakes. We get better by working through these problems in the air and as we debrief each fight.”

Another novelty of Red Flag 21-3 is the integration of space components into both blue and red forces. “As non-kinetics and Space itself, we’ve already infused with Global Positioning Systems, satellite communications (SATCOM) and bringing what we offer at Red Flag on the electronic warfare side,” said 2nd Lt. Joshua Miller, 16th Space Control Squadron. Miller explained that electronic attack and electronic surveillance assets provide an option to help monitor and detect Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) for the blue forces’ signals and its health, while also allowing to do the same against the red force’s EMIs.

The 414th CTS planned a multitude of joint space assets and tools to rival both red and blue forces during the exercise. “Without space-based capabilities, you lose access to GPS satellites, around the world communication, SATCOM, along with convenience,” said Maj. Paul Sula, 26th Space Aggressor Squadron standards and evaluation flight commander. “I believe there is a role to play, and space is a fantastic enabler.”

Meanwhile, this seems to be just the first of many renewed Red Flags, as the Air Force is planning to make more space at Nellis AFB for 5th gen fighters. The 4th generation A-10 and HH-60 squadrons will move from Nellis AFB to Davis-Monthan AFB (Arizona), starting in fiscal year 2022 and freeing additional range capacity necessary to test and train warfighters in 5th-generation aircraft.

“Our nation and joint force commanders depend on us to control and exploit the air. To do that, we need the additional range and aircraft maintenance infrastructure capacity at Nellis to fully test and train with our most advanced capabilities,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command. “Our rescue squadrons will continue to train and hone their critical skills in support of operational missions from their new location.”

The move however will also allow personnel recovery units to take advantage of the synergy provided by collocating with other rescue units, as Davis-Monthan AFB already hosts HH-60s and HC-130s, in addition to A-10C squadrons. The A-10 Weapons Instructor Course and Test and Evaluation operations will transition to Davis-Monthan AFB in 2022. The HH-60 WIC, Test and combat coded units to include the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 66th Rescue Squadron, 58th Rescue Squadron, the 34th Weapons Squadron and the 855th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron will move beginning in 2024.

By the way, the Air Force is planning to modernize and maintain only 218 of the current fleet of 281 combat-capable A-10s, according to Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Plans and Programs deputy chief of staff. Among the aircraft affected by the cuts there are 35 A-10C already based at Davis-Monthan AFB. The decision however is not final, as the retirement of the first 42 A-10s is subject to congressional approval.

“Under this plan, Davis-Monthan will play a critical role in reshaping U.S. airpower as home to the Air Force’s close air support and rescue Centers of Excellence,” said then Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth. “This realignment will consolidate all A-10 and HH-60 test, training, and weapon school activity at one location, allowing Airmen in these mission areas to train together for future threats.”

With these changes, the Air Force plans to transform Nellis AFB in a 5th Generation Center of Excellence. The base is currently on track to receive more F-35s to support F-35 operational test requirements and additional F-35As from Eglin AFB (Florida), as part of the reactivation of the 65th Aggressor Squadron, and additional F-22s for testing from Tyndall AFB (Florida), as well as further improving the Nevada Test and Training Range to train 5th generation systems in a live environment.

As we already reported here at The Aviationist, the Air Force has been working for a couple of years already to reactivate the 65th Aggressor Squadron. The unit will receive about a dozen early production non-combat capable 5th generation aircraft by 2022 (with the first possibly later this year) as Eglin AFB receive newly produced aircraft to replace them. While during Red Flag 21-3 the F-35s flown by the 64th AGRS pilots were in the standard USAF livery, the 57th Wing confirmed that a threat representative color scheme will be used on some of the Aggressor F-35s.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Top Aces Aggressor F-16 Flies For The First Time In The U.S.

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The F-16A of Top Aces lands at Phoenix Mesa Gateway airport after its first flight in the USA. (Photo: Thomas Backus)

The former Israeli F-16 flew from the Top Aces’s facilities at Phoenix Mesa Gateway airport and is the first 4th generation fighter flown by private “Red Air”.

The Canadian company Top Aces performed on May 18, 2021 the first flight of one of its former Israeli F-16As since their arrival in the United States earlier this year. The aircraft, which was trackable online through ADS-B, is the former Israeli Netz 129 (USAF serial 78-0322), also known for its involvement in Operation Opera in 1981. Before yesterday’s flight, the F-16 received its new civilian registration N854TA.

Based on its ADS-B track, the F-16 flew from Phoenix Mesa Gateway airport  (Arizona) for just over an hour, testing its entire flight envelope in the nearby Outlaw Military Operations Area, a big reserved chunk of airspace East of Phoenix which is used also by F-16s and F-35s from Luke Air Force Base. As standard for Functional Check Flights, the aircraft maneuvered at various altitudes, from 8,000 ft to 23,000 ft, and speeds, including high-speed runs at 600 kts, slow flight at 80 kts and stall testing.

As we can see in the photos kindly provided to us by aviation photographer Thomas Backus, the F-16 kept its original Israeli Air Force desert camouflage with the addition of its new registration on the vertical fin-root fairing, while on the vertical fin itself we can see the Top Aces logo and the classic red star usually seen on Aggressor aircraft. On top we can also see a black stripe with a red marking written in Cyrillic, “Опыт Важен”, which should mean “Experience Is Important”. As noted at the time of the delivery, the markings from Operation Opera were removed when the aircraft was prepared in Israel.

Top Aces signed in 2020 a deal with the Israeli Ministry of Defense for the unprecedented sale of 29 F-16 Netz (Hawk), as they are locally known, which were retired from the Israeli Air Force at the end of 2016. The first four aircraft were disassembled and flown inside a Ukrainian Antonov An-124 to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport, home of the newly established Top Aces F-16 Center of Excellence. Thanks to this deal, Top Aces is now the first company to offer 4th generation fighters to provide “Red Air” aircraft for the training of US military pilots.

Top Aces F-16 first flight
The ADS-B track of the first flight of Top Aces’ F-16. (Image: adsbexchange)

As we reported in the past, the U.S. Air Force is contracting the adversary training under the Combat Air Forces (CAF)/Contracted Air Support (CAS) program to improve the training of the Formal Training Units (FTU) and increase the number of new pilots trained. The original CAF/CAS contract was announced to cover 40,000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10,000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases, later reduced to a little less than 9,000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three year-extension for a total of over 26,000 flight sorties.

The six bases involved are Kingsley Field ANGB, Luke AFB, Holloman AFB, Eglin AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB and Kelly Field, home of FTUs for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s. The Air Force is wishing to provide the same adversary support to all air bases, but due to the budget it was decided to prioritize training bases. ATAC, Draken and Tactical Air have already been awarded contract for these bases. Top Aces was not among the initial round of contract awardees, however the company mentioned that they will begin providing adversary training for the USAF, U.S. Navy and DoD in 2021 under the 2019 indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract.

The Israeli F-16s delivered to Top Aces have been upgraded through the years, reportedly receiving similar capabilities to the F-16C and also a new cockpit with three Multi-Function Displays (MFD), Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) and an upgraded Head-Up Display (HUD), in addition to Israeli avionics and Electronic Warfare (EW) suites. It is not known if any of these features have been removed before the sale, however Top Aces’ press release at the time of the delivery mentioned that “the upgraded fleet of F-16s are able to employ an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, helmet-mounted cueing system, tactical datalink and high off boresight missile capability to provide unparalleled adversary air training”.

Top Aces F-16 first flight
Top Aces’ pilot giving a thumbs up following the successful first flight of the refurbished F-16. (Photo: Thomas Backus)

These capabilities, together with the performance of the F-16, will surely be much valued while simulating higher end 4th and 5th generation threats that US pilots may have to face in the future. Other private adversary aircraft currently available, like the Mirage F1, F-5 Tiger, A-4 Skyhawk and Hawker Hunter, while deeply upgraded in some cases, are still somewhat limited by their older airframes and systems which can in turn limit the choice of the new systems to be installed to simulate newer capabilities in a combat scenario.

The Top Aces F-16s might be joined soon by its former adversary in the Lightweight Fighter program, the F/A-18 Hornet. In fact, as reported by our friends at The Warzone, Air USA is about to receive the Legacy Hornets that the Royal Australian Air Force is dismissing this year as they are replaced by the F-35A Lightning II. As the ex-Israeli, these F/A-18s have been deeply upgraded through the years and it is reported that they will be delivered in the same configuration flown by the RAAF, with no equipment being removed.

Thanks again to Thomas Backus for the photos he sent us and make sure to follow him for more!

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

No, A U.S. F-15E Pilot Did Not Wear A “Russian Patch”: It’s Only A 492nd Squadron’s “Red Air” Patch

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The F-15E pilot showing the 492nd Fighter Squadron’s Red Air patch. In the box: the same patch found in the auctions. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The “incriminated” photo of an F-15E pilot with a “Russian Patch” was published by the RAF Lakenheath’s Facebook page in a post about the Exercise Point Blank currently in progress in the UK.

The U.S. Air Force 48th Fighter Wing posted on its official Facebook page an interesting photo, showing an F-15 pilot wearing what many have called a “Russian Air Force patch” on the flight suit. The photo is part of a post about the Exercise Point Blank currently in progress in the UK, a recurring large force exercise designed and cohosted by the Royal Air Force and the 48th Fighter Wing.

Many reacted strongly to the photos, even calling the pilot “a traitor” because he was wearing “enemy’s insignias”. Upon a closer look, though, the patch was found to be only a patch used by the F-15E Strike Eagle pilots of the 492nd Fighter Squadron “Bolars” when flying as the Aggressors in the Red Air role during complex training missions like the ones of Exercise Point Blank.

The shield-shaped patch shows a Russian-made Su-27 Flanker on a blue background with a Russian flag and the Cyrillic writing “Russia” on the top and the number “492” on the bottom, closely resembling the insignia of the now deactivated 611th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Russian Aerospace Forces.

We did some further research about this patch and it looks like it has been around for at least three years, as some copies of the patch (including some early variants which were corrected before the final version) were found in auctions on Ebay and a couple of other websites in 2018. The auctions’ descriptions stated: “492nd FS “Red Air” Flanker Aggressor patch. The term “Red Air” is used to describe the opposing fighter in air-to-air combat training. This patch is worn by aircrew flying the aircraft while using adversary tactics.” Others say it’s an “Air Policing” patch. Whatever, it’s certainly not a Russian patch.

It is not uncommon for pilots who fly the enemy’s role during training exercises to wear patches and helmet covers inspired by the insignias of the adversaries that they are simulating, it is almost “a tradition” that is found not only in the United States, but also in the rest of the world.

Some specialized units even replicate the adversaries’ insignias and liveries on their aircraft, like the Aggressor squadrons of the U.S. Air Force and Navy. This is not done to mock the adversary which inspired the Aggressor pilots, but to help the visual identification during training.

Stefano D’Urso is a contributor for TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. He’s a full-time engineering student and aspiring pilot. In his spare time he’s also an amateur aviation photographer and flight simulation enthusiast.

Red Flag 21-1 Kicked Off This Year’s Training Exercises Focusing On “Great Power Competition”

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A B-2 Spirit Bomber, assigned the 393rd Bomb Squadron, 509th Bomb Wing, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, takes-off for a Red Flag 21-1 mission at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Jan. 26, 2021. Red Flag exercises are conducted on the massive bombing and gunnery ranges of the Nevada Test and Training Range. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

The United States Air Force held its first Red Flag of 2021 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, readying forces to confront potential near-peer opponents like China and Russia.

The first Red Flag exercise of 2021 has just concluded. Officially referred to as Red Flag 21-1, this massive two-week training exercise brought together 2,400 personnel from all branches of the United States military. The exercise is based at Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Held since 1975, Red Flag represents the premiere American aerial training program which consists of four or more Red Flag exercises a year. Starting off as solely an all Air Force exercise, it quickly expanded to incorporate the United States Navy, Marines, Army as well as allied air forces from approximately 35 other nations.

An F-22 Raptor takes-off for a Red Flag 21-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

But why create such a large training exercise that has been sustained for the past 46 years? The original impetuous for Red Flag was, that the American aerial kill ratio had gone from 10:1, in America’s favor during the Korean War, down to a kill ratio of 2.5:1 in the Vietnam war. In aerial combat it was correctly perceived that the United States was losing its historical advantage in air-to-air combat.

A B-1B Lancer, from the 34th Bomb Squadron, takes flight during Red Flag 21-1. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

The first step to the creation of Red Flag was the multiple Air Force Red Baron Reports which studied each air-to-air engagement from the Vietnam War. This was analyzed on the micro and macro level as to what went wrong and what needed to be corrected.

Four F-35A Lightning II fighters wait to taxi onto the runway at Nellis Air Force Base, (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

Some of the major findings were as follows. Basic air-to-air dogfighting had to once again become a priority. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was incorrectly believed that that the first air-to-air missiles were the future of aerial combat. In the real world of combat, outside of the laboratory and perfect stateside conditions, the technology of these first generation air-to-air missiles proved immature.

Alas, the 1960s pilot training had concentrated on the utilization of these early air-to-air missiles to the detriment of classic dogfighting. Because of this false belief in the maturity of air-to-air missile technology, the guns had been removed from the drawing boards of new fighters. For example, the McDonald Douglas F-4 initially was not equipped with an internal cannon, just missiles which often did not work.

Tactical aircraft maintainers assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron pose between two F-35A Lightning II fighters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

The Red Baron findings noted that pilots of multi-role fighters were trained to fulfil many missions, while their air-to-air training was just one of many mission. Few if any aircrew had the opportunity to train against smaller and more maneuverable interceptors prior to heading into combat for their first time.

An F-22 Raptor begins its refueling run over the Nevada Test and Training. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

The Red Baron study recommended realistic training that “can only be gained through the study of, and actual engagements with, possessed enemy aircraft or realistic substitutes”. Thus, the foundation for the Red Flag exercises was established with dissimilar aircraft acting as the “Red” aggressor opposing force.

The 414th Combat Training Squadron of the 57th Wing is the non-flying unit which plans and conducts the four to six Red Flag cycles annually. The host units are based at Nellis Air Force Base, which provides quick access to the Nevada Test and Training Range. The Range is a highly instrumented training area which encompasses approximately 13,000 square kilometers of land and 18,000 square kilometers of restricted airspace.

An F-16C, assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron, breaks off after refueling. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

The 64th Aggressor Squadron forms the core of the red forces. Operating older F-16C/Ds, the squadron mimics tactics used by potential adversary air forces. In this aggressor role, they are increasingly augmented by private contractor aircraft.

In order to save both, money and airframe hours on its own aircraft, the American military will be spending $7.5 billion through 2029 on training for private contracted adversary air (ADAIR). So far the Pentagon has contracted for ADAIR services with five private companies. Those being: TacAir, Draken, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, and Top Aces.

Presently, 64th Aggressor Squadron is the sole Air Force aggressor unit, but there are plans to reestablish the 65th Aggressor Squadron later in 2021. This will be done as some older F-35As are added to the aggressor force. With other nations developing fifth generation stealth aircraft, the F-35A will be able to offer a real world threat as part of the in house aggressor force at Nellis.

Red force F-16C approaches during a Red Flag 21-1. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Dwane R. Young)

Adding the F-35A to the red forces shows how Red Flag had to continually change to mirror the evolving and improving international threat. As America’s wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan wound down, the United States is reorienting to confront potential near-peer opponents like China and Russia.

Brigadier General Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander, recently stated, “Our team’s mission is to prepare participants for the high-end fight and great power competition continues unabated.” Red Flag represents the pinnacle of adversary air training and must continuously increase the technological level of its in-house adversary force.

F-35A Lightning II taking off for a training mission at Nellis Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo by William R. Lewis)

Top Aces Receives Former Israeli F-16s To Be Used For Adversary Training With The U.S. Air Force

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One of the F-16s during loading operations aboard the An-124. (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Defense)

The Top Aces jets will operate out of Mesa airport providing the USAF with the first contracted 4th gen. aggressors.

The Canadian company Top Aces received the first four F-16 Fighting Falcons, out of a total order of 29 aircraft, bought from the Israeli Air Force to be used to provide adversary training to the U.S. Air Force, becoming the first company to provide a 4th gen. aircraft for this role. The company, which already operates Alpha Jets, A-4N Skyhawks and Learjet 35As, will base the new jets at Mesa, Arizona, home of their U.S. headquarters.

The four F-16s, with their wings, tail and tailerons removed, were loaded on a Ukrainian Antonov An-124 at Tel Aviv-Ben Gurion airport on January 27 and, after a stop in Keflavik, Iceland, they arrived a day later at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport.

The first reports about this deal surfaced last year, with Jordan mentioned as the source for the F-16s. The reports, however, proved to be wrong, with the Israeli Ministry of Defense acknowledging the unprecedented sale of 29 F-16 Netz (Hawk), as they are locally known, which were retired from the Israeli Air Force at the end of 2016, after 36 years of service.

Even if the tails were removed, it is possible to identify the four aircraft thanks to the serials painted on the side of the air intake:

  • F-16B Block 5, Lockheed Martin serial 6W-8, USAF serial 78-0362, IAF serial 017;
  • F-16A Block 5, Lockheed Martin serial 6V-15, USAF serial 78-0322, IAF serial 129;
  • F-16A Block 10B, Lockheed Martin serial 6V-20, USAF serial 78-0327, IAF serial 220;
  • F-16A Block 10B, Lockheed Martin serial 6V-39, USAF serial 78-0346, IAF serial 250.

According to the website F-16.net, the aircraft were first sold to Iran through the Peace Zebra Foreign Military Sale (FMS), which was then cancelled in 1979 along with the sale of the E-3A and RF-4. The aircraft were then redirected to Israel a year later through the Peace Marble I FMS.

All the aircraft saw extensive operational use, wearing also celebratory marks that seem to have been removed, however, before the sale. The first one to be noticed is Netz 129, which was involved in Operation Opera in 1981. The aircraft was reportedly the fourth of the eight F-16s to drop its bombs on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. This F-16 also has a shared air-to-air victory with Netz 107, having downed a Syrian MiG-23 with an AIM-9L Sidewinder during the Israeli–Lebanese conflict on June 9, 1982, according to the book “The Sword of David: The Israeli Air Force at War”, by Don McCarthy, and other online sources.

Netz 220 was flown by Israeli Ace Amir Nachumi when it obtained its kill mark, shooting down a Syrian MiG-21 with an AIM-9L on June 9, 1982. Netz 250 has two kill marks, a MiG-23 and a MiG-21, both with Sidewinders on June 8 and 11, 1982, respectively (some sources claim that the second kill may have happened on June 9 instead).

The Israeli F-16s have been upgraded locally through the years, reportedly receiving similar capabilities to the F-16C and also a new cockpit with three Multi-Function Displays (MFD), Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) and an upgraded Head-Up Display (HUD), in addition to Israeli avionics and Electronic Warfare (EW) suites. It is not known if any of these features have been removed before the sale, however Top Aces’ press release mentions that “the upgraded fleet of F-16s are able to employ an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, helmet-mounted cueing system, tactical datalink and high off boresight missile capability to provide unparalleled adversary air training”.

The four F-16s inside the An-124 before leaving Israel. (Photo: Israeli Ministry of Defense)

Top Aces was awarded an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract in 2019 to “provide complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close air support threats”, as part of the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program.

As already explained, the original Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40,000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10,000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9,000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three year-extension for a total of over 26,000 flight sorties.

The six bases involved are Kingsley Field ANGB (TacAir), Luke AFB (ATAC), Holloman AFB (ATAC), Eglin AFB (ATAC), Seymour Johnson AFB (Draken) and Kelly Field (Draken), home of FTUs for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s. The Air Force is wishing to provide the same adversary support to all air bases, but due to the budget it was decided to prioritize training bases.

Top Aces was not among the initial round of contract awardees, however the press release mentioned that they will begin providing adversary training for the USAF, U.S. Navy and DoD in 2021 under the 2019 indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract.

As an interesting sidenote, Netz 220 and 250 before their retirement served in the 115 Squadron, also known as the Flying Dragon or Red Squadron, the dedicated aggressor squadron of the Israeli Air Force. The other two F-16s were assigned to the 116 Squadron, also known as The Lions of the South, which was reopened last year as the second F-35I Adir Squadron.

Tactical Air and Draken International Get Adversary Training Contracts

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An F-5AT of Tactical Air Support in flight. In the box: a Mirage F-1M of Draken International takes off for a training mission. (Photos: Tactical Air Support/Draken International)

About a week ago we reported about the contract awarded to ATAC on July 21, 2020 to provide adversary training at Luke and Holloman Air Force Bases as part of the Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program. Tactical Air Support and Draken International have been selected within the same program to work at three air bases.

TacAir has been awarded a contract up to USD 90,4 million for up to four and half years to provide 800 flight sorties per year at Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base (Oregon), in support of the F-15C/D Formal Training Unit (FTU). The company already provides adversary training to the U.S. Navy at NAS Fallon (Nevada) supporting the Naval Fighter Weapons School (NFWS), better known as TOPGUN, and the other units of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) using their highly upgraded F-5AT jets.

The F-5ATs (or Advanced Tigers) are former Jordanian F-5Es Tiger II acquired in 2017 and upgraded to replicate existing and emerging threat aircraft. Among the modifications there are a Duotech Nemesis radar and Argus Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), Hands On Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS) controls, datalinks, custom Garmin 3000 flight deck with 14-inch main display and two 5×7 touchscreen controllers (the same system is used also on the Textron Scorpion and the Diamond DART-550) with a L3Harris Venom air mission software suite and Thales Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display (HMD).

Other than the standard CATM-9 missiles (captive inert variant of the AIM-9 Sidewinder) and the AN/ASQ-T50 pod (also referred as P5 pod, used for combat simulation during training), TacAir says that the F-5AT can also be integrated with an InfraRed Search and Track (IRST) system, Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods and air-to-ground ordnance.

Mick Guthals. Sr. Manager, Business Development at TacAir, told to Air Force Magazine’s reporters that the company plans to support the F-15C/D Eagle training with up to six F-5s by the end of September.

One of the Denel (formerly Atlas) Cheetah acquired by Draken International. (Photo: Draken International)

Draken International was selected to work at two different air bases, with a contract up to USD 74,5 million for 1,000 flight sorties per year at Seymour Johnson AFB (North Carolina), home of the F-15E Strike Eagle FTU, and a contract up to USD 28,2 million for 530 flight sorties per year at Kelly Field (Texas, part of Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland), home of the Air National Guard F-16 Fighting Falcon FTU. Similarly to TacAir, Draken International already flies in support of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School and Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB (Nevada).

The company has a mixed fleet of AerMacchi MB-339s, MiG-21s, A-4K/Ns, L-39s and the newly acquired Mirage F-1Ms and Denel (formerly Atlas) Cheetahs, a South African major upgrade of the Mirage III with technology from the Israeli IAI Kfir, which is in turn derived from the Mirage 5.

Another air base that was expected to receive Red Air support is Eglin AFB (Florida). According to Air Force Magazine, Air Combat Command spokesperson Leah Garton said that ACC is working on an environmental assessment before awarding a contract for adversary air sorties at Eglin AFB.

ACC said in a statement: “The companies will provide realistic and challenging advanced adversary air training. The air support services are expected to begin in late summer 2020 at each location”. As we said when the first contract was awarded to ATAC, the majority of the “Red Air” aircraft during air-to-air combat training at FTUs are provided by the resident units, leaving less aircraft and instructors available for the students. By using contracted Aggressors ACC aims to solve this problem, easing at the same time the wear of the resident unit’s aircraft and allowing more pilots to be trained.

ATAC private “Red Air” contractors to provide adversary training at Luke and Holloman Air Force Base

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The first Mirage F1B belonging to ATAC takes off in August 2019 for the first time after the retirement from the French Air Force. (Photo: ATAC)

ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company), private defense firm that provides “Red Air” aggressor aircraft during military exercises, has been selected to provide two U.S. Air Force bases with adversary training under the Combat Air Forces (CAF) Contracted Air Support (CAS) program.

More specifically, ATAC was awarded two contracts worth up to USD 240 million to provide over 3,000 flight sorties per year, for up to four and half years, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. ATAC stated that the company’s Mirage F1 fleet will be used to provide the required threat simulation during flight missions, which are expected to begin by this fall.

While not explicitly stated, the adversary simulation provided by ATAC will support B-Course (Basic Course) training of the 54th and 56th Operations Groups, based at Holloman and Luke respectively, of the 56th Fighter Wing and possibly the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 944th Fighter Wing, also based at Luke, comprising various F-16 and F-35 squadrons. As you may already know, the 56th FW is the Formal Training Unit (FTU) for the U.S. Air Force F-16 and F-35 pilots. As a side note, Holloman is also home of the 49th Operations Group, which comprises various MQ-9 Reaper squadrons, including their FTU.

The 56th FW’s squadrons are supported from time to time by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron from Nellis AFB and F-5Ns of the Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401) from MCAS Yuma, however the majority of the “Red Air” aircraft during air-to-air combat training are provided by the resident units, leaving less aircraft and instructors available for students’ training missions. The use of contracted “Red Air” adversaries will provide a solution for this problem, easing at the same time the wear of the resident unit’s aircraft and allowing to train more pilots.

A Mirage F1CR belonging to ATAC in flight after the refurbishment. (Photo: ATAC)

The original Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three years extension for a total of over 26000 flight sorties.

The six bases involved are Kingsley Field ANGB, Luke AFB, Holloman AFB, Eglin AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB and Kelly Field. All this locations have a common factor: they are home of FTUs for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s. The Air Force is wishing to provide the same adversary support to all air bases, but due to the budget it was decided to prioritize training bases. Luke and Holloman are the two biggest contracts with over 1500 flight sorties each for the first year and over 600 if the contract is extended.

ATAC, trough parent company Textron Airborne Solutions, acquired 63 Mirage F1s retired from the French Air Force in 2017, which are already flying in the US in support of the Navy. ATAC, one of the leaders in the contracted adversary training, has been supporting the US military training for the last 20 years with their mixed fleet of F-21 Lions (designation of the IAI Kfir C1s leased in the 80s by Navy and Marines, before the arrival of the F-16N), L-39ZA Albatros and Hawker Hunters MK-58.

Another company that acquired Mirage F1s is Draken International, which is among the companies that could be contracted for the remaining air bases.