Tag: Red Air

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.”

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

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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.

Let’s Have A Look At The Activities Of Dutch Red Air Provider AEC Skyline

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AEC Skyline L-39. (Image credit: AEC Skyline)

AEC Skyline is a European Red Air private contractor providing adversary services.

Among the participants at the multinational military exercise Adriatic Strike 2021 there was also a private company: the Netherlands-based AEC Skyline.

To know more about the services they are providing to various governmental and civilian clients we talked with Ruben van der Mark, maintenance manager at AEC Skyline.

The tail markings on the AEC Skyline’s L-39. (Image credit: Remy Sapuletej aka Remy Online)

Q: Ruben, thank you very much for accepting our invite! First of all, can you illustrate to us a short history of AEC Skyline? How it all started and what kind of services are you offering?

You are welcome, Aljoša, thanks for approaching us. It all started in 2005 with Stef Have, a former RNLAF 301 Squadron AH-64D Apache pilot, establishing the overarching Forum Group. In 2008 Forum Group acquired Seppe airport in the south of the Netherlands (nowadays called Breda International Airport).

Operating out of this airport is Forum Group’s AEC Air Support which recently merged with the Groningen Airport Eelde based Skyline Aviation, the latter acquired by Forum in 2010.

Together they now form AEC Skyline. Before moving into Groningen Airport Eelde, the then Skyline Aviation operated out of Den Helder Airport, also known as Naval Air Station De Kooy. However, this was under the company’s previous ownership.

This year AEC Skyline will celebrate 30 years of providing high end, cost effective training support to the Dutch military (army, air force, navy) and NATO coalition partners. In addition, AEC Skyline serves the defence & aerospace industry and a series of domestic research institutes.

Traditionally our company provides “fast air” support to which we have added Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) support and critical data solutions, the latter comprising systems integration and IT networking, our “special projects” so to speak.

Meanwhile our “fast air” support includes Close Air Support (CAS), Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS), Electronic Warfare (EW), “red air” (adversary air) training and target towing. ). Recently we have also been supporting manned-unmanned teaming (MUMT) trials with our Learjet.

Q. What kind of services did you provide during Adriatic Strike?

“Adriatic Strike 2021” saw us providing close air support training with the overall aim of the exercise being the training of participating Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) and aircrew in the conditions of conventional warfare. For this AEC Skyline deployed one of its L-39s.

Q. How was flying from Cerklje ob Krki? Did you like the infrastructure and collaborating with the Slovenian Army?

It was great operating out of Cerklje ob Krki. Local staff are supportive and very professional. This applies to Slovenia including its military in general by the way. The only drawback of LJCE is the fact that right now only VFR traffic is permitted. This can hamper operations [Author’s note: the IFR system was still not operational during the exercise].

Q. How can a company like AEC Skyline help small armed forces, like the Slovenian?

We can do this by providing high end, cost effective training support, for example, by delivering Digitally Aided Close Air Support (DACAS) training which is the way ahead when it comes to CAS. So, best “bang for the buck” by providing 5th Generation like CAS that complements the traditional “voice” CAS brief.

Q. Which types of aircraft do you have in your fleet and how are they equipped?

Currently AEC Skyline’s fleet includes a single Learjet 36A (N116MA) and two L-39s (N139LE, N139LZ), which are equipped with a L3Harris Wescam EO/IR sensor pod, datalink. In addition, we operate a GA8 Airvan (N1753S). Right now ,we are also contemplating expansion of our fleet.

One of the AEC Skyline’s Learjets. (Image credit: AEC Skyline)

Q. Where did you purchase the L-39s? How much time did you spent to install all the systems to be mission ready?

We have operated various L-39s for almost 30 years now. Both our current L-39s were formerly registered in Estonia. N139LE is a former East German air force L-39ZO whereas L-39C N139LZ originally comes from Kyrgyzstan. Over the years the aircraft underwent many changes, incorporating new avionics (glass cockpit), with us adding new mission systems along the way, this in order to comply with legislation and to meet changes in demand by our customers.

The L-39s are equipped with L3Harris Wescam MX-15D. (Image credit: Remy Sapuletej aka Remy Online)

Q. Your company offers also inflatable targets, this is a quite unknown but interesting niche. Can you tell us more?

As most of our personnel have a military background, many of whom are former RNLAF AH-64 or F-16 pilots, we noticed a training gap during exercises. Frankly there was little realistic threat simulation except for some systems coming from the Polygone range for instance. However, these include actual SA-6 or other systems which require a loader to get to a training area so rather cumbersome for most training objectives.

Hence, we decided to procure some full size inflatable decoys, replicating the SA-8 air defence system, the T-72 main battle tank. Both systems are light weight and offer a realistic visual and thermal signature and are easy to install, for instance during Air To Ground Operations School (AGOS) led training events. Adding even more realism, the SA-8 can also be combined with a radar emitter and/or “smokey SAMs”.

SA-8 decoy. (AEC Skyline).

Q. With which countries are you collaborating? What’s the next multinational military exercise in your agenda?

Right now, AEC Skyline is under a multi-year contract with USAFE to provide JTAC CAS training, mainly in Germany. Despite restrictions imposed by Covid, depending on the task you are looking at, our personnel also spent time supporting exercises, actual operations in the Caribbean, Denmark, Lithuania during the last twelve months, just to name a few. And domestically, in The Netherlands of course.

Q. A question mainly for the spotters… tell us about your tail art and what it represents.

The tail art with which our aircraft are adorned, represents the Roman god of Neptune, traditionally associated with the sea. The advent of the new scheme coincided more or less with our first “red air” taskings in late 2017 for the Dutch led multinational Fighter Weapons Instructor Training course (FWIT, since rebranded into Weapons Instructor Course). This was done under the North Sea Aggressors scheme.

Q. How do you recruit your personnel? Is a military background important for most of your positions?

Most of our pilots flying the L-39s are seasoned, former RNLAF F-16 pilots. Likewise, many of our staff, sensor operators are former military. However, it is all about proficiency so we are aiming for the right mix. This means we have experienced mechanics maintaining our aircraft, most of whom have not served in the military, nor have most of our Learjet pilots.

Q. In the USA there are many private companies that offer their services to the military, some of them have bigger fleets than most Air Forces and this kind of business is growing also in Europe. What’s your outlook for the industry and AEC Skyline in particular? Why do the military outsource more and more services to private companies?

In Europe we expect demand for contract air support to grow too, just like we see in the United States. Partly, this has to do with air forces again preparing themselves for high intensity operations against a (near) peer enemy. Hence, the increased need for adversary air training. However, such operations typically require 5th Generation combat aircraft (F-35 etc) which are expensive to operate and are in short supply given everything that needs to be trained. When equipped with up to date mision systems older generation platforms can provide a tremendous dose of effective training support, at much lower cost. For “red air” sorties for instance or to train JTACs, regardless whether it’s to prepare for high intensity warfare of for counter insurgency scenarios.

Close up view on the L-39. (Image credit: Remy Sapuletej aka Remy Online)

Passionate about aviation from a lifetime, contributor of the Slovenian aviation website sierra5.net. Occasionally writer for blogbeforeflight.net, exyuaviation.com and other media.

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.

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.