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USAF releases more Red Air requirements

Photo: USAF


In July 2016, the USAF issued a request for information for its AdAir (adversary air) capability — reaching out to the various contractor air service companies to support this massive emerging training need. The solicitation to industry was for nearly 42,000 hours of contracted aggressor support training at 12 different bases. In January, it added considerable detail via a new requirements document.

A 2016 shortfall initially triggered a year-long experiment at the Nevada base for Draken International, one such supplier of contracted aggressor services. The contractor placed A-4 Skyhawks at Nellis to support both Weapons School and exercise training, working in concert with the resident 64th Aggressor Squadron and the 57th Adversary Tactics Group (ATG). It underscored how the increased use of contractor owned, contractor operated (COCO) adversary aircraft has been building for several years.

The USAF awarded a one-year contract to Draken. During the ‘proof-of-concept’ evaluation the company’s radar-equipped A-4K Skyhawks have been flying sorties from Nellis in support of the USAF Weapons School and the F-35 Joint Operational Test Team. It’s a contract that proved so successful that Draken received an extension to the deal and it has also expanded its presence with the deployment of its new Aero Vodochody L-159 ‘Honey Badgers’.

The larger multi-award contract, which is now expected in mid-2019, recognizes how a single contractor cannot hope to possess the mass and footprint to win outright — this is most likely going to be shared between the various big players in the market. Not only must these AdAir contractors meet the scale of the requirement in terms of locations and numbers of assets, but they must also present aircraft with the requisite mission sets.

The USAF now says it plans to contract out up to 5,600 flying hours of AdAir support at Nellis AFB, Nevada, alone. The multi-award contract will be worth a maximum of $280 million for one base year, with four option years. Indeed, the 57th ATG and the 99th Contracting Squadron is hosting an industry day at Nellis this week to discuss the requirements.

The USAF hasn’t specified what is thinks is best platform for AdAir, but it says it wants an aircraft capable of flying at Mach 1.5, with a service ceiling of 35,000ft, and a 45-60 minute playtime. The contractor aircraft must be equipped with fire control radar capable of detecting, tracking, and simulating enemy capabilities and able to replicate semi-active missiles out to a range of 20 [nautical miles], and active missiles out to a range of 45 nautical miles, according to a new 2018 requirements document.

According to an AirForce Association news story: ‘Within a month of contract award, the service expects the contractor to be able to fly as many as 22 sorties a day, with each sortie averaging about 90 minutes. Tactical profiles may include Beyond Visual Range engagements, operational test support, dissimilar air combat maneuvers, offensive and defensive within visual range maneuvers, multi-ship tactics, and merges and flight.’

According to the latest information from the USAF, the contractors will provide tthe aircraft, pilots,  maintenance,  support equipment, and quality assurance/quality control, while the USAF will provide parking and hangar space.

The candidates

• Tactical Air Support (TacAir) of Reno, Nevada, has acquired a fleet of 21 F-5E/Fs from the Royal Jordanian Air Force, which will make it the world’s largest private operator of the Northrop fighter with 26 examples. TacAir already operates five ex-Royal Canadian Air Force CF-5D Freedom Fighters and previously acquired Canada’s entire inventory of spare parts including 65 General Electric J85 turbojet engines.

• Draken International continues to support USAF training efforts under the USAF’s current pathfinder contract. That support is still provided by the ex-Royal New Zealand Air Force A-4Ks and L-159s. In addition, Draken owns a fleet of Aermacchi MB339CBs and little-used MiG-21s. Draken completed the purchase of 22 former Spanish Mirage F1M and F1B fighters in 2017. It has also bought 12 South African Cheetah supersonic fighters, bringing its total fleet to 109 jets. It will not only allow Draken to better service the USAF requirement but it also says the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) at NAS Fallon, Nevada, is also reviewing proposals from contract air service providers for a high-end supersonic, radar-equipped adversary solution. The contractor expects to equip the F1s with a helmet mounted cueing system, infrared missile seekers, datalinks, and electronic jamming and radar warning receiver capabilities.

• Long-term Navy contractor — the Textron-Owned Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) — has also been shopping for redundant Mirages. It has purchased 63 Mirage F1s from France along with support equipment and 150 engines. Textron, the owner of ATAC, plans to offer the Mirages in relation to the USAF requirement and is planning to retrofit around 45 of the F1s with modern avionics systems such as digital radio-frequency memory-jamming capabilities and upgraded radars.

• Known as Top Aces in the US market, Discovery Air Defence Services was able to take advantage of a highly proactive Canadian stance when it came to training and in 2005 won a contract to provide the Canadian Forces with aggressor training. It has recently renewed that contract for a further 10 years. The company acquired its A-4N Skyhawks through the takeover of Advanced Training Systems International (ATSI) of Mesa, Arizona, in December 2013. It is set to acquire F-16 Fighting Falcons from desert storage.

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