U.S. Air Force awards $6.4 billion for private adversary training

U.S. Air Force photo

The Pentagon announced that seven contractors would be awarded $6.4 billion in contracts to provide realistic training, known as adversary air services (ADAIR), to the US Air Force. The panel of companies will offer a diversified fleet of aircraft.

Air USA, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), Blue Air Training, Coastal Defense, Draken International, Tactical Air Support and Top Aces are the seven private military companies that were chosen by the US Air Force.

“Contractors will provide complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close air support threats,” says the Pentagon, adding that these tasks include but are not limited to aircraft, unmanned aircraft systems, aircraft systems support, pilots, aircraft maintenance, support equipment for the next five years, with 37,000 hours of training flight expected annually.

The seven companies have in their possession varied aircraft for Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT), ranging from Soviet fighter jets to European trainers. For example, the company Air USA operates at least three Mikoyan MiG-29s bought from Kyrgyzstan. On December 10, 2010, they flew their first private MiG-29 in the United States.

More recently, ATAC, a subsidiary of Textron, has acquired a fleet of 86 second-hand Dassault Mirage F1 fighter jets from the French Air Force for $28 million. 63 of them will be used as aggressors while the rest will provide spare parts. This constitutes the largest fleet of privately-owned aircraft in the world. The fighter jet is still in use in several air forces around the world, most noticeably in Iran.

The first ATAC Mirage F1 made its maiden flight in the United States on August 22, 2019. The company announced it opened its “Adversary Center of Excellence” on October 21, 2019 ‒ hours after the Pentagon had awarded the contract. Its competitor Draken also bought 22 Mirage F1 fighter jets from the Spanish Air Force.

The US Air Force needs “more capability and they need more capacity. They can’t generate that internally anymore,” ATAC chief executive Jeffrey Parker told Dallas News. But with the demand for training ever-increasing and the introduction of stealth fighter jets in both China and Russia air forces, even relying on vintage planes may not be good enough. 

To anticipate this shortcoming, the US Air Force announced in May 2019, that it would reactivate its own 65th Aggressor Squadron and, for the first time since the aircraft entered service, it will use eleven F-35A Lightning II as aggressors. The plane’s software coupled with radar reflectors could become a perfect replica of other aircraft that USAF pilots may face on the battlefield.

Updated on 23/10/2019 10:09 am (UTC +2) to correct information regarding Air USA.

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