ATAC, Draken, Tactical Air Secure ‘Red Air’ Work

 - July 31, 2020, 9:40 AM
ATAC already has a number of modified ex-French Mirage F1s flying, in this case a former F1CT, and hopes to begin fulfilling its adversary air contracts at Luke and Holloman within weeks. (Photo: ATAC)

The U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command has announced a first tranche of contracts for its Combat Air Force/Contracted Air Support (CAF/CAS) program, which was announced in October 2019, following a request for adversary air (ADAIR) proposals in August 2018.

Worth up to $6.4 billion, CAF/CAS is intended to place contractor-owned and -operated ADAIR assets at 12 fighter bases to provide up to 40,000 flight hours. The use of contractorized adversary assets significantly reduces the burden on the Air Force’s instructors and fighter fleet, which are currently tapped to provide most of the aggressor functions from within each base’s staff and inventory. CAF/CAS is also intended to provide up to 10,000 hours of close air support training at a further nine or 10 bases.

In the first phase of contracts, Air Combat Command is focusing on six training bases, of which five were announced in late July. The initial contracts will run for approximately four and a half years if all options are exercised. Textron's Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has landed $240 million of work at Luke AFB, Arizona, and Holloman AFB, New Mexico, supporting the principal formal training units (FTUs) for the F-35 and F-16. The company will base six Dassault Mirage F1s at each location to provide up to 1,530 sorties at Luke, where F-35 pilots are trained, and 1,558 sorties at Holloman in support of F-16 training.

ATAC acquired 63 Mirage F1s from the French air force in 2017 and is well advanced in receiving FAA certification for the fleet. The company expects to begin operations in the fall, as soon as military clearance has been obtained. The aircraft themselves have been overhauled and upgraded with a glass cockpit and could receive AESA radar in the future.

Draken International, which already flies Aero L-159 Honey Badgers in support of the Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada, has been awarded a $74.5 million CAF/CAS contract to support the F-15E FTU at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, with 1,000 sorties per year, and a $28.2 million deal to provide 530 annual sorties to the F-16 FTU at Kelly Field in Texas.

Draken also has Mirage F1s in its fleet, having bought 22 F1Ms from the Spanish air force. Some of them have already been used as part of the Nellis contract. The company also acquired 12 Mach 2-capable Denel Cheetahs from the South African Air Force in 2017.

Tactical Air Support is the third beneficiary in the first round of contracts. It has been awarded a $90.4 million deal to fly 800 sorties annually in support of the F-15 FTU at Kingsley Field in Oregon. The company intends to operate six Northrop F-5 Advanced Tigers at Kingsley, having undertaken a considerable upgrade of the type. Tactical Air's F-5s are already flying on U.S. Navy contracts.

These awards cover all but one of the first phase of CAF/CAS bases, the exception being Eglin AFB in the Florida panhandle, which is currently undergoing an environmental assessment. The base houses the 33rd Fighter Wing that trains F-35 pilots.