Draken Buys Cobham's Falcon Fleet; ATAC Lands Eglin Deal

 - September 30, 2020, 12:10 PM
A Cobham Falcon 20 outfitted with electronic warfare pods flies with one of Draken International’s Aero L-159 Honey Badgers. (Photo: Cobham)

U.S. contractorized air training services provider Draken International has purchased the Cobham Group's Aviation Services UK division. The deal was concluded on September 25 and encompasses several entities, including the former FR Aviation target facilities fleet, and some helicopter training and services activities.

Aviation Services UK is based at Bournemouth-Hurn airport and operates 15 Dassault Falcon 20s in the operational readiness training role for both air forces and navies. The aircraft are used for a variety of tasks, such as target-towing for aerial gunnery, mission rehearsal, naval air defense, and electronic-warfare training. The Falcons each have four underwing hardpoints for carrying podded electronic threat generation equipment and towed targets.

The main customers are the UK Ministry of Defence and NATO, although the Falcons 20s also provide EW and gunnery training support to the U.S. Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing based in England at RAF Lakenheath. Besides operating from Hurn, the aircraft fly from locations such as Teesside Airport to support exercises in the North Sea, and from Prestwick for operations off the coast of northwest Scotland. In addition to the Falcons, the division flies a single Diamond DA-42 that often acts as a surrogate UAV during training exercises.

Cobham and Draken are no strangers: the pair teamed in July 2017 to bid for the UK’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) program, being joined the following year by 3SDL and QinetiQ. ASDOT was subsequently shelved.

For Draken, the acquisition of the Cobham business represents not only an expansion in capability through the addition of the Falcon 20 fleet but also, more importantly, a significant foothold in the UK and European contractorized training services market. Although that marketplace is not as large as that in the U.S., it is expected to grow rapidly. The company already provides a range of adversary support, joint terminal attack controller (JTAC)/close support training, and other functions to the U.S. Department of Defense with a fleet of Aero L-159s, A-4 Skyhawks, MB339s, and ex-Spanish Mirage F1s.

In the meantime, Advanced Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), a part of Textron Systems and one of Draken’s rivals in the U.S. market, has scooped the last of the first round of contracts to be awarded by the U.S. Air Force under its Combat Air Forces Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) program. CAF CAS is intended eventually to expand to 22 operating locations, of which six have now been contracted to complete the initial phase.

ATAC has already been awarded contracts in the first round to provide adversary air services at Holloman AFB, New Mexico, and Luke AFB, Arizona, but now has secured a deal worth up to $92 million to provide similar services at Eglin AFB, Florida, where F-22 and F-35 pilots train. The contract runs for up to four and a half years, during which time the company will fly more than 1,100 sorties annually with Mirage F1s acquired from France. Additionally, ATAC was awarded a contract in August as part of CAF CAS to provide contracted close air support sorties for JTAC training using the company’s Aero L-39s and the A-27 Tucano aircraft of Valkyrie Aero, a service that the companies already provide to the U.S. Navy.

ATAC expects to begin Mirage operations at Holloman around now, with activities at Luke beginning before the year-end. Eglin training sorties are due to begin in January 2021.

ATAC Mirage F1
ATAC is using its fleet of overhauled and upgraded ex-French Mirage F1s to fly contractorized adversary training missions for the U.S. Air Force at Eglin, Holloman and Luke. (Photo: ATAC)