'Adversary air' fighter jets coming to Eglin AFB
By JIM THOMPSON | Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: October 1, 2020
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Within the next few months, the sky above Northwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico will be playing host to a new kind of military aircraft.
Sometime between now and January, Virginia-based Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) will begin flying its fleet of Mirage F1 fighter aircraft against pilots training in the Air Force's F-22 and F-35 aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base.
Virginia-based ATAC on Tuesday announced its selection as the "red air" contractor. "Red air" is shorthand for contract pilots who pose as aggressors in air-to-air combat training for military pilots.
The contract, under which ATAC will fly up to 1,100 sorties against F-22 and F-35 pilots in training at Eglin over the next four-plus years, could be worth as much as $92 million to ATAC.
ATAC's selection as the "red air" contractor for Eglin is the third such contract it has won, including contracts at New Mexico's Holloman Air Force Base and Arizona's Luke Air Force Base.
“ATAC is excited to have been selected to provide adversary training at Eglin, Luke and Holloman AFBs, and we stand ready to serve additional future operating locations and customers as their needs evolve,” Scott Stacy, ATAC's general manager, said in a prepared statement.
ATAC's upcoming work at Eglin is part of a massive Air Force effort to boost "red air" training.
ATAC was one of seven adversary air contractors awarded as part of a $6.4 billion Air Force contract announced last year to allow the companies to vie for work at as many as 22 installations. The other contractors include one Florida-based company, Lakeland's Draken International, along with New Mexico's Air USA Inc., Nevada-based companies Blue Air Training and Tactical Air Support, Pennsylvania-headquartered Coastal Defense and Arizona's Top Aces Corporation.
According to the Air Force contract announcement, the companies are expected to provide "complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close air support threats" through the latter months of 2024.
The Air Force announced its interest in contracting out its adversary air needs in 2018 after significant reductions in its own aggressor personnel and aircraft left the service with just a couple of "in-house" aggressor squadrons.
The F1s coming to Eglin are among 63 of the aircraft acquired from the French Air Force by ATAC's parent company, Textron Airborne Solutions, in 2017. Most of those French F1s have been allocated to "red air" work.
The issue of the need for contracted aggressor training in the Air Force — as well as the U.S. Navy — recently attracted the attention of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.
In a report attached to the military spending and policy bill for the fiscal year that began Thursday, the committee, whose members include Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott, noted "the ongoing and growing requirements for near-peer representative air-to-air training using aggressor aircraft with capability similar to that of the advanced adversaries that these aircraft are designed to replicate."
The committee also noted that it "is becoming clear that this requirement (for "red air") will not be met in the near-term with solely organic service assets."
Finally, the committee asked the secretaries of the Air Force and the Navy to submit a report to congressional defense committees by February that includes a plan for integrating the services' own aggressor resources with contract "red air" resources to "maintain full-spectrum readiness" for Air Force and Navy modern aircraft.
The Mirage F1, developed by French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation, has a history stretching back to the mid-1960s when the French Air Force was looking for a lightweight fighter jet suitable for intercepting other aircraft. The first production model flew in 1973 and was delivered to the French Air Force the following year.
Since then, several versions of the jet have been developed, and it has been used by a number of countries, including Iran, Iraq, Jordan, South Africa, Qatar, Spain and Greece.
The F1s acquired by ATAC from France are being modified with various electronic packages to make them appear to be actual modern aircraft flown by near-peer adversaries, according to recent reporting by Aviation Today.