ATAC private “Red Air” contractors to provide adversary training at Luke and Holloman Air Force Base

The first Mirage F1B belonging to ATAC takes off in August 2019 for the first time after the retirement from the French Air Force. (Photo: ATAC)

The company will provide Aggressor aircraft in support of F-16 and F-35 Formal Training Units.

ATAC (Airborne Tactical Advantage Company), private defense firm that provides “Red Air” aggressor aircraft during military exercises, has been selected to provide two U.S. Air Force bases with adversary training under the Combat Air Forces (CAF) Contracted Air Support (CAS) program.

More specifically, ATAC was awarded two contracts worth up to USD 240 million to provide over 3,000 flight sorties per year, for up to four and half years, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, and Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. ATAC stated that the company’s Mirage F1 fleet will be used to provide the required threat simulation during flight missions, which are expected to begin by this fall.

While not explicitly stated, the adversary simulation provided by ATAC will support B-Course (Basic Course) training of the 54th and 56th Operations Groups, based at Holloman and Luke respectively, of the 56th Fighter Wing and possibly the U.S. Air Force Reserve’s 944th Fighter Wing, also based at Luke, comprising various F-16 and F-35 squadrons. As you may already know, the 56th FW is the Formal Training Unit (FTU) for the U.S. Air Force F-16 and F-35 pilots. As a side note, Holloman is also home of the 49th Operations Group, which comprises various MQ-9 Reaper squadrons, including their FTU.

The 56th FW’s squadrons are supported from time to time by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron from Nellis AFB and F-5Ns of the Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 (VMFT-401) from MCAS Yuma, however the majority of the “Red Air” aircraft during air-to-air combat training are provided by the resident units, leaving less aircraft and instructors available for students’ training missions. The use of contracted “Red Air” adversaries will provide a solution for this problem, easing at the same time the wear of the resident unit’s aircraft and allowing to train more pilots.

A Mirage F1CR belonging to ATAC in flight after the refurbishment. (Photo: ATAC)

The original Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) multi-award contract, was announced to cover 40000 flight hours of adversary training at 12 different air bases and 10000 flight hours is support of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) training at nine Army bases. After some reductions, the current program’s first phase features a little less than 9000 flight sorties at six bases for the first year and an optional three years extension for a total of over 26000 flight sorties.

The six bases involved are Kingsley Field ANGB, Luke AFB, Holloman AFB, Eglin AFB, Seymour Johnson AFB and Kelly Field. All this locations have a common factor: they are home of FTUs for F-15s, F-16s, F-22s and F-35s. The Air Force is wishing to provide the same adversary support to all air bases, but due to the budget it was decided to prioritize training bases. Luke and Holloman are the two biggest contracts with over 1500 flight sorties each for the first year and over 600 if the contract is extended.

ATAC, trough parent company Textron Airborne Solutions, acquired 63 Mirage F1s retired from the French Air Force in 2017, which are already flying in the US in support of the Navy. ATAC, one of the leaders in the contracted adversary training, has been supporting the US military training for the last 20 years with their mixed fleet of F-21 Lions (designation of the IAI Kfir C1s leased in the 80s by Navy and Marines, before the arrival of the F-16N), L-39ZA Albatros and Hawker Hunters MK-58.

Another company that acquired Mirage F1s is Draken International, which is among the companies that could be contracted for the remaining air bases.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.