Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR April 2017 Contents 60 Asia Pacific Defence Reporter APR 2017
Less well-equipped air forces would however,
have had to make do with their own frontline
fighters simulating the bad guys, constraining
their performance and equipment to mimic enemy
aircraft during training exercises.
However, doing this in today’s environment
becomes increasingly prohibitive, as this will use up
valuable airframe life among dwindling fleets of aging
aircraft. Even the United States, one of the very few
air arms operating dedicated Red Air squadrons, has
vastly scaled back its program following the end of
the Cold War.
Enter contractor-supplied Red Air services.
Working with a simulated enemy aircraft operated
by a contractor can easily save millions of dollars
in training and readiness costs while extending
the life of front-line aircraft assets. More and
more air forces worldwide are embracing the
model, with the number of companies providing
such services increasing, along with their aircraft
inventories and capabilities.
Contractor aircraft can also be used to simulate
friendly forces, with a number supporting the training
of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) in
directing air strikes and other offensive air operations
from a for ward position on the ground. This has
involved day and night "dry" (no live ordnance) and
"live" (practice bombs) simulated close air support
flights and even the delivery of laser-guided training
rounds and digitally aided close air support.
In the United States, Virginia-based Airborne
Tactical Advantage Company, or ATAC, has been
supporting U.S . Navy training since 1994. The
company, acquired by Textron in 2016, has provided
more than 40,000 hours of training support and
has a contract that will run until 2020. Flying the
IAI Kfir and Hawker Hunter, ATAC has trained US
Navy, Marine, Air Force and Army aircrews, ship
crews, and combat controllers at Exercise Red
Flag, RIMPAC and Carrier Strike Group training and
conducted training in the U.S, Europe and Asia.
ATAC has since been joined in the U.S . by Draken
International, which operates a mix of former Royal
New Zealand Air Force A-4K and former Israeli A-4N
Skyhawks, Aermacchi MB-339s and Aero L-159
trainers. The company announced an adversary
support contract from the USAF in 2015, and boasts
that its A-4Ks provide a fourth-generation capability
with radar and electronic warfare equipment.
Australia has also seen the beginnings of a similar
trend in recent years, with the RAAF making use of
Pel-Air’s Learjets and an IAI Westwind business jet
to provide a rudimentary Red Air adversary capability
during air combat exercises - most notably during
Exercise Pitch Black 2012 and 2014. This was part
of a three-year contract for Regional Express-owned
Pel-Air to provide jet support to the Australian
Defence Force that took effect from October 2011.
According to Wing Commander Ben Sleeman,
then CO of 77 Squadron RAAF at Pitch Black
2014, the Pel-Air aircraft were given a MiG-21 profile
with an early model AIM-9 as their weapon at the
exercise, and supported the Tindal-based 77 Sqn
as Red Air, together with rotating elements from the
other participating contingents.
While WGCDR Sleeman noted that the business
jets are “smaller so are harder to detect and they
can do some damage if they can get in there without
being seen”, they will undeniably have a fairly
limited utility in such a role, pointing out that the
pilots on board are limited to visual engagements
with their aircraft lacking radar, rendering them
“only good if they can see somebody and they can
get quite close”.
77 Sqn was playing Red Air at the 2014 exercise
in place of 75 Sqn, which as the RAAF’s Tindal-
based squadron has frequently taken on that role.
MIKE YEO // MELBOURNE
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF PILOT
As Western defence budgets come under increasing pressure even as their air forces age against a backdrop of increasingly complex
threats and a demanding operational tempo, innovative solutions have to be found to train pilots to maintain their edge. In the old days,
one of the ways to do so was the use of dedicated “Red Air” squadrons, with older, less capable aircraft flown by pilots specially-
trained in flying and fighting like Soviet-bloc aircraft and pilots.
A pilot with the 18th Aggressor Squadron, based out of Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, prepares for taxi in his F-16
Fighting Falcon at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamtown, during Exercise Diamond Shield 2017 in New South
Wales, Australia, March 21, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Steven R. Doty)
6/04/2017 6:05 PM
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