Top Aces – a privately owned, US-based ‘Red Air’ contractor – announced on September 12 that it had been selected by the US Air Force (USAF) to provide adversary air (ADAIR) training services to fighter pilots at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, and Luke AFB, Arizona, under the air arm’s Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAFCAS) programme.
The firm – which is currently the world’s only user of contractor-owned, contractor-operated (COCO) F-16 Fighting Falcons – is preparing to begin training activities in support of the USAF’s frontline F-35A Lightning II and F-22A Raptor fifth-generation fighter fleets, which is scheduled to begin before the end of September. The five-year contract, which is valued at up to $175m, is geared to enhance the training of fifth-generation combat pilots, using the F-16 Advanced Aggressor Fighter (AAF) – as it is known by Top Aces – as a live airborne threat that is more reflective of real-word adversary aircraft.
Commenting on the deal – Russ Quinn, president of Top Aces Corp and a former USAF Aggressor pilot – said: “Top Aces’ cadre of highly experienced Aggressor pilots and maintenance crews looks forward to supporting Luke and Eglin to fulfil their advanced combat training needs. With our fleet of F-16 AAFs, we deliver a calibre of adversary air training that was previously non-existent. Our commitment is to deliver professional excellence and significant cost efficiencies.”
The awarding of this contract comes after the USAF enacted a major U-turn in its use of privately owned ‘Red Air’ contractors. In recent months, the USAF has revoked the use of these contractors at Nellis AFB, which resulted in the premature termination of the ADAIR II contract with Draken International ahead of its fifth and final year. The recent reactivation of the 65th Aggressor Squadron (AGRS) on the F-35A at Nellis is also proof that the USAF seeks more advanced ADAIR platforms to accurately replicate near-peer threats. Despite changes at Nellis, the USAF is still working with these ADAIR contractors at other bases, typically ones which host Formal Training Units (FTUs).
Fitted with Top Aces’ Advanced Aggressor Mission System (AAMS), the F-16 AAF has been specifically calibrated to replicate near-peer adversary fighter aircraft. The AAMS exploits an open system architecture, allowing for the rapid integration of new sensors and functions to match emerging and evolving adversary threats. In addition to being supersonic-capable, the F-16 AAF is also fitted with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar; the Scorpion helmet-mounted cueing system (HMCS); tactical datalink communications; infrared search-and-track (IRST) systems; high off-boresight missile and passive radio frequency (RF) detection capabilities.
It can also be equipped with advanced electronic attack (EA) pods and can accurately replicate adversary weapons and tactics through high fidelity weapon simulations. While Top Aces have not confirmed which AESA radar is fitted to its F-16 AAF fleet, it is speculated to be Elta's EL/M-2052 system.
Read more on the USAF’s U-turn on the use of privately owned ‘Red Air’ contractors, along with a separate interview with Top Aces, in the November issue of AirForces Monthly, which is on sale from October 20, 2022.