|TEXTRON, ATAC TO OFFER LIVE FLIGHT TRAINING
Tony Osborne | ShowNews
July 12, 2016
Textron has entered the live flight-training market in a bid to grab what could become a multibillion-dollar market over the coming decade.
The company launched its Textron Airborne Solutions division at the Royal International Air Tattoo on July 8 following its takeover of long-established live air-training operator Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) earlier this year.
ATAC parented the idea using civilian-operated fast jets to support military flight training back in the late 1990s.
"This has become essential," says Russ Bartlett, CEO of Textron Airborne Solutions.
"Countries around the world have been busy for a couple of decades deploying forces and consuming airplanes at a rate at which had not been planned.
"We have to do something to help save those precious flight hours, right now," says Bartlett.
ATAC may have been the first to see the potential of the market, but its competitors have managed to grow faster: companies such as Draken International and Discovery Air Defence Services have grown rapidly to fulfill contracts in North America and Europe.
"We created this industry, and now this industry is expanding around us," said ATAC CEO Jeff Parker.
"There is more growth out there than we can possibly capture on our own. A larger partner helps us maximize our portion of the industry."
Parker says that demand for the capability is "skyrocketing," and in recent months, the U.S Air Force has become increasingly open to the idea of outsourcing its red air and aggressor capability. A series of industry days held in April by both the Air Force and the Navy revealed that the Air Force is looking to contract out some 3,000 flying hours at Nellis AFB for a fourth-generation aggressor platform to fly against types such as the F-22 Raptor and the F-35.
"Adversary squadrons cannot meet the demand, nor is there an adequate recapitalization plan for that capability," said Bartlett.
As a result, the Navy and Air Force are using hours from tactical fighters to provide that red air capability. In one year, the Navy flew 6,300 Legacy and Super Hornet hours on red air missions, Bartlett added.
The challenge for operators like ATAC is being able to source and find fighter aircraft that meet the USAF's and Navy's aggressor requirements. The jets are likely to need high levels of performance as well as a radar.
"There are tons of aircraft out there, but we have to find aircraft that are familiar and supportable, but it is a significant barrier to entry," said Parker.
"The big hurdle is getting past the State Department and other government agencies.
"You have to be in alignment with their goals to be successful in importing this type of aircraft."
Many operators have found themselves in a "chicken and egg" situation says Parker: companies have been unable to bid for contracts until they have aircraft, but governments will not allow them to import aircraft until they have a contract.
ATAC has looked at a number of aircraft fleets around the world and spoken to several OEMs, even looking at ex-Soviet types, however many types are cost-prohibitive to operate without long-term contracts. Opportunities may lie in former Middle Eastern fleets of F-5 Tigers. Other companies such as Discovery Air have studied early-model F-16s. A-4 Skyhawks have also become a widely used platform for the mission.
ATAC has a fleet of IAI Kfirs, Hawker Hunter Mk58s and Aero L-39ZAs. The L-39s are used to support the training of Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. More recently, ATAC sent several of its Kfirs and Hunters to go and battle with Marine Corps F-35Bs at MCAS Beaufort.
Bartlett says he also sees opportunities for Textron Airland's Scorpion light attack aircraft. The company is working with Textron's other recent acquisition, TRU Simulation, to integrate live, virtual, constructive capabilities into the Scorpion, and is offering it for the U.K.'s upcoming Air Support to Defense Operational Training (ASDOT) requirement to deliver red air and electronic warfare (EW) training across the UK armed forces.
Several other companies have expressed an interesting in bidding for the contract, which will replace Cobham Aviation's Falcon 20s and Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Unit BAe Hawks operated by Babcock.