|AIR FORCE CONSIDERING NEAR-TERM BOOST IN ADVERSARY TRAINING CAPABILITY
February 24, 2017
Inside the Air Force
As the Air Force works to develop a long-term solution to its growing need for adversary air capacity and capability, the service is considering a short-term effort that would expand upon an existing contract for red air support at Nellis Air Force Base, NV, and would perhaps extend the capability to other locations.
The service held an industry day Feb. 14 to discuss its long-term need for aircraft and pilots to perform adversary roles during training missions, detailing plans to award a contract to multiple companies by January 2019 to provide the pilots and aircraft necessary to address its current 40,000-sortie adversary air shortfall. But the service needs additional capability now, and representatives from Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) -- which has managed a fleet of tactical jets that it has provided as a service to the military for the past 20 years -- told Inside the Air Force this week the service is "leaning toward" a near-term contract that would provide at least 2,500 additional hours of adversary support at Nellis AFB and possibly other locations.
"They need these sorties as soon as possible and it's at least going to be two years before it actually gets going," Scott Reinhard, ATAC's director of Air Force programs, told ITAF in a Feb. 23 interview. "They basically need more and they need higher capabilities at Nellis, even before 2019."
Draken International currently holds a contract to provide adversary air support at Nellis AFB. Reinhard -- who was joined in the interview by Matt Bannon, ATAC's director of marketing and strategy -- said the service is considering rebidding that effort to bring additional capacity and perhaps provide greater capability, which is key for training pilots to fly fifth-generation jets. He said he expects an RFP within a month or two.
"What they want to do is they want to get whatever is available," Reinhard said. "And if there are higher capabilities to fly immediately, then they will reward the contractor for bringing higher capabilities. All of the big players in the industry are definitely looking for aircraft right now."
The service's need for additional adversary support -- particularly from aircraft capable of challenging F-35 pilots -- was apparent at a Red Flag exercise held earlier this month. The exercise was the first to feature the Joint Strike Fighter, and Lt. Col. George Watkins, commander of the 34th Fighter Squadron and an F-35 pilot, told reporters Feb. 14 that the service is working on several near-term solutions to address the problem.
"We are essentially keeping it to a fourth-generation threat level right now and we know that there are countries all around the world that are increasing beyond that and so we need to be able to increase our ability to replicate that picture," Watkins said. "As we get more and more units flying F-35s . . . we're going to definitely need to have both an increased number and increased capability on our threat aircraft. The Air Force is actively looking into that from multiple different avenues."
According to briefing slides from the Air Force's Feb. 14 industry day -- which was meant to address a longer-term, likely 10-year solution to adversary air needs -- the service is looking for increased support at 12 bases with varying capability needs. The service expects to need about 78 additional adversary jets to perform an additional 27,000 adversary sorties per year, and is working to define what capabilities each of those locations will require. After a January 2019 contract award, the service wants to start flying the jets the following May.
Bannon said he's seen a "complete shift" in the service's approach to adversary air -- a shift likely compelled by need.
"Before, we used to go to the [Air Combat Command] commander and promote contract air services as a solution for their shortfall and it was always they listened politely but they didn't seem terribly interested," Bannon said. "Now it is not only are they interested, but they want it all yesterday. So it's a complete shift in the Air Force basically embracing contract air services for adversary support."
The service is now essentially looking for contractors to provide jets, pilots, maintenance and support equipment to meet their requirements.
Fifteen companies attended the Feb. 14 industry day, including ATAC, and Bannon and Reinhard said they expect the program will be an appealing one. However, they noted that the program does carry risks for the Air Force and said the service seems to be placing a high emphasis on past performance.
"You can't just allow somebody to come in and bring airplanes and fly them," Reinhard said. "They invite huge risk if there's an incident with a company they should not have let play."
At the same time, Bannon said, there is a limited supply of jets worldwide to meet the Air Force's need.
"The Air Force will essentially take whatever industry can bring and then add it to meet the shortfall," he said. "They're giving industry the minimum they need and telling them to acquire it and they'll use what industry can bring."