Date: August 23, 2009
ATAC, By Matt Bannon (Director of Public Relations)
[AIC] "Mustang has single group, Peak 230,95, 40,000, hot, hostile."
"Showtime 21 targeting single group."
"Showtime 21, Fox 3, Peak 230 for 80."
"Showtime 21, music, shots trashed"
"Showtimes, out left"
"[AIC] "Showtime 21, threat BRA 250, 15, hot, hostile"
The above scenario is not an enviable position for any fighter pilot, but this is training. And because it's training, the experience gained here could save a pilot's life and preserve valuable fighter aircraft in a real-world, hostile scenario. What was just described above could have happened on any one of a number of missions flown recently in support of VMFA-314 in a joint exercise at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. F/A-18 Hornets and crews from VMFA-314, VMFA(AW)-225 and NSAWC joined F-15's from the 390FS and DRFM/EA-equipped F-21 Kfirs from Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) for more than two weeks of intense air-to-air training in September 2008.
ATAC, home-based in Newport News, VA, was at Mountain Home to provide highly integrated dissimilar aircraft and advanced EA training for Marine and Air Force units. ATAC has provided similar tactical air support to the Navy since 1997, providing training for Navy surface units and aircrews, for fleet exercises, NSAWC Airwing Detachments, TopGun, SFARP, Fleet squadron ULT, and various research and development programs. ATAC began supporting Marine Corps training in 2006 under the Company's current contract with PMA-207 for Marine Corps aviation and ground units. Following the Mountain Home training , LtCol Jon "Chub" Passant, Commanding Officer of VMFA-314, said of ATAC, "they were extremely knowledgeable in advanced threat tactics and as well maintained a graduate level understanding of the capabilities of not only the threat aircraft that they were simulating, but also those of their OPFOR wingmen."
ATAC currently operates 10 jets in the CONUS, with another two jets based in Hawaii, and two jets permanently detached to Japan. The Company's aircraft are a mix of Israeli F-21 Kfirs, British Mk-58 Hawker Hunters, and the A-4N Skyhawk – the most recent addition to the ATAC stable. ATAC's mission is to provide tactical jet support to the Fleet in the form of Electronic Attack (EA), simulated Close Air Support (CAS), dissimilar adversary support, and adversary force augmentation. The mix of aircraft provides a range of capabilities that enables ATAC to support a wide array of training scenarios. The Kfirs are used as fighters and adversary support aircraft where their small radar cross-section, advanced EA and high speed and altitude capabilities provide high-fidelity threat replication for advanced fighter training, or the accurate simulation of cruise missile profiles for ship training. The subsonic Hawker Hunters are diverse aircraft that enable force augmentation during training for Fleet exercises such as JTFX and COMPTUEX, where on-station times in excess of two hours and EA capabilities provide persistent training support. The Hunters also support a robust variety of missions in WestPac and MidPac, including Fleet threat simulation, target towing, and dedicated adversary training for forward-deployed Carrier Air Wing Five in Atsugi, Japan. ATAC added the A-4 Skyhawks in 2008 to augment the capabilities of the Hunters. This proven platform can perform all of the Hunter's missions while adding a number of additional capabilities such as in-flight refueling and air-to-ground terminal attack controller training. ATAC added the air-to-ground mission just this year in response to urgent requests for Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training for Marine and Navy JTAC's.
The combat-proven Skyhawk is an renowned Close Air Support platform for JTAC training. Its air-ground capabilities, significant on-station times and adaptability to nearly all current CAS profiles have proven to be a valuable tool for maximizing JTAC training opportunities. As a result, Marine and Navy JTAC students receive more consistent, dedicated training support during initial and re-current training. The air-to-ground mission can also be supported by the Company's Hawker Hunters and the Kfirs, but the Skyhawk provides optimum range, loiter and CAS mission expansion potential. To enhance JTAC training, ATAC has a professional staff of former Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force pilots that are current and conversant in JCAS tactics, techniques and procedures. After the initial JTAC support detachment for EWTGPAC, it was noted by the JTAC Course director, LtCol Michael "Rowdy" Rodriguez that, "The contract aircrew supporting the FIREX were professional and well prepared."
In the air-to-air realm, ATAC provides dissimilar, supersonic fighters to provide training in offensive/defensive counter-air, strike oppositions, electronic attack, striker simulations and a host of other missions. The professionalism of ATAC pilots is a force multiplier for mission enhancement as nearly all are graduates of either the Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (Topgun), USMC Weapons and Tactics Instructors (WTI) course or the US Air Force Fighter Weapons School. ATAC has provided Kfir-based adversary and EA support for every Airwing Fallon evolution and nearly every TopGun class since 2005. ATAC's Kfirs, operated by its highly trained and experienced adversary pilot cadre, offer critical advantages that include the ability to seamlessly integrate with Navy/Marine Corps adversary and Fleet platforms and provide aerodynamically robust profiles with electronic attack pods at sustained high sub-sonic and supersonic speeds. Over 90% of missions include EA capability as was the case in the recent detachment to Mountain Home, and ATAC pilots have become experts at heavily integrated EA employment over the last 12 years of operations. The capability that ATAC provides prompted LtCol Passant, to remark about their Mountain Home training experience that, "The training that ATAC provided closed the loop in terms of OPFOR capabilities and truly provided VMFA-314 pilots with an accurate depiction of what can be expected when faced with an advanced adversary. The opportunity that ATAC provided stands as one of the most significant successes of the Mountain Home Detachment."
ATAC's mission statement is to provide professional, reliable, and cost-effective high-performance flight services in the fields of tactical military training, flight test, and research and development. ATAC does this by providing the right planes, flown by the right pilots, to help the Navy and Marine Corps get the most value out of every training opportunity.