The Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has started flying its fleet of Mirage F1 fighters, refurbished with assistance from Paramount Group company Paramount Aerospace, at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.
Tyndall Air Force Base (AFB) made history on 14 December as a unit of Mirage F1 aircraft arrived at the base in support of an Air Combat Command mass training effort in partnership with ATAC, the US Air Force said.
For the next year or two, Tyndall AFB will house and support the contracted unit of about six aircraft, five pilots and 30 maintenance personnel.
“At Tyndall, we have all the right requirements in place so we could operate on time and not have to wait,” said Lieutenant Colonel Jason White, 325th Operations Support Squadron Director of Operations. “Tyndall’s recent Environmental Impact Study allowed us to support the additional aircraft without a waiting period, unlike our brothers and sisters at Eglin.”
ATAC was awarded a government procurement contract under Combat Air Forces to deliver an alternative airframe, the Mirage F1, which is projected to replace Tyndall’s current fleet of T-38 Talon aircraft.
This new partnership will enable F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning pilots to engage in tactical airborne training, adversary air live training at Tyndall and other US Air Force bases such as Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico and Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, the US Air Force said.
“Adversary air is the most efficient training aide and this is something that (Air Combat Command) has been working toward for a couple of years now,” said White. “The aircraft will use non-live munitions, launch, and meet in the air space for simulated training including radio and radar operations for the purpose of training. The pilot would acquire the target, or the adversary, simulate engaging the adversary and then simulate firing missiles at the aircraft.”
Pilots are expected to begin training in January 2021 utilising Tyndall’s air space.
“Tyndall’s shared air space is just South of Tyndall and extends all the way to almost Tampa and West to about the Alabama border out over the water and some land,” said White. “The Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest air spaces used for air-to-air training and live fire missiles. It is a national resource; having this training air space of this size and dimension which allows us to host an entire, simulated air war.”
ATAC’s Mirage training programme is anticipated to fly more than 1 100 sorties over the next several years to provide adversary air support to the 43rd Fighter Squadron, which is the schoolhouse for the F-22s, and the schoolhouse for the F-35s, the 58th Fighter Squadron.
“Generally speaking, fighter (units) have to use their flying hours to practice, which takes away from training,” said White.
According to White, that means fighter units typically have to use their allotted flying hours to be both the good guy and the bad guy in the air.
“Tyndall’s airspace is the best place to fight air-to-air either over water or over land because of the un-obstruction,” said Lieutenant Colonel Erik Gratteau, 325th OSS assistant director of operations. “We have 1 000 to 60 000 feet of space to fly and there are no mountains to have to navigate or encroachment issues.”
Air Force Special Operations Command Joint Terminal Air Controllers will also benefit from the programme.
ATAC provides live air-to-air, air-to-ship and air-to-surface training for multiple branches of service across the Department of Defence.
“ATAC is excited to have been selected to provide adversary training… and we stand ready to serve additional future operating locations and customer as their needs evolve,” said Scott Stacy, ATAC general manager.
In July 2020 ATAC said it had been selected to provide two US Air Force bases with adversary air live training under the Combat Air Forces (CAF) Contracted Air Support (CAS) programme, worth up to a combined $240 million.
ATAC’s first refurbished Mirage F1 performed its initial flight in the United States on 22 August 2019. The company acquired 63 ex-French Air Force Mirage F1s – of these, 32 of these are in good condition and can be restored to flying status with little effort. The other 31 need major work to be restored to flight, or are suitable for spare parts.
ATAC acquired the F1s specifically for the US Air Force’s adversary air training programme. The company was assisted by Paramount in providing Mirage F1 training. ATAC’s Mirages received several upgrades for US operations, including a new GPS, air-to-air TACAN, new radios, and a new attitude indicator. They will be able to carry an electronic warfare training pod, captive air-to-air missiles, chaff and flares.
Paramount Group in October 2017 announced it had acquired four ex-French Air Force Mirage F1Bs from the French government “to enhance its pilot training capabilities”. The company said its subsidiary Paramount Aerospace Systems would use the twin-seat aircraft as part of its pilot and maintenance technician training services.
Paramount said it has extensive capability on the Mirage F1 with full airframe and engine overhaul capability, as well as the ability to upgrade, modernise avionics and mission systems.
Paramount has also assisted Draken International get its ex-Spanish Air Force Mirage F1Ms airworthy. They will also be used for adversary air training by the US Air Force. Draken International also acquired 12 ex-South African Air Force Cheetah jets for training in the United States.