ATAC’s Aerial Opponent Training
Over the last 13 years, ATAC has performed a wide range of flight training operations for the US Navy, US Air Force and Air National Guard, including participation in US Navy fleet training, acting as adversary fighters for the “TOPGUN” program, Red Flag exercises and F-22 Raptor training; participating in JTAC/ FAC-A/ CAS ground controller training; and even serving American research & development programs like the Ship Self Defense System and ALE-50 towed decoy. Under their agreement with US Navy, their services have also been used to train militaries in the UK, Canada, Japan, the Philippines, and others.
Unlike most other contractors, who operate Learjets and similar business aircraft, ATAC operates fighters and attack jets.
Fleet and Stores
The firm no longer operates Saab’s visionary J-35 Draken, but staged buys and/or leases have let them accumulate a very versatile fleet of supersonic Israeli Kfir C2s, along with sub-sonic Hawker Hunter 80 and Aero vodochody L-39 fighters.
Israel Aircraft Industry’s Kfir fighters were originally developed by adding GE J79 turbojets from the F-4 Phantom to modified Mirage V airframes, whose plans Israel stole after the French refused to deliver the fighters Israel had paid for. The Kfirs were introduced at a time when F-16s and F-15s had begun to dominate IAF’s air superiority missions, and only recorded 1 kill during a long service career, which saw them used extensively in ground attack roles. The Kfir remains a fast and nimble aircraft, however, and early-model Kfir C1s served as “aggressor” aircraft for the US Navy, under the designation “F-21″.
ATAC’s Kfir C2s are distinguishable from the F-21s by their dogtoothed outer wing panels, small undernose strakes, and larger canard foreplanes. These improve the aircraft’s maneuverability, and shorten required takeoff distances. Kfirs still serve as front-line fighters in Colombia, Ecuador, and Sri Lanka.
The Hawker Hunter isn’t the most famous aircraft of its era. Nor is it the most produced, despite a production run of about 2,000 planes. Its contemporaries the F-86 Sabre and MiG-15/17 hold those titles. A strong case could be made, however, that the Hunter is the best aircraft of that era. Hunters are rugged and maneuverable, with excellent handling at all flight speeds and surprising effectiveness in the ground attack role. Designed in the late 1940s, these aircraft remained in front-line service into the 1990s.
ATAC aircraft are certified to carry a wide range of stores. TACTS/ACMI (P4/5) pods or LATR GPS tracking pods, provide air combat tracking. For electronic warfare training, AST-6 and AST-9 threat simulators can be combined with multiple AN/ALQ-167 and/or AN/ALQ-188 Jamming pods, and IAI Elta’s EL-L 8212/8222 Self-Protection Jammer pods.
ATAC’s 3rd aircraft type is an East Bloc stalwart, the Czech Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros. The L-29 and L-39 were the world’s most widely sold trainers during the Cold War. Production has stopped, but Aero remains a going concern, and continues to support the global fleet.
The L-39 recently replaced ATAC’s A-4N Skyhawks. The A-4s had a long career as a carrier-based “Scooter” attack aircraft with the US Navy, and Sen. John McCain was flying one when he was shot down over North Vietnam. The Skyhawk also has a storied land-based career with the Israeli Air Force, who used this simple, pilot-friendly, compact little aircraft from late 1967 onward as a versatile attack jet with surprising air-air teeth. Some of those planes still serve in Israel as trainers, and other A-4s continue in front-line roles around the world, most notably as carrier aircraft on Brazil’s NAe Sao Paolo. Skyhawks are also familiar to movie-goers, who saw A-4s as one of the real-life training and “aggressor” aircraft in the famous film “Top Gun.” ATAC’s humpbacked A-4Ns were ex-Israeli aircraft, who continued to play a familiar role for the US Navy until their retirement.
Contracts and Key Events
Unless the entry says otherwise, contracts are managed by the USA’s Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, and issued to small business qualifier Airborne Tactical Advantage Co. LLC (ATAC) in Newport News, VA.
Note that Pentagon’s public reporting minimum is $5 million; contracted support for smaller scale tasks, like a particular exercise, is likely to fall below that minimum.
FY 2012 – 2013
Funds will be obligated on individual delivery orders as they are issued. Work will be performed in Newport News, VA and Jacksonville, FL (45%); Pt. Mugu, CA (35%); and outside the United States (20%), and will run until October 2013 (N00019-09-D-0021).
May 18/12: Capt. Thomas “TC” Bennett (Ret.) dies as his Hawker Hunter crashes near Naval Base Ventura County, CA, while attempting to land after a fighter training mission. In the US Navy, Bennett had over 1,350 successful carrier landings, and a wide array of medals.
CEO Jeff Parker describes ATAC as being in “utter and complete shock” at the crashes, and pledges an investigation. The firm’s jets had just finished flying over 200 hours in support of the Eisenhower Aircraft Carrier Battlegroup, over 150 hours in support of two major exercises in Guam and the PI, and was conducting training for the USMC at Yuma, AZ and Navy fighter squadrons off the coast of CA. ATAC.
2nd fatal crash
Feb 12/12: Crash. Bill Sweetman has some sad news:
“Capt Caroll “Lex” LeFon — known as Neptunus Lex to the military blogging community — died in a crash at Fallon Naval Air Station, Nevada, on Tuesday. Retired from the Navy after a career in fighters, including a stint as a Top Gun instructor, he was flying an IAI Kfir for ATAC…”
The cause of the crash is under investigation. In Lex’s own recent words:
“It’s funny how quickly you can go from “comfort zone” to “wrestling snakes” in this business. But even snake wrestling beats life in the cube, for me at least. In measured doses.”
He lived doing what he loved, and he would have loved the comments in response to US SecNav Mabus’ tribute just as much. Lord, guard and guide the men who fly… Neptunus Lex Blog | AP | Australian Aviation | Gannett’s Navy Times.
Oct 11/11: FY 2012. A $47.1 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract, exercising an option for contractor owned and operated type III high subsonic and Type IV supersonic jets in support of the Navy’s Commercial Air Services (CAS) program.
Work will be performed in Newport News, VA (45%), Pt. Mugu, CA (35%), and various locations outside the continental United States (20%). Work is expected to be complete in October 2011 (N00019-09-D-0021).
FY 2010 – 2011
Sept 29/11: ATAC announces that United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) has selected ATAC for the heavily competed Joint Terminal Attack Controller contract in Germany. JTACs travel with the infantry to guide close-support strikes from jets and artillery. The flying contract is in support of USAFE’s Warrior Preparation Center (WPC), and Air Ground Operations School (AGOS), and most flying over the course of the 4-year contract will be conducted in Germany.
ATAC currently trains JTACs for the USAF in Hawaii, Joint Special Operations Units at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, for the USMC at multiple locations within the United States, and for the USN at Naval Air Station Fallon, NV. ATAC says it “anticipates offering Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) in the future to complement training.”
Oct 29/10: FY 2011. A $45.2 million contract modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0021), exercising an option for contractor owned and operated type III high subsonic and Type IV supersonic jets in support of the Navy’s Commercial Air Services (CAS) program.
Work will be performed in Newport News, VA (45%), Pt. Mugu, CA (35%), and various locations outside the continental United States (20%). Work is expected to be complete in October 2011.
Oct 30/09: FY 2010. A $43.5 million contract modification under an indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-09-D-0021), exercising an option for contractor owned and operated type III high subsonic (about 2,800 flight hours) and Type IV supersonic aircraft (about 1,000 flight hours) jets in support of the US Navy’s Commercial Air Services (CAS) program. Same objective as other contracts here.
Work will be performed in Newport News, VA (45%); Point Mugu, CA (35%); and various locations outside the Continental United States (20%), and is expected to be complete in October 2010.
May 4/09: A $14.5 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-02-D-3158), exercises an option for airborne threat simulation capabilities to train shipboard and aircraft squadron weapon systems operators and aircrew how to counter potential enemy electronic warfare and electronic attack operations.
Work will be performed in Point Mugu, CA (44%); Newport News, VA (42%); Honolulu, HI (9%); and throughout various other countries (5%), and is expected to be complete in June 2009.
March 19/09: A $27.9 million
- indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for contractor owned and operated type III High Subsonic (Hawker Hunter and A-4 Skyhawk, approx. 1,099 flight hours) and Type IV Supersonic aircraft (IAI Kfir, approx. 359 flight hours) in support of the Commercial Air Services (CAS) program for the U.S. Navy. CAS also employs services like Omega’s aerial refueling tankers.
This contract is focused on “a wide variety of airborne threat simulation capabilities to train shipboard and aircraft squadron weapon systems operators and aircrew how to counter potential enemy electronic warfare and electronic attack operations…” Work will be performed in Newport News, VA (45%); Point Mugu, CA (35%); and various locations outside the Continental United States (20%), and is expected to be complete in October 2009. Contract funds in the amount of $11.8 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via an electronic request for proposals, and 4 offers were received. (N00019-09-D-0021).
- = Amount subsequently corrected by the Pentagon, from the originally-stated $35.2 million.
FY 1996 – 2008
2008: A-4 arrival. Ex-Israeli A-4N Skyhawks added to the ATAC fleet. Note the extended tailpipes, originally fitted to divert strikes from small shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles away from the airframe and engine.
April 28/06: A $10.6 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-02-D-3158) exercises an option for “airborne threat simulation capabilities to train shipboard and aircraft squadron weapon systems operators and aircrew how to counter potential enemy electronic warfare and electronic attack operations”.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (45%); Norfolk, VA (45%); and at various locations across the United States (10%); and is expected to be complete in April 2007.
April 28/05: A $9.7 million ceiling-priced modification to a previously awarded contract (N00019-02-D-3158) exercises an option for airborne threat simulation and electronic warfare capabilities to train shipboard and aircraft squadron weapon systems operators, using supersonic and subsonic aircraft.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (45%); Norfolk, VA (45%), and at various locations across the United States (10%); and is expected to be complete in April 2006.
2004: Hunter 80 arrival. Ex-Swiss F.58 Hawker Hunters with their “Hunter 80″ upgrades are added to the ATAC fleet.
April 26/02: ATAC receives a $9.3 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-quantity/ indefinite-delivery contract for “airborne threat simulation capabilities to train shipboard and aircraft squadron weapon systems operators and aircrew how to counter potential enemy electronic warfare (EW) and electronic attack (EA) operations in today’s electronic Combat (EC) environment by utilizing super and subsonic aircraft.”
Work will be performed in San Diego, (75%) and Norfolk, VA (25%), and is to be complete by April 2003. This contract was competitively procured by electronic request for proposals, with one offer received (N00019-02-D-3158).
2002: Kfir C2 arrival. Ex-Israeli Kfir C2s added to ATAC’s fleet.
1997: Draken arrival. ATAC begins flying 2 ex-Danish J-35 Drakens as supersonic targets for Navy exercises. Those aircraft are no longer serve with ATAC.
1996: ATAC begins operations.
- ATAC – Aircraft. Note that they refer to “F-21 Kfir.” The F-21s were actually Kfir C1s, leased by the US Navy for aggressor training. ATAC operates the more advanced Kfir C2s.
- Wikipedia – IAI Kfir
- Air Force World – Israel: Kfir fighter
- History Channel, “Dogfights” – The “Desert Aces” video (Full Episodes/ Desert Aces) offers in-depth dissection of a fight where Israeli Mirage IIIs faced off against Jordanian Hawker Hunters. It also covers the Kfir’s most storied pilot: Israeli Col. Giora Epstein (ret.), the world’s highest-scoring jet ace with 17 kills. His most famous fight, covered in this episode, involved a lone battle in his Nesher (modified Mirage V, Kfir predecessor) against 11 Egyptian MiG-21s during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Epstein scored 4 kills while driving off the MiGs, and says that he preferred the Neshers and Kfirs to his final mount, the F-16: “Me, myself, as a pilot, I need the feelings [of the plane]… and in F-16, you miss it… F-16, you can have unbelievable achievements. But the feeling is not the same.”
- Wikipedia – A-4 Skyhawk
- Global Security – A4D (A-4) Skyhawk
- DID – Israel’s Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era.
- Air Vectors – The Hawker Hunter.
- Air Vectors – The SAAB 35 Draken. Like the Avro Arrow, far ahead of its time. Unlike the Arrow, its government stuck with it and the plane became a long-serving success. Austria’s Drakens were the last planes in front line service; they retired in 2005.
- Tactical Air Support, Inc. – Official site (under construction). A firm in Reno, NV that offers similar services, and recently acquired a pair of ex-Ukrainian SU-27s. An Aviation Week report says that the rest of the fleet consists of MiG-17s and Czech L-29/L-39 Albatros trainer and light attack jets.