Top Aces wins part of contract for USAF adversary air training

Top Aces Corp. has been awarded part of a US$6.4 billion contract for adversary air services to the United States Air Force (USAF).

The Montreal, Que.-based company was one of seven firms selected on Oct. 18 to participate in the Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support contract — a collective, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract that will solicit individual tenders for advanced adversary air capabilities at 12 USAF bases.

Two Alpha Jets in flight
Top Aces uses a fleet of modernized Dornier Alpha Jet (pictured) and Bombardier Learjet aircraft to provide adversary air training for the Canadian Armed Forces. The company will be the first commercial provider to acquire and configure the F-16 Falcon with an open system architecture for the USAF contract. Michael Durning Photo
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One of the pioneers in what is often called aggressor or “red” air training for militaries, Top Aces will compete with Air USA of New Mexico, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company of Virginia, Blue Air Training of Nevada, Coastal Defense of Pennsylvania, Draken International of Florida and Tactical Air Support of Nevada when the bases require training for pilots, joint terminal attack controllers (JTACs) or other personnel.

“Contractors will provide complete contracted air support services for realistic and challenging advanced adversary air threats and close air support threats,” said the Department of Defense (DoD) in a statement.

The contract, which is under the Air Combat Command Acquisition Management and Integration Center at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, runs until October 2024.

“Top Aces’ core of experienced aggressors look forward to supporting the USAF at every level of the training pipeline,” said Russ Quinn, president of Top Aces Corp., in a press release issued Oct. 25. “We are committed to delivering a flexible, cost-effective and unique readiness training solution.”

To meet the requirements of next-generation fighters such as the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor, the company will be the first commercial provider to acquire and configure the F-16 Falcon with an open system architecture to replicate a wide range of threats. The fleet will initially be based at the F-16 Center of Excellence, near the company’s U.S. headquarters in Mesa, Ariz.

According to DoD, the companies will be expected to provide “complete services” that would include the aircraft and pilots, unmanned aircraft systems, aircraft systems support, maintenance and other support equipment that might be necessary for a training exercise. The USAF estimates it will require between 40,000 to 50,000 hours of flight time to support aggressor air at the 12 bases.

“For the past 15 years, Top Aces has effectively and efficiently trained the next generation of worldwide combat leaders,” said Quinn, a 26-year USAF veteran and a former aggressor pilot with over 3,300 flight hours in an F-16. “We are grateful for the opportunity to join forces with the USAF and bring contracted adversary training to the next level.”

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Top Aces has long been one of the leaders in contracted adversary air, simulating hostile threats for fighter pilots, naval crews and land forces for the Canadian Armed Forces since the mid-2000s. The aggressor air services were delivered initially on an interim basis for national and international exercises and included training for JTACs, electro-optical and infrared-guided weapons system operators, as well as electronic warfare training for aircrews, land forces, aerospace weapons controllers, and navy frigates.

In October 2017, Top Aces, then under the banner of Discovery Air Defence, edged out a joint venture between CAE and Draken International to retain the Contracted Airborne Training Services (CATS) program under a 10-year deal worth about US$480 million that includes options to extend the service to 2031 and the value to as much as US$1.4 billion.

The Canadian program is delivered with a fleet of Dornier Alpha Jets and Bombardier Learjet 35A aircraft, but Top Aces has proposed adding the Lockheed Martin F-16A when the Royal Canadian Air Force acquires its next-generation fighter.

The success and high standards of the CATS program have opened the doors to international opportunities. Top Aces secured a similar training support contract with the German Armed Forces in 2014 and, more recently, a two-year trial with the Australian Defence Force.  It is also bidding on U.S. Navy aggressor air programs and is a partner with Leonardo and Inzpire on the U.K.’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) program. To date, the company has accumulated over 81,000 flight hours without an accident.

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