The Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, otherwise known as ATAC, has made another large leap in the commercial adversary support marketplace with the addition of the captive training AIM-9M Sidewinder to their fleet’s quiver.
In the past, ATAC pilots would only be able to attempt a 180′ turn after the merge when training against fleet aircraft. Only if they found themselves in the very heart of an infra-red missile shot envelope could they “call” a shot/kill. Such limitations, along with the fact that they are flying aircraft designed in the 1950s, left the already highly disadvantaged Kfir pilot in a fairly futile battle, especially against aircraft sporting fly by wire controls, high thrust to weight ratios, and even worse, helmet mounted cueing systems and high-off bore-sight capable AIM-9Xs. Basically, ATAC Kfirs, although packing a lot of electronic warfare capability around at very high speed, were relegated to mimicking a 1960’s level of within visual range air to air engagement technology. Now that they are cleared to carry a captive training AIM-9M they can represent a much more prevalent and robust threat, one that is capable of all aspect IR missile engagements, including “face shots,” which occur before or at the merge.
The USAF, and other US air arms, have learned the hard way that a small 40 year old MiG-21, packing a high-end self-escort jamming pod and capable all-aspect infra-red guided missiles, can be just as deadly as a SU-30MKI during a chaotic air to air engagement. During exercises like “COPE INDIA” the hard to spot and electron spewing MiG-21s could sneak right up during the fog of battle and take out a mighty F-15C Eagle. Tactics and training have thus changed to prepare pilots for such asymmetric air to air threats.
Designed by western standards and packing significantly more range (Kfirs can fly for almost three hours with external tanks!) compared to modified MiG-21s, the advanced jammer and all aspect infra-red missile toting, mach 1+ ATAC Kfir, may only be seen by a fleet aircrew once it’s too late, thus punishing the opposing aircrew’s mistake by virtually killing them. Having your $65M Super Hornet swatted out of the sky by a rudimentary delta wing antique may be a hard pill for a young fighter pilot to swallow, but these are exactly the tough lessons that need to learned in training, not in combat. As such, ATAC will be delivering a very real and relevant threat simulation for our fleet Naval Aviators and Naval Flight Officers to counter should the occasion arise, and one day it probably will.
The DoD should get wise and start ordering more private adversary support flight hours and capabilities. It saves the US tax payer money and only makes our front line air crews and radar operators more honed for battle. Additionally, the DoD would be nuts to send up a pair of F-35s for basic intercept training when the same job could be done by an ATAC Hunter or Kfir at a tiny fraction of the cost. As the DoD’s fifth generation dream (or fiscal nightmare?) comes to fruition it will prove economically impossible to burn cherished 5th generation airframe hours, at double the cost to operate than the aircraft they replace, just to provide radar targets for another guy in another F-35. Plus, when you give someone a total disadvantage, such as pitting a F-35 vs an antique Israeli knockoff of a Mirage III/V fighter, creativity can come into play as to how to use “asymmetric” tactics to give the F-35s a run for their money. In other words, it allows for the outgunned adversary to truly think and fight like a potential enemy. The addition of the AIM-9M to ATAC’s playbook will help them do just that.
Hopefully this investment in commercial adversary support providers capabilities will continue, and next we may see ATAC’s impeccably maintained Kfirs and Hunters sporting an infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor and maybe a radar set sometime in the not so distant future…
ATAC’s website: http://atacusa.com/