USAF drops Draken for Red Air tasks, more capable jets are needed

USAF red air service aircraft
Italian Air Force T-346A advanced trainer jet.

As more and more nations are introducing fifth generation combat aircraft, the current offering of private 'red air' service providers seems to be out of step with the times.

The US Air Force said in early April that it does not intend to renew its contract with Draken International, which is the world's largest private supplier of opposing forces, for 'red air' duties at Nellis Air Force Base.

The Draken fleet had been deployed in Nellis for many years now, where the USAF's elite Weapons School is based and the United States' premier air combat exercise, the Red Flag, is held. However, the Service believes that the Draken's aircraft are no longer adequate to replicate a modern threat.

While red-air companies such as Draken “do wonderful work for the Air Force, especially at our formal training units... where we train basic fighter pilots how to fly,” they aren’t effective against jets like F-22s or F-35s, Lt. Gen. David Nahom, the service’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on May 17.

The Florida contractor's fleet currently includes L-159 Honey Badger, A-4 Skyhawk and Mirage F1 jets and will soon be expanded with F-16AM fighters purchased second-hand in 2021 from the Netherlands and Norway.

Although these platforms have been upgraded with most of the systems common with 4th generation aircraft, today it is no longer enough. They lack, for example, the low radar traceability typical of fifth generation aircraft.

The most obvious option would be to introduce the latest generation fighters, but this is not possible due to the high cost. Private defense companies have always looked to light or second-hand combat aircraft to contain acquisition, maintenance and operating costs.

The most applicable solution may be to purchase a jet developed to train pilots for fifth generation fighter aircraft. These type of trainers are very similar to advanced fighters to facilitate the transition of students to front-line squadrons. Among the various platforms on the market, the Leonardo M-346 could be the most suitable to cover the role of the modern enemy. It has long played the role of the 'bad guy' during the main exercises of the Italian Air Force and the international TLP exercise in Albacete, Spain, challenging the advanced F-35 and Eurofighter Typhoon jets.

USAF red air service aircraft

According to Leonardo, the M-346 has the "ability to fly for extended periods at sustained g forces. For instance, the aircraft can sustain a 5g turn for 20 minutes. Current aggressor types in use are either older trainers and fighters that do not represent a modern threat, or front-line fighters that are very expensive to operate and do not have the endurance when maneuvering hard because of the need to use afterburner."

With its high maneuvering and climbing performance, as well as advanced systems and radar in the cockpit, the M346 could represent the ideal adversary in modern air combat training.

In addition, as we have already highlighted in a previous article, the M-346 can benefit from a low observation capability kit capable of reducing its radar cross section (RCS) by fifty times.

The recent aggressor-style color scheme the manufacturer painted on one of its M-346s clearly suggests the aircraft is well suited for 'red air' duties.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Images: Italian Air Force

No comments

All comments related to the contents of our articles are welcome. It is not allowed to post promotional messages, links to external sites, or references to activities not related to this blog.

Powered by Blogger.