One of the largest Air Force is dealing with more missions than ever before. In fact, they are calling in some military contractors to fly their jets. The US Air Force is being forced to consider recruiting air contractors due to the fact that they simply don’t have enough crew and jets.

Due to investments in highly expensive gear and budget cuts, the Air Force was forced to discard one of three so called Aggressor squadrons that fly front line jets like the F-15C or the F-16 that are painted in enemy colors and use enemy tactics.

More than a half-dozen senior Air Force Officials say that the reason for the new initiative is Pure Desperation. One senior Air Force official said that the red air situation is one total mess. “There air Band Aid fixes being applied to areas around the community, but it’s not enough.”

This is a sign of the system-wide stress that the Air Force is currently under. More than 10 years of war, combined with unwise investments in unsatisfactory stealth jets, has put the service in a bind. “Demand for our services is way, way up. But we are meeting those demands today with the smallest Air Force in our history,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters “And when you couple that smaller force against the backdrop of austere budgets, and with the huge demand, what we have is we have a total force that is under significant strain.” Most have said that the Air Force has little choice, the short answer was “Contractor-provided red air is overpriced and underwhelming, but at the end of the day there isn’t much choice in utilizing it,” The Air Force is still gathering pricing information regarding how much it would cost for contractors to fly approximately 180 training sorties over a two-week period later this year.

The contractors would have to operate supersonic “fourth generation” fighters similar to the F-15, F-16 or the Navy’s F/A-18 Hornet. The negotiated jets would have to be capable of reaching over Mach 1.0 and have to be equipped with:-

  • Radar
  • Radar Warning Receivers (RWR)
  • Electronic Attack

According to the posting.

The need for outsourced enemies is the result of the wars in the Middle East. Since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force has recently been cutting its existing fighter force of fourth generationF-15s and F-16 to pay for super pricey hardware similar to the fifth generation F-22 and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

F35 during a preflight.

F35 during a preflight.

“After we brought the F-22 on line, and subsequently started cutting Aggressors, we met the intersection of high ops tempo in Afghanistan and Iraq,” explained briefly one senior Air Force official. “At this intersection we found several fifth-gen (specifically the F-22 Raptor) fighters doing nothing but air shows and all the fourth gen fighters like the F-15E and F-16 were dropping bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Even as the Air Force’s previous aircraft flew overseas combat missions, the service started to cut the fleet to pay for its higher priorities. “Now, we have so few fourth gen fighters left and they’re just crushed again… Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan,” the senior official complained. “Fifth-gen, and most fourth-gen fighters need to train in the air-to-air role. And if you want to be realistic, we need to be equally matched or preferably outnumbered. We don’t have the inventory to do that.”

Probable contractors

There are many Air Force officials who put into question if the private military companies have the ability to realistically simulate the most realistic enemy fighters, like the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 or Mikoyan MiG-29. Most of the existing private military companies are flying older jets that have long been retired from active service. “It’s 1970s technology trying to replicate a fourth-gen red air fighter,” one Air Force official said. A company called Airborne Tactical Advantage Company flies the Israeli F-21 supersonic fighter, Hawker Hunter, and Czech-built L-39 Albatross. Another firm – Tactical Air Support flies the F-5B Freedom Fighter supersonic fighter and an Embraer EMB-314 light attack aircraft. In the early 2000s, the company attempted to buy some top-of-the-line Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighters from the Ukrainian air force. In fact the company sent pilots to train on the powerful Russian-built fighters. Yet another firm, Draken International, which boasts a fleet of more than 50 jets, actually succeeded in importing some 27 Russian-built MiG-21 fighters to use for training purposes. In addition to the MiGs, the company operates some 11 Douglas A-4K Skyhawk attack aircraft—but those aircraft are upgraded with electronics including a radar from upgraded European-operated versions of the F-16 fighter jet. Draken’s extensive fleet additionally includes nine Italian Aermacchi MB-339CB advanced trainers, 28 Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-159E light combat jets, and five L-39s.


That sounds rather impressive, but unfortunately for them, private companies don’t have the required equipment to train the Air Force’s squadrons – neither does the service have the money to pay the expensive contractor’s fees. “They are really expensive though and you have to pay for them with operations and maintenance money, which, is the first thing people lose in budget cuts,” a senior Air Force fighter pilot said. However, another senior official totally disagreed. The private military companies can provide additional jets and trained pilots that jets like the F-22 and F-35 can beat up on without wasting time taking turns to act as an enemy aircraft. “We’ve proven that fifth-generation red air in the form of F-22s is not good, as it’s hard to ‘dumb down’ a Raptor,” another senior Air Force official said. “The problem is even worse with the F-35.”

Ultimately, the official said, it’s highly unlikely that the Air Force will not be able to somehow afford the contractors’ fees. “I suspect we’ll continue to limp along, use simulators and talk about how great they are, and fight T-38s,” the official added. “I doubt we will use these guys. They expensive and we don’t have the cash.”

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Author – Jake Meilak