Draken International is perhaps the most capable player in the contract adversary air training game, fielding a fleet of modern jets to go OPFOR against forces large and small. They recently picked up a ton of retired supersonic fighter bombers (20 single-seat Mirage F1Ms and two two-seat F1Bs) from Spain and have been busy putting them back together and getting them flightworthy. As the F1s had arrived in disassembled in crates and had seen much use, it is no easy task.
The Mirage F1 in Spanish service
Working with Paramount Aerospace Systems, they are getting it done and Draken’s first refurbished F1 took to the air on 12 November at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida and has so far completed four sorties while another F1M completed slow speed taxi tests on Monday.
Some are also getting a new, digital scheme, similar to what is seen on PLAAF and Russian aircraft in recent years.
The former Spanish Air Force F1 fleet will soon join Draken’s 13 A-4K/N Skyhawks and 23 L-159 Honey Badgers that currently support the U.S. Air Force out of Nellis Air Force Base with “red air” aggressor training. Draken also acquired nine ex-South African Air Force Cheetah C and three Cheetah D fighters, derived from the older Mirage III, from Denel in 2018 and fields no less than 27 MiG-21s as well.
Former Armée de l’Air Dassault Mirage F1s could be a familiar sight over U.S. skies near aggressor bases
As noted by Flight Global, Textron subsidiary Airborne Tactical Advantage Company just picked up 63 former French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) Mirage F1B, F1CT, and F1CR for dissimilar air combat training and aggressor squadron purposes for the U.S. Air Force. The deal included 150 engines and a host of other gear the French weren’t using anymore.
“Textron is planning to retrofit the F1s with modern avionics systems such as digital radio frequency memory jamming capabilities and upgraded radars,” ATAC chief executive Jeffrey Parker says. “The requirements we’re seeing the air force describe clearly include a modern radar such as AESA or a highly capable mechanically scanned array radar.”
A tip-top dual purpose strike fighter when introduced in 1973, over 720 F1s were fielded with the French using the lion share (246) and the Ecuadorian, Greek, Iraqi (the Exocet attack on the USS Stark), Libyan, Moroccan, South African, and Spanish getting smaller quantities, though almost all have retired them.
The French disbanded the last squadron flying the F1 in 2014 and today only Gabon flies a few surplus Armée de l’Air jets, and the Libyans have a handful the French are upgrading while the Iranians are thought to have about a dozen operational F1BQs and F1EQs that escaped Desert Storm by skipping over the border in 1991.