Tag Archives: opfor

Paging Clarie Chennault, Ukraine edition

Draken International’s No.574 Mirage F-1M fresh out of the paint barn, Nov 2019. The company recently picked up a ton of retired supersonic fighter bombers (20 single-seat Mirage F1Ms and two two-seat F1Bs) from Spain and has been busy putting them back together and getting them flightworthy, as part of the growing “Red Air” business.

LT Taylor Buck (USNA 2016), currently a screwtop driver with VAW-125, has an interesting take in this month’s Proceedings, on rebooting the Flying Tigers but instead of Curtiss P-40s and Claire Chennault’s 100 volunteer flyboys, it would be more of a shell corporation with privately-owned high-performance jets and fighter jocks looking for a challenge as a military contractor.

With all of the second-hand Mirages, MiGs, F-16s and F-18s owned by the assorted commercial aggressor firms, it’s not a terrible idea.

From the piece:

Just as the original volunteers flew U.S.-designed P-40 Warhawks sold under foreign license, assembled in the CAMCO factory in Rangoon, Burma, modern diplomatic interests would be best served if the AVG did not fly aircraft supplied directly from the active U.S. government inventory. Fortunately, red air contractors already possess a carefully curated treasure-trove of warbirds from which an AVG could be assembled.

ATAC owns a fleet of more than 90 aircraft, including the Mirage F1, F-21 Kfir, Mk 58 Hawker Hunter, and L-39 Albatross. The JTAC/FAC focused contractor “Blue Air Training” possesses seven OV-10D+/G Broncos, eight A-90 Raiders, six PC-9A/F Pilatuses, and a fleet of BAC 167 Strikemasters and IAR 823 Brasovs. Tac-Air operates the Embraer EMB 312F Tucano (A-27), Canadair CF-5D, Siai-Marchetti SF-260TP, Su-27, and A-29 Super Tucano. Draken owns a “dozen ex-South African Atlas Cheetahs, and 22 ex-Spanish Air Force Mirage F1Ms plus assorted other subsonic jets . . . A-4 Skyhawks, L-159 Honey Badgers, L-39s, and MB339s . . . as well as a deep backstock of MiG-21s.” Top Aces operates the Bombardier Learjet 35A, Dornier Alpha Jet, and the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.

Draken, Top Aces, Air USA, and Tac-Air boast the best potential for fourth-generation fighters that could help establish an AVG-enforced no-fly zone. Draken owns 24 former Norwegian and Dutch F-16s. Top Aces operates 29 ex-Israeli F-16A/Bs. Air USA recently acquired 46 Australian F/A-18A/B Hornets that supplement its healthy attack and command-and-control fleet, which includes the L-39, BAE Hawk Mk.67, Cessna 0-2/C-337 Skymaster.

Tac-Air flies an unspecified number of F-16Cs as well as 25 F-5 Advanced Tigers upgraded with heads-up displays and hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls, “open architecture mission computers and tailored operational flight programs that enable integration of advanced radar and [radar-warning receiver] systems, [infrared search-and-track systems], [electronic attack], datalinks,” and so on. It refers to the Advanced Tigers as a “4th generation adversary platform with 3rd generation economy.”

More here.

And in related news, the Ukraine Air Force is trying to crowd-source new fighters. Because this is 2022.

Mirages over the Keys

This month, Textron subsidiary Airborne Tactical Advantage Company has been supporting F-35Cs from Eglin AFB’s 43rd Fighter Squadron during a deployment to Naval Air Station Key West to help sharpen their Dissimilar Air Combat Training skills.

Providing contract adversary air OPFOR airframes, ATAC brought Mirage F1s with them to the Keys, still wearing very nicely preserved French Armee de L’air camouflage.

The company bought 63 former French Air Force Mirage F1B, F1CT, and F1CR fighters; 6 million assorted spare parts, and 150 spare Atar 9K50 engines for a total value of €25 million in 2017. Last September, they pulled down a contract to use their aircraft as training assets against the USAF in seven locations.

An F-1 Mirage with Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) takes off from Boca Chica Field to provide adversary air support for training. 20 August 2021 U.S. Navy photo by Danette Baso Silvers

Running around in sometimes cranky obsolete high-performance jets can sometimes be hazardous. One of ATAC’s Mirages had an “incident” earlier this year at Tyndall.

They also do “red air” for the Navy.

Check out this trio of an ATAC Mk 58 Hunter, a former IDF Kfir C-2, and a Navy F-35C.

The Hunter dates to 1959 while the Kfir is a 1979 model. Meanwhile, the F-35C is Navy NJ-121 (BuNo 169160) of VFA-101 “Grim Reapers.” The Reapers were the Navy’s Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) based at Eglin until they shuttered the unit in May 2019, moving the mission to NAS Lemoore’s VFA-125.

Paging Robert German, Mr. German…

The National Training Center at Fort Irwin, in conjunction with the National Museum of Military Vehicles in Dubois, Wyoming, is trying to make contact with a former track crewman, for historical purposes:

Mr. Robert German, the National Museum of Military Vehicles found your Dog Tags in the M551 Sheridan you drove at the National Training Center. It looks as if you may have been on the Dragon Team, Operations Group, National Training Center The museum curator would like to speak with you and reunite you with your items. Please contact us!

The Sheridan, as we have discussed in previous posts, the much-maligned but very niche M551 Sheridan light tank err, “Airborne Assault Vehicle” entered service in 1967. The 15-ton tracked vehicle could be penetrated by 12.7mm (.50 cal) gunfire, but in theory, could zap an enemy T-34/55 with its innovative M81E1 Rifled 152 mm Gun/ Shillelagh missile launcher. It provided a lot more punch than a jeep with a recoilless rifle, in other words. 

XM551 Sheridan prototype, October 1963 (Rock Island Arsenal Museum) 

Sheridan being LAPES’d out of the back of a C-130

The 82nd Airborne’s 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor could air-deliver 50~ Sheridans anywhere in the world in 24 hours(ish)– provided they had enough lead time!– and did so in Panama in 1989 and Desert Storm in 1990.

Meant to be replaced in airborne service with the XM8 Buford Armored Gun System, which never got off the ground (see what I did there?) the 82nd retired their aging Sheridans in 1997 but the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the NTC kept a few around for use as viz-modded OPFOR vehicles until 2004.

“M551 Sheridan light tanks cross the desert during an Opposing Forces exercise at the National Training Center. The tanks have visual modifications designed to make it resemble Soviet armor.” (NARA 170912-A-VT981-0001)

Mirages around Florida…

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.

Dawn patrol

“Heavy fog covers the flight line as a Navy Fighter Weapons School F-5F Tiger II adversary aircraft is prepared for an early morning mission. Referred to as Top Gun, the school provides air combat maneuvering (ACM) training for Navy and Marine Corps pilots. The F-5F is painted to simulate a Warsaw Pact camouflage pattern,  8/15/1982” 

National Archives Identifier: 6382508. DOD Photo #DN-SN-84-09588

That OPFOR, tho

This just in from the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum:

This C.1948 shirt was used at Fort Riley, Kansas, the site where the Army’s full-time Aggressor Force training concept was articulated from its inception in 1946 until its discontinuation in 1978, at which point transformed to the dedicated OPFOR groups at Forts Polk and Irwin.

Your standard OD had been dyed darker and collars and shoulder straps sewn over in red to mimic Warsaw Pact style uniforms.

Known as Circle Trigon forces, they also had vismodded M1 helmets with a wire ridge down the top, kinda like Flash Gordon badguys.

Circle Trigon forces OPFOR at Fort Riley

Full video below:

The Army’s Blackhorse ‘Russian’ brigade: Vehicles of the OPFOR

The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center has a lot of vehicles that look more Moscow than Motown.

Since 1994, the 11th ACR’s task at the NTC is to serve as the armored opposing force, the home team at the sprawling 996 sq. mile Mojave Desert base where they regularly engage active and reserve mechanized and armor units in war games. In a tradition going back to the 1980s, the OPFOR uses a series of what are termed “surrogate vehicles,” visually modified Humvees, M113 armored personnel carriers, and others, which provide a different silhouette, closer to former Warsaw Pact BMP-1 vehicles and T-72 tanks, for visiting units to look for and fight against.

Deep down inside, there is a Humvee under there. (Photos: Sgt. David Edge and Pfc. Austin Anyzeski/U.S. Army)

Oddball would fit right in. “Well, yeah, man, you see, like, all the tanks we come up against are bigger and better than ours, so all we can hope to do is, like, scare ’em away, y’know. This gun is an ordinary 76mm but we add this piece of pipe onto it, and the Krauts think, like, maybe it’s a 90mm. We got our own ammunition, it’s filled with paint. When we fire it, it makes… pretty pictures. Scares the hell outta people!”

These started life as M113s. In the 1980s, the NTC OPFOR used M551 Sheridans, but they were replaced by 2004 with the cheaper and more prolific M113.

More in my column at Guns.com