The Air Force has too few pilots. The Navy has too few planes. Textron has a solution: outsource to us. No, the defense contractor isn’t proposing privatized air wars. It’s suggesting that military training make greater use of privately owned aircraft as the “enemy” in mock dogfights. The leader in this field, at least in the US, is the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC), recently acquired by Textron after 20 years in business. ATAC aircraft fly about 6,000 hours a year on their current training contracts for the Navy and Air Force, but Textron confidently expects the demand “will double…in 2018,” said Russ Bartlett, a retired Navy pilot and CEO of the newly created Textron Airborne Solutions unit which includes ATAC. What’s driving this demand? In the Cold War, both services operated large “aggressor squadrons” with their own personnel flying non-standard aircraft to play the part of bad guys in training exercises, but since 1991 that in-house capability has been cut back sharply, forcing the military to outsource. While some military aggressor squadrons remain, their aircraft are aging with no clear plan for replacements.
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