Video takes you in the cockpit of one of the former Israeli F-16s that are flying as Red Air during exercises in the USA.
Top Aces Corp. is one of the firms that was awarded contracts under the Combat Air Forces (CAF)/Contracted Air Support (CAS) program to improve the training of the U.S. Air Force’s Formal Training Units (FTU) and increase the number of new pilots trained. To do so, the company employs former Israeli F-16A Netz (Hawk), as they are locally known, which were retired from the Israeli Air Force at the end of 2016 and were delivered in the US in 2021.
A video just published on YouTube shows one of Top Aces’ many Red Air missions from inside the cockpit, courtesy of Justin “Hasard” Lee, a U.S. Air Force Reserve F-35 pilot and former F-16 pilot. During the video, he flew in the back seat of an F-16B which was simulating, together with a single-seat F-16A, a couple of Su-30 Flanker fighters armed with AA-10 Alamo semi-active radar homing missiles and AA-11 Archer IR-guided missiles (in the video you can clearly hear the pilot calling Fox 1 and Fox 2 during the engagement).
This is done with Top Aces’ proprietary Advanced Aggressor Mission System (AAMS), which allows the F-16 to replicate any near-peer adversary fighter aircraft. In addition to the AAMS, the F-16s are equipped with AESA radars, Scorpion Helmet Mounted Displays, datalinks, electronic countermeasures and so on. The weapons are only simulated, and the F-16s are always seen flying in a clean configuration.
The Offensive Counter Air (OCA) mission of the video saw two two-ship F-16 flights engaging in Beyond Visual Range (BVR) combat against Blue Air aircraft, pushing well in the Within Visual Range (WVR) combat for a “dogfight”. The pilot does a great job at explaining step-by-step what they are doing and why, showing the importance of the Aggressors during training.
“Blue Air’s job is to be able to adapt to whatever the bandits do, so they can kill them all and protect their target”, says Chris Couluris, the Top Aces’ pilot flying with Hasard. “Our job is to exploit any mistakes they make, so we need to be good enough to identify mistakes and then exploit them by taking shots”.
The Aggressors’ job, however, is not just easy as killing all Blue Air aircraft, it’s quite the opposite. In fact, as Couluris adds, “the objective is to identify the mistakes so they [Blue Air pilots] don’t forget them, and they don’t forget them by punishing them in a professional manner”. Here the psychology comes into play: “If they get shot, they go to the penalty box and they miss out on the fight. That’s disappointment, it’s a little embarrassing and that’s ok because, when they have that emotion, they won’t forget it and they won’t let it happen again”.
This means that, if a Blue Air jet is shot down, the pilots clearly did some big mistakes that will be extensively discussed in the debriefing after the mission. If the Red Air jet is shot down, then the pilots correctly applied all their training and accomplished the mission’s objectives. This is why the Aggressors’ job is often synthetized as “win by losing”.
Update: a previous version of this article stated that Top Aces is a Canadian company. However, the Canadian company, Top Aces Inc., does not own or operated F-16s and was not awarded contracts under CAF CAS. Top Aces Corp. is a U.S. company that owns and operates F-16s and works directly with U.S. government for Adversary Air services. The U.S. company, Top Aces Corp., was awarded contracts under CAF CAS and only the U.S. company operates F-16s. The Canadian company operates Alpha Jets, A-4s, and Lears. This is a very important distinction as the US government permitted import and use of the F-16s to the US company (Top Aces Corp.) for Adair Services, not the Canadian parent company.