This week, Discovery Air Defence is marking 50,000 accident-free flying hours with its fleet of Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet adversary aircraft, which are operated under contracts to the military. Serviceability rates are in the region of 98 per cent – much higher than most military operations.
The requirement for this kind of contract work is growing, and later this year Discovery Air (Booth 408) expects to announce the addition of the Lockheed Martin F-16 supersonic fourth-generation fighter to its roster.
Discovery Air Defence is the military division of Canada’s second-largest aircraft operator, Discovery Air. The parent company operates a diverse fleet on a wide array of tasks, such as firefighting, training academy, medical evacuation, oil/gas and mineral exploitation support, and logistics charter.
Discovery Air Defence was formerly known as Top Aces, which acquired the aircraft of Advanced Training Systems International at Mesa, Arizona, from where the company still operates.
As defence budgets shrank in the post-Cold War era, the provision of certain aviation training functions through civilian contract increased.
Canada was one of the first in NATO to recognise that civilian contractors could provide air-to- air adversaries for front-line training at a much lower cost than using in-service equipment. Not only are flight hours cheaper on aircraft such as the Skyhawk, but their use imposes no front-line fleet-life issues.
Top Aces began a contract to provide aggressor training and support to the Canadian Forces in 2005, and this January the renamed Discovery Air Defence began a five-year contract to fly A-4 Skyhawks as adversaries for the German air force from the base at Wittmund.
Discovery Air has worked with Transport Canada and the DND to thrash out the certification under which the company’s aircraft fly, and they are operated to extremely high airworthiness standards.
The company flies alongside the military during exercises such as the US Air Force’s Red Flag, and is embedded with the US Air Force’s 64th Aggressor Squadron that provides ‘Red Air’ adversary aircraft for air combat training. Discovery Air Defence has made a conscious effort to mirror the best practices adopted by the US Air Force’s flagship aggressor unit.
Now that advanced fighters such as the Typhoon, F-22 and Rafale are entering service, the training value of the older Skyhawk/Alpha Jet generation of aircraft is diminishing.
To remedy that situation, Discovery Air Defence is to introduce the Lockheed Martin F-16 to its portfolio to provide a genuine fourth-generation adversary that is much better suited to the training requirements of fifth-generation fighters. The US Air Force and US Navy military aggressor programmes are based largely on the F-16.
Discovery Air Defence is in an advanced stage of negotiation in procuring F-16s for its requirements, although it has not disclosed from where it is sourcing the aircraft. Similarly, the company is finalising talks with a customer.
Both sourcing and contract details are expected to be concluded before the end of the year.