Nellis Adversary Air Industry Day Includes “Lively” Discussion on Requirements

The Air Force is looking to contract out up to 5,600 hours of commercial Red Air to support the 64th Aggressor Squadron, shown here at Nellis AFB, Nev., in August 2015. Air Force photo by SrA. Thomas Spangler.

The solicitation for the second phase of contracted adversary air at Nellis AFB, Nev., will be released sometime next month, but industry officials are hoping the service will expand upon the listed criteria so it is more in line with the requirements being discussed for the larger Combat Air Force Adversary Air contract, which is expected to be awarded in 2019 or 2020.

The Nellis ADAIR II contract—a follow-on to the 2015 contract awarded to Draken International—is separate from the CAF ADAIR contract, which looks to fill nearly 37,000 hours of contracted Red Air at 12 bases, including Nellis. Industry leaders say there was a “very animated” and “lively” conversation over the requirements at last week’s industry day at Nellis because they had hoped the criteria for the two contracts would be similar enough they could satisfy both with a single configuration fleet.

“There is a disparity between the CAF ADAIR requirement metrics, and the simple, one-page listing of requirements for Nellis,” said Mick Guthals, the senior manager of business development at Tactical Air Support (TACAIR), which plans to bid its fleet of 21 F-5E/F aircraft it recently procured from the Royal Jordanian Air Force for both contracts. TACAIR also owns five Canadian CF-5D aircraft. “When you look at the [performance work statement for the Nellis contract] it’s five items for threshold and five items for objective, without a lot of significant difference between the two. If you look at the CAF ADAIR out of Air Combat Command, it’s a 50-page document.”

The service has not yet publicly released the requirements for the CAF ADAIR contract, but Guthals said “ACC is doing a really good job of keeping industry in the loop by taking inputs and getting feedback on their thoughts.”

David Philman, the vice president of Top Aces Corp., a subsidiary of Discovery Air Defense, said the service should ask for what it wants, rather than what it thinks it can get.

Top Aces has a “guaranteed purchase agreement for 29 early block F-16s,” which Philman said the company will repatriate back to the United States once it’s under contract. He declined to say where the aircraft are currently located, but he said they are being maintained, are in “flyaway condition,” and will be updated with the Falcon Star structural upgrade, which extends the service life of the jets to 10,800 flying hours. He said most of the jets have between 10 and 15 years of commercial viability remaining and with the upgrades and modifications Top Aces has planned, the company will be able to provide a “true fourth-gen-plus capability to any DOD customer,” including the ability to fly supersonic, easy maneuverability and sustainability, and an “instantaneous turn rate.”

However, there won’t be any “additional credit” for that under existing requirements.

“If you don’t ask for the very best, then you may not get that. Give us in industry the opportunity to give you the very best solution and we?’ll do it,” said Philman.

Nellis officials say they plan to award a fixed-price, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract for a “near-peer” adversary threat, yet threshold requirements call for a subsonic aircraft capable of flying Mach .80. Objective requirements, or the service’s ideal scenario, call for an aircraft capable of flying Mach 1.5. Industry day briefing slides also note there is an “affordability cap of $25,000/hour” for the second-phase Nellis contract.

“Despite years of saying what we want is a fourth-generation training platform, the requirements really don’t bear that out,” said Thomas Schadegg, Top Aces program manager. “With any program there is a value,” he said, and because Nellis is looking to contract up to 5,600 hours of Red Air with a program value of $280 million, “if fully executed … it would be a very low performing aircraft because of the cost per flying hour.” However, Schadegg said the Air Force “indicated in the industry day last week there would be a consideration and balance because more capability does come with a cost … If it’s a higher capability that’s in the mix, then obviously, it will be a lower number of hours executed to remain within the program value.”

John Zentner, director of business development for Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, said the company, which recently procured 63 Mirage F1s from the French Air Force, anticipates it will need 18 aircraft to meet the Nellis requirements, though he said he’s waiting on the final planning documents to be released because draft documents call for anywhere from 4,500 to 5,600 flight hours. “That’s a wide spread, so we’re going to wait to see if they narrow it down or keep in the same wide window,” he said.

Both Zentner and Guthals noted the government emphasized the importance of a smooth transition from the current contract provider—Draken International—to the new provider or providers. Draken’s current contract expires in September and though the threshold requirements give the follow-on provider up to 180 days to start flying, industry leaders said the service made it clear it really needs the winner of the phase two contract to be ready by Oct. 1 so there isn’t a capability gap. Officials said the service is leaning toward an individual award, though it hasn’t ruled out multiple awards for the Nellis contract.

Draken also is vying for the follow-on contract, having recently procured 12 South African Atlas-made Cheetah supersonic fighters, bringing its total fleet to 109 jets.

“The government was clearly communicating that the Nellis contract needs to execute,” said Zentner. “It needs to be on time and follow from the current contract to the next one pretty seamlessly. They are really taking this seriously and understand the value of commercial ?adversary services provided in that new program.”