French Air Force Dassault Rafale and Mirage F1 in 2012. (Wikimedia Commons)

Deep in the heart of Texas, there is an air force that rivals many flying armadas around the world- and it doesn’t belong to the US government.

Located near Fort Worth, the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has a fleet of sixty-three aircraft in the form of former French Air Force Mirage F1Bs, F1CTs, and F1CRs, which were produced by Dassault.

The Mirage F1 was officially retired from the French Air Force operational service in June 2014.

The procurement of the single-engine planes was announced in 2017, under the premise that the company (who is a subsidiary of Textron) would use the aircraft to simulate opposing forces (OPFOR or “red air”) for wargames.

The aircraft are ready to go and have been upgraded to help them maintain an edge against more modern aircraft.

“Textron retrofitted around 45 of the F.1s with modern avionics systems such as digital radio-frequency memory-jamming capabilities and upgraded radars,” according to Jane’s. “ATAC plans to use the Mirages for the U.S. Air Force adversary-air requirement, which requires almost 150 aircraft to fulfill the service’s red-air training needs.”

The company already has aircraft such as the British Hawker Hunter, Israeli IAI F-21 Kfir, and the Czech Aero Vodochody L-39ZA.

While the US Air Force has their own “aggressor” squadrons, contracting a share of the task to private companies alleviates wear and tear on precious airframes, as well as prevent pilots from becoming too worn down.

Other companies -such as Draken International, Top Aces, Tactical Air Support and Air USA- also fill in the “red air” role, fielding aircraft such as the venerable F-4 and South African Cheetah.

Privatized “red air” assets continue to prove themselves, and will soon be much-needed by Marine Aviators transitioning to the F-35 from the Harrier, as their air-to-air responsibilities will soon be greater than ever before.

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