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Nilgiri

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Two Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 Hornet fighter jets from Operation REASSURANCE’s Air Task Force Romania intercepted a Russian SU-27 Flanker operating near Romanian airspace over the Black Sea on September 23, 2020.

The CF-18s were scrambled by NATO’s southern Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejon, Spain after the Russian aircraft was detected by the Romanian Air Force’s Control and Reporting Centre. The Canadian fighter pilots carefully monitored the Russian aircraft until it left the Romanian flight information region.


(more at link)
 

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OTTAWA -- The Canadian military's long search for new rescue planes is nearly over as the federal government is formally showing off the first of 16 new aircraft on Canadian soil today.

The unveiling at Canadian Forces Base Comox, B.C., follows more than 15 years of controversy and start-stop effort to buy replacements for the ancient Buffalo and older-model Hercules aircraft used by the military to save Canadians.

(more at link)
 

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Two Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 Hornet fighter jets from Operation REASSURANCE’s Air Task Force Romania intercepted a Russian SU-27 Flanker operating near Romanian airspace over the Black Sea on September 23, 2020.

The CF-18s were scrambled by NATO’s southern Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejon, Spain after the Russian aircraft was detected by the Romanian Air Force’s Control and Reporting Centre. The Canadian fighter pilots carefully monitored the Russian aircraft until it left the Romanian flight information region.


(more at link)
This kind of events have unfortunately turned into a routine movements in the Black Sea region. From the invasion over Crimea to these days Bulgaria is confirming same intensity of dangerous flights and interceptions. They are being identified by Romania and then escorted by Romanian, Bulgarian and Turkish fighter jets. Unfortunately the Bulgarian and Romanian air forces are not in their best shape. Romania is slowly upgrading the air fleet and Bulgaria purchased 8 new F-16 Block 70 to take the place of some aging MiG-29s but I think it is not enough. Romania is surely doing better but Bulgaria is falling behind when it comes to it's armed forces. It's good to see NATO members working coordinately and facing the threat together.
 

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Canada receives its first new fixed-wing search and rescue CC-295 aircraft



The Government of Canada is equipping the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) with the modern and effective aircraft it needs to continue its critical life-saving search and rescue missions across Canada’s vast and challenging territory.

Today, the RCAF marked the arrival of the first aircraft of its future fixed-wing search and rescue fleet. The new fleet will be called Kingfisher. Within the First Nations of the Northwest, the kingfisher has long been recognized for its speed and agility, as well as its keen searching and hunting skills. Found all across Canada, the kingfisher well represents the abilities of our own search and rescue crews to accomplish their lifesaving role.

Specifically designed to perform search and rescue missions across Canada, the aircraft is equipped with integrated sensors that will allow crews to locate persons or objects from more than 40 kilometers away, even in low-light conditions. Its communications systems will increase interoperability with other search and rescue assets, such as the CH-149 Cormorant. The fleet of 16 aircraft will be replacing the CC-115 Buffalo and CC-130H Hercules fleets in their search and rescue role at four locations across Canada, and represents a value of $2.4 billion.

The aircraft received earlier this month will remain at 19 Wing Comox while the RCAF completes aircrew training, followed by operational testing. During the transition period and while the CC-295 Kingfisher is being operationalized, fixed-wing search and rescue services will continue through existing fleets, along with the CH-149 Cormorant and CH-146 Griffon helicopters.

The delivery of this aircraft marks an exciting new chapter in Canada’s long and proud search and rescue history, and this project has created hundreds of new jobs for Canadians. The CC-295 contractor, Airbus Defence and Space, continues to make investments into the Canadian aerospace and defence industry through the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy. Strategic work packages directly related to the aircraft are providing Canadian companies the opportunity to participate in global supply chains and creating high-value jobs.


Quotes
“As outlined in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, it is essential that our search and rescue crews have the modern and effective aircraft they need to carry out this critical work. I am thrilled at the arrival of this first CC-295 Kingfisher in Comox as it represents another successful milestone for this project, while also supporting our mission of being strong at home.”

The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
“The Government of Canada is committed to building a more agile, better-equipped military, while ensuring the best value for Canadians. I am proud to mark the arrival of the first fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft in Canada as we reach an important milestone for this procurement project.”

The Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada
“As Canada welcomes its new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, our government also welcomes the many jobs and investments this procurement is generating for the Canadian economy. Important economic benefits through the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy are helping our economy to grow and move forward through this challenging time.”

The Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
“The selfless dedication of our aviators and the search and rescue services they provide to Canadians brings great credit to the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces. The transition to the new fixed-wing search and rescue fleet is a tremendous opportunity for us and one that we take on with determination and pride.”

Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force
Quick facts
  • A $2.4 billion contract (including taxes) for 16 new CC-295 fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to replace Canada’s fleets of Buffalo and Hercules H aircraft was awarded to Airbus Defence and Space on December 1, 2016. The contract is for a period of 11 years, with the option to extend up to an additional 15 years of in-service support.
  • This first aircraft, tail number 501, was formally accepted by Canada in Spain on December 18, 2019, and has now been delivered to Comox following additional testing and evaluations.
  • A maintenance trainer aircraft arrived at 19 Wing Comox, B.C. in February 2020. This aircraft was disassembled upon arrival, and reassembled inside the new training centre.
  • The CC-295 Kingfisher will be based in Comox, Trenton, Greenwood, and Winnipeg. The aircraft will arrive in phases as crews are trained in turn at each location.
  • Part of this project includes the construction of a new training centre, which is being built in Comox by Canadian training leader CAE. It includes ten classrooms, as well as sophisticated training devices such as a full-flight simulator, a cockpit procedures trainer, a sensor station simulator, and an aircraft maintenance trainer. The centre will be used to train both maintenance and aircrews.
  • Canadian company AirPro will provide day-to-day management of all in-service support for the provision of engineering, logistics, maintenance, training, IT systems, infrastructure and materiel support throughout the contracted CC-295 life cycle.
  • Canada’s Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy applies to this contract, ensuring that Airbus Defence and Space invests an amount equal to the value of the contract in the Canadian economy. Significant high-value jobs have been and will continue to be generated from this contract with Canadian companies such as PAL Aerospace, Pratt and Whitney Canada, CAE, and AirPro.
 

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It was only superficial damage thankfully hehe...



  • A curious polar bear caused "superficial damage" to a Canadian air force helicopter that had to make an unexpected stay at a remote airfield in eastern Canada.
  • Canada's air force said the bear opened an emergency entrance window on the right-side door, another emergency entrance window on the rear left side, and the cover of the emergency floatation device compartment on the left side.
  • As stated by the RCAF, the bear did not get inside the helicopter and the crew was unarmed as they were not in the vicinity of the helicopter.
(more at link incl pics of the damage)
 

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The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) seeks a mobile phone detection system for its search and rescue (SAR) rotary- and fixed-wing platforms that will allow the CAF to locate and communicate with operational mobile phones on persons in distress during missions.

The Cellular Airborne Sensor Search and Rescue (CASSAR) project will provide a carry-on/carry-off type of kit that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will implement on its eight aircraft platforms on SAR standby, including the new Airbus Defence and Space C295W (CC-295 in Canadian service) Kingfisher fixed-wing platform. Brigadier-General Colin Keiver, RCAF director general for air and space force development, told Janes on 29 September that as long as a SAR subject has a mobile phone on, the CAF can both locate and communicate with the search subject.

Brig Gen Keiver said that one of the first things Canada’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) will do when it receives a distress call is try to obtain the rescue subject’s mobile phone International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) code from a family member. The IMEI code is a unique 15-digit code that precisely identifies a mobile device. The IMEI code then gets programmed into the mobile phone detector

 

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“I would love to see the Snowbirds fly the T-7.” For Charles “Duff” Sullivan, a former general officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), this is both a Boeing sales pitch and a personal quest.

For the past few minutes, he’s been describing how the Boeing T-7A Red Hawk might fit into the RCAF’s future fighter lead-in training (FLIT) program. The T-7, developed in partnership with Saab, won the United States Air Force T-X program in 2018 to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon pilot training jet. As the RCAF moves ahead with a program to replace its CF-188 Hornets, it is also assessing options for its future lead-in trainer that would replace the CT-155 Hawk, now marking 20 years of service.

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Boeing’s Duff Sullivan believes the T-7 Red Hawk would fit into the RCAF’s future fighter lead-in training program, and would also be a good replacement for the CF Snowbirds’ CT-144 Tutors. USAF Photo


Sullivan is a former commander of 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta., home to 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron, and is intimately familiar with the NATO Flying Training in Canada program that employs the Hawks in Cold Lake and Moose Jaw, Sask. He knows the challenges of the FLIT program and limitations of the CT-155 as a platform to prepare today’s fighter pilots, and firmly believes the advanced T-7 trainer would be a “natural fit.”

But now he’s off on a tangent, sort of.

“If we are going to get T-7s for the FLIT program, then let’s get T-7s for the Snowbirds,” he mused. “And why stop there? I would like to see T-7s acquired for our combat support squadron [414 Electronic Warfare Support Squadron]. We would be giving back to 414 what they once had with [the CT-133 Silver Star]. It would be the ideal training solution for the RCAF.”

(More at link, especially regarding Block 3 superbug for legacy hornet replacement)
 

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The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) has awarded a contract to L3Harris Technologies to modify three Beechcraft King Air 350ER (extended range) aircraft.

The aircraft are being procured for the Canadian manned airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (CMAISR) project. They will be used by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command.

The acquisition of aircraft and delivery of mission equipment are being carried out through the US foreign military sales (FMS) programme.

(more at link)
 

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The jets could be used for advanced pilot training, adversary, and other duties that the firm provides​


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ITPS Canada Ltd, a commercial provider of tactical aviation training services, is poised to add the two-seat Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft to its roster, with a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Canadian firm and the jet’s manufacturer. The relationship, which ITPS officially announced yesterday, is described as serving to “promote the FA-50 for tactical and adversary training,” but the company plans to eventually entirely replace its legacy Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros jet trainer fleet with the type.

ITPS President Giorgio Clementi told The War Zone that his company plans to buy between eight and 12 examples of the South Korean FA-50 for the advanced training role. Like the Albatross, they will be based in Canada. As well as its five L-39Cs, the company also owns three Aero L-29 Delfins and two Hawker Hunters, all of which would potentially be superseded by the far more capable KA-50s.

“The KAI FA-50 is a great aircraft!” Clementi had said in an earlier company press release. “The aircraft’s performance, flying qualities, and mission capabilities make it the ideal platform for tactical and adversary training missions and a great fit for ITPS to replace our L-39 fleet. A new aircraft supported by the manufacturer and with the associated engineering and logistical support ensures reliable and cost-effective operations into the future.”


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ITPS President Giorgio Clementi (back row, sixth from left) together with instructors and students from the Royal Malaysian Air Force in front of a pair of L-39Cs.


From its base at London International Airport in Ontario, ITPS presently runs its two divisions, the International Test Pilot School, one of only eight fully accredited test pilot schools in the world, and the International Tactical Training Center, or ITTC, which it claims is the only commercial setup currently offering advanced fighter pilot training. Its syllabuses include Fighter Weapons Instructor Courses, Advanced Tactics Courses, and Mission Commander qualifications.

ITPS has provided tactical training since 2001 and its ITTC division offers courses tailored to international customers who may either struggle to provide it themselves or require additional expertise or capacity. Currently, clients include the Royal Malaysian Air Force, pilots of which receive Lead-In Fighter Training (LIFT) at London International. Previous ITPS customers for tactical training include the Indonesian Air Force, the Royal Thai Air Force, and the Pakistan Air Force.

Other major ITPS customers come from industry, for example from global aerospace giant Airbus, which recently chose the Canadian firm to provide three years of training for its in-house test pilot and lead flight-test engineers, due to begin in January 2021.

As previously noted, the ITTC fleet today is based around the two-seat L-39, a jet trainer that dates back to communist-era Czechoslovakia, when it equipped most Warsaw Pact air forces, as well as others aligned with that bloc. However, the Cold War jet remains in widespread use as a trainer and “red air” adversary aircraft, including in the United States, as it is robust and straightforward to maintain. Just as importantly, it lends itself to avionics upgrades to better represent modern fighter jet cockpits.

Four of ITPS’s five L-39Cs have now been equipped with modern touchscreen color cockpit displays. They are slated to receive a head-up display and a Thales helmet-mounted display within the next 12 months.

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An instructor pilot prepares for a sortie in an ITTC L-39C.
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Two of ITTC’s five L-39Cs take off for a training sortie.

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An ITTC instructor and his Malaysian student head back for a post-flight briefing.

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Two more ITTC L-39Cs outside the hangar at London International Airport, Ontario.


Still, while ITTC’s upgraded L-39Cs will be suitable for the LIFT syllabus, the company has ambitions beyond this aircraft. This explains the new tie-in with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

The future introduction of the FA-50 reflects significant changes within the ITTC, extending beyond LIFT to encompass more complex courses for advanced-level aircrew. Earlier this year, for example, the Royal Thai Air Force signed up for a full Fighter Weapons Instructor Course to begin in 2021. The Thais already operate the T-50 Golden Eagle, from which the FA-50 was derived, and which is optimized for the advanced training role.
“We are seeing tremendous growth and potential for [the ITTC] division and pursuing multiple opportunities with international customers,” the company’s President Clementi explained to The War Zone. The Malaysian training deal initially led to ITPS launching its L-39C upgrade, but subsequent customer response and opportunities have led to further enhancements currently in the works.

“Based on discussions with current and potential customers it was clear we would have to upgrade to a more modern and capable trainer [than the L-39C] within the next three to five years,” he continued. “The KAI T-50 is known to me and we have had a good relationship with KAI for having trained some of their helicopter test pilots and flight test engineers in the past as well as many Republic of Korea Air Force test pilots and engineers since 2011. KAI was receptive to our proposals and we have worked well with them in developing some of our initiatives centered around the FA-50 version which is equipped with systems that align with our intended use of the aircraft.”
To get an idea of the kind of capabilities that the FA-50 can offer, it’s worth looking at its genesis. A further development of the T-50 Golden Eagle and its armed, radar-equipped TA-50 derivative, the FA-50 was tailored from the start for the light combat role, to replace the A-37B Dragonfly and a portion of the F-5E/F Tiger II fleet operated by the Republic of Korea Air Force. Compared to the TA-50, the FA-50 has improved avionics, additional internal fuel capacity, and a radar warning receiver suite. The ROKAF’s FA-50 can carry precision-guided weapons, including the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missile and GBU-38/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).

The Elta ELM-2032 multimode radar is also a significant advantage of the FA-50, whether for training future fighter pilots or working as an adversary. The pulse-Doppler radar has all-aspect, look-down shoot-down capabilities and, according to the manufacturer, has a range of 120 nautical miles against air or ground targets. The avionics can also be configured to include a data link, which could also have significant benefits, allowing students to practice coordinated tactics and engagements, for example.
In terms of flying characteristics, the FA-50 — or rather, its T-50 forebear — was designed using F-16 technology and, according to test pilots, has even better turning performance than the Viper, aided by an airframe that’s rated at +8g and a digital flight control computer. The General Electric F404 engine’s 17,700 pounds of thrust also ensures fighter-like qualities, and the jet has been tested to speeds of up to Mach 1.3.

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A pair of ROKAF FA-50s.

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An FA-50 drops a stick of inert bombs over a training range.


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The FA-50 wing is similar to that of the F-16; while the overall design is smaller and lighter than the Viper, the jet reportedly turns even better.


The FA-50 is ultimately a genuine light combat aircraft with an additional training capability. As such, it is ideal for ITTC customers that are looking for the highest-end training, including weapons and tactics. The aircraft would seemingly also lend itself to adversary work, providing a fourth-generation type threat, should clients request it.
The contractor-operated red air market has grown substantially in recent years, and with a particular focus on more advanced capabilities to help train pilots flying late fourth-generation and fifth-generation aircraft, especially in the United States. Even without modification, the FA-50 would potentially offer sufficient performance and sensors to seriously tax fighter pilots — and other forces — training against it.


According to Clementi, the company is also continuing to invest elsewhere in its ITTC enterprise, including a state-of-the-art simulator center with eight networked simulators and a tactical control center that will allow training within complex missions scenarios. This facility will be fully operational by April 2021 in time for the first Fighter Weapons Instructor Course to be held in London.

For KAI, meanwhile, the agreement with ITPS could be a very useful first step into the wider North American market. The South Korean Company, in partnership with Lockheed Martin, offered a version of the FA-50, known as the T-50A, to the U.S. Air Force for its T-X advanced jet trainer competition. Specific changes for the T-50A version included a large-area display and a Dorsal Air Refueling Tank allowing aerial refueling via the U.S. Air Force’s boom method.

A rival Boeing/Saab offering, now known as the T-7 Red Hawk, won that competition in 2018. Since the T-X loss, however, there have been suggestions that the T-50A could still play a role in the Air Force’s training environment. That service explored a plan that envisaged leasing a small number of T-50As, pending the arrival of the first of its new T-7As. The aircraft was expected to support a proof of concept experiment that could lead to ambitious and radical changes in how the service trains fighter pilots.
That sole-source proposal was then ditched in favor of an open competition, the status of which is unclear, but the T-50 could still be the selected type if the U.S. Air Force continues down that route. Suffice to say, the deal with ITPS represents another promising path into the North American market for the T-50/TA-50/FA-50 family.
While contractor-provided adversary and threat replication has emerged as a real growth industry in recent years, the number of companies offering in-cockpit training for military air arms, using a privately-owned fleet of aircraft, is still limited. ITPS, however, is fast carving out a niche for itself in this sector, and by adding the FA-50 to its fleet it will be able to offer one of the most advanced training jets available anywhere in the world.

 

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The intercept of a Russian Su-27 Flanker by two CF-188 Hornets over the Black Sea on Sept. 23 might have been relatively straightforward, but it was a significant marker and confidence-booster for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) detachment conducting enhanced air policing and training with the Romanian Air Force.

“It’s one of those things that really electrifies the morale of the task force,” admitted LCol David McLeod, Commander of Air Task Force-Romania, which began operations on Sept. 5 following a certification ceremony from NATO on Sept. 3 at Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Force Base.

“Once that first intercept is complete, it is easier to settle into the [mission]. You tick that box: we’ve been able to do what we came here to do. The pilots were amped up and our maintainers and everyone else on the detachment was really excited.”

The intercept was “fairly benign, which is what we expect to see from the professional aviators flying out of those other bases on the other side of the Black Sea,” said McLeod, who was one of the pilots on quick reaction alert (QRA) duty that day.

The two Hornets were tasked to interdict the Flanker by NATO’s southern Combined Air Operations Centre at Torrejon, Spain, after the Russian aircraft was detected by the Romanian Air Force’s Control and Reporting Centre. They made contact and identification over the Black Sea and tracked the SU-27 to the edge of the Romanian flight information region (FIR) without incident.

(more at link)
 

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Canadian authorities recently conducted performance testing on the soon to be released SkyTrack system from OpenWorks. This follows the integration testing that was completed in Germany by ESG Elektroniksystem- und Logistik-GmbH, earlier this year.

Canadian authorities represent the first end-users to operate the system, as they stay at the forefront of C-UAS technology. Testing SkyTrack as part of their search for the latest generation of optical UAS detection and tracking technology.

Pilots flew Class 1 UAS such as the DJI Inspire and Mavic UAS to evaluate the autonomous detect and classification ranges achievable in both day and night environments. SkyTrack was able to successfully detect and track the DJI Mavic out to 2km, showing world class performance. The DJI Inspire was tracked to 2.5km and the pilots could not out-manoeuvre the ‘lock’ of SkyTrack.

The system was manually cued onto the target during these tests which demonstrated a standalone operational capability. To achieve the greatest performance, SkyTrack is integrated using the proven SkyWall interface, receiving data from drone detection sensors, RF or radar, for a rapid handover to smooth target tracking. This has already been proven with Flir, Qinetiq and Robin Radar systems previously.

Chris Down, Managing Director at OpenWorks, said: “We demonstrated SkyTrack’s capabilities to the Canadian Authorities and were pleased when they asked us to fly the system out for further evaluation. We know this end-user community well and understand they have the highest demands for their security technology and performance. While the focus of this testing was drone threats, we are also excited to show the system performing against other tactical threats during the next stage of testing, making use of the powerful onboard AI”

SkyTrack will be deployed by authorities around the world as part of the solution to the growing threats posed by the misuse of drones. SkyWall optical tracking technology has developed hugely since it was first shown at the Army Warfighter Experiment in 2017, where it was originally developed to provide the accuracy required to follow a UAS with a Laser range finder for fire control. OpenWorks has worked closely with its technology partner Antmicro to further develop the most capable autonomous target acquisition and tracking system available.
 

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The Ministry of Defense was hoping to sell 29 surplus fighter jets to the Montreal-based defense training contractor for $3-4 million each.

Top Aces secures approval for F-16 adversary air fleet

Top Aces has received approval to acquire and import up to 29 F-16 aircraft from an undisclosed country, the company confirmed Thursday.

The Dorval, Que.-based air combat training firm said in a statement that the Block 10 aircraft would be upgraded with its open architecture mission system and offered as a platform to support United States Department of Defense training beginning in 2021.

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Top Aces has received approval to acquire and import up to 29 F-16 aircraft. Israeli media on Dec. 2 claimed the seller is the Israeli Defense Ministry. IAF Photo
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While Top Aces would not yet confirm the country of origin, Israeli media on Dec. 2 claimed the seller is the Israeli Defense Ministry. According to CTech, the F-16s are 1980s-era aircraft that were retired as of 2016, and the Defense Ministry’s export agency is overseeing the deal.

The company has been pursuing a fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s for some time, to meet the training requirements of preparing next-generation pilots flying the F-35 Lightning II and F-22 Raptor. Top Aces confirmed in an interview in November 2019 that it was seeking to acquire 12 Block 15 A/B models from an undisclosed allied country.

“The F-16 really is our growth platform for the future, especially for advanced adversary training,” said Paul Bouchard, president and chief executive officer. “It is the most prolific adversary aircraft in the Western world. It is the adversary aircraft of choice just because of its performance characteristics. It is a fourth-generation aircraft, so from an aircraft architecture standpoint, it can be equipped and configured in so many different ways. . . . And it is also scalable given there were more than 4,000 F-16s built. It is still a production aircraft. It has a lot of existing support in terms of sustainment.”

If the deal with Israel is confirmed, the F-16 jets would be added to Top Aces’ current fleets of Dornier Alpha Jets and Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, and initially based at the F-16 Center of Excellence near the company’s U.S. headquarters in Mesa, Ariz.

In October 2019, the company received an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract that will allow it to compete with Air USA, Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, Blue Air Training, Coastal Defense, Draken International, and Tactical Air Support for adversary air services at 12 U.S. Air Force bases.

Under the US$6.4 billion Combat Air Force Contracted Air Support (CAF CAS) contract, the Air Force can solicit individual tenders from those seven companies for advanced adversary air (ADAIR) capabilities as required, at 12 USAF bases. The contract runs until October 2024 and is estimated to involve between 40,000 to 50,000 flying hours.

“As a named winner in the [CAF CAS] contract, Top Aces is uniquely positioned to offer the F-16 as the most capable and flexible ADAIR platform supporting the U.S. Department of Defense,” a spokesperson said on Thursday.


 

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Only three of seven F-18 fighter jets purchased from Australia by the Canadian government have been integrated into the air force so far, and the Department of National Defence says key upgrades to as much as one-third of Canada's fighter force will take up to five years, according to documents recently tabled in the House of Commons.

The slow introduction of the used warplanes — meant to bolster Canada's existing CF-18s squadrons — and the long timeline for radar refurbishment have the opposition Conservatives questioning the value of the interim fleet.

A written government response to questions posed by the Conservatives last October was put before MPs recently. It said that the older fighters will continue to join the Canadian air force "at regular intervals" but did not lay out a precise timeline.

"National Defence will continue to work to integrate Australian F-18 Hornet aircraft into its current fleet of CF-18s, as it completes the necessary modifications and upgrades to these aircraft," said the document.

New radar, old planes​

The Liberal government purchased 18 used fighter jets from Australia. The last of them won't be delivered until the summer of 2021. When it first announced the plan three years ago, the government said it expected to keep most of the existing CF-18 fleet flying until 2032.

The order paper question also noted that three dozen existing CF-18s will get upgraded radar and the air force is currently deciding which of its fighters — which were built in the 1980s — will get the highly advanced new system.

Engineers still need to sort out the obstacles involved in combining the new equipment with the older airframe.

"Within the next months, National Defence will select two aircraft to test the installation process for the APG-79 (v) 4 radar," said the government reply. "The remaining 34 aircraft will be selected over the next 24 months."

The upgrades will not be completed until June 2025 — which is why Conservative defence critic James Bezan is questioning the wisdom of buying the extra fighters, a purchase the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer says will cost $1.09 billion over the life of the program.

An 'exercise in futility'​

The end date for the upgrades is significant, Bezan said, because that's when the Liberal government expects the first of a brand new fleet of fighters to arrive. Three aerospace companies have submitted bids to manufacture Canada's next generation of warplanes, but the government has yet to decide on a winner.

"This is strictly an exercise in futility," said Bezan. "Here they are buying 18 rusted-out, old Aussie fighter jets, ones that the auditor general said not to buy ... So why are we wasting taxpayer money and the resources of the Canadian Armed Forces to put these old planes into service?"

In a hard-hitting report released in the fall of 2018, then-auditor general Michael Ferguson did not offer advice to the Liberal government — but he did pick apart the plan to augment the existing CF-18 fleet to fill what Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has called a "capability gap."

Not long after they were elected, the Trudeau Liberals said Canada does not have enough fighters to handle both its commitments to NATO and its duty to protect North American airspace.

The Conservatives have called that a political dodge. They argue the capability gap does not exist and was concocted by the Liberals in order to delay buying new jets — a process that might end up selecting the F-35 stealth fighter the Liberals vowed in 2015 never to purchase.

A spokesperson for the defence minister said the Interim Fighter Capability Project ensures that "the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) can meet our commitments to our partners and allies."

Floriane Bonneville also took a shot at the opposition: "Unlike the Conservatives, we will not neglect Canada's commitment to our partners and allies."

She was referring to the former government's claim that the air force could do with fewer fighters and "risk-manage" the fleet.

"Having the Australian fighter jets also allows the RCAF to complete an open and transparent future fighter competition in the meantime," Bonneville said. "That being said, the integration of the Hornet aircraft from Australia requires a number of modifications, which we make to the fleet on a regular basis.

"Doing so allows us to meet the RCAF's standards, including for communications and operational effectiveness. We also do extensive safety checks to ensure that it is safe and effective for the women and men of the Royal Canadian Air Force."

The auditor general's report said the purchase of Australian aircraft will not help to solve the biggest problems facing the air force: a pilot shortage and an "aging fleet" of CF-18s.

Bezan said that, rather than continuing to integrate the Australian planes, it would make much more sense to accelerate the purchase of new fighters.
 

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Summary and footage from the completed exercise in Sept. 2020:

U.S. F-16, Canadian F-18 and Polaris aircraft as well as Canadian personnel depart at the conclusion of Operation Noble Defender to their respective home units, 5 Wing Goose Bay, Newfoundland & Labrador, September 22, 2020. North American Aerospace Defense Command is conducting a dynamic force employment operation in the Arctic Sept. 20-23 to demonstrate NORAD’s air capability, readiness and will to defend the United States and Canada from competitors who continue to test our defenses.

Video by Senior Master Sgt. John Rohrer North American Aerospace Defense Command


 

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From January 18 to 20, 2021, as part of the Canadian Armed Forces’ ongoing commitment to an enduring presence in the furthest reaches of the Arctic, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) conducted High Arctic air training involving two CF-18 Hornet fighters and one CC-150T Polaris air-to-air refueling aircraft operating from Iqaluit, Nunavut.

The training saw CF-18 fighter jets from Bagotville, Quebec rendezvous with a CC-150T Polaris air-to-air refueler over Baffin Bay where they successfully conducted air-to-air refueling before continuing North for the remainder of the mission conducting an Arctic patrol up the North-East side of Baffin Island, in the vicinity of Nanisivik, Nunavut.

Training like this demonstrates the RCAF’s ability to operate in the High Arctic. It enhances the RCAF’s ongoing support to operations and exercises, and showcases the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to project force into the region so that we can work cooperatively with our partners.

“The Arctic is a fundamental part of Canada and this type of training strengthens situational awareness and information sharing with our Arctic partners and Allies while enhancing our agility and reach into Canada's northernmost territories. This training ensures the RCAF remains strong at home, in line with Canada’s Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged.” - Major-General Eric Kenny, Commander, 1 Canadian Air Division
 

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