Military Aviation


How four Cold War Era Hunter strike-fighter jets can be a credible threat for the latest USMC fifth-generation fighter remains weird

As reported by Lance Cpl. Ashley Phillips in the article ATAC touches down in Fightertown, trains with Warlords, on Apr. 13, 2017 the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) visited Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort to train with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron (VMFAT) 501 F-35Bs.

The ATAC is a contracted company that provides adversary air training and is scheduled to train with VMFAT-501 for the next two weeks.

“ATAC specializes in providing a professional, solid, adversary air presentation,” explained James Reed, the director of East Coast operations with ATAC and a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot. “While we are here we have a very fast paced schedule with three training events per day.”

According to their website, ATAC is the largest outsourced civilian, tactical airborne training organization. In addition they are also the only civilian organization approved to train at the Navy’s Topgun school.

“The biggest advantage to using ATAC is the cost,” said Reed. “It takes about one fourth of the cost to fly our four aircraft here to MCAS Beaufort compared to the cost of flying F/A-18 or F-35B aircraft. The flight cost per hour is significantly less.”

ATAC is flying with four Hawker Hunter MK-58 aircraft, four pilots, and a team of six maintainers to support the rigorous schedule.

“We are fortunate to be able to be highly selective with who we hire,” said Reed. “All of our pilots are experienced and recent fighter attack pilots. Our newest member has over 4,000 hours of experienced and about 80 percent of our cadre is Weapons Training Instructor, Top Gun or Weapons School trained. Our maintainers know about every aspect of our aircraft.”

VMFAT-501 will dictate all of the training scenarios and ATAC will be providing the adversary presentation or ‘red air’.

“This is a part of VMFAT-501’s regular training,” said Reed. “They outsource their adversary air so their students are experienced with other flight platforms. When we come out here our mission is to provide that professional red air presentation. Because of our experience and knowledge we are able to come, train these pilots and give back to the fleet.”

MCAS Beaufort utilizes ATAC for their cost effective, professional adversary air presentation to ensure their pilots are trained and experienced with fighting other types of aircraft.

However how four vintage Hunter strike-fighter jets can be a credible threat for the latest USMC fifth-generation fighter remains weird.

In fact, as we have recently reported, to effectively challenge the F-35 many fourth-generation adversary fighters are needed because of the Lightning II unique ability to track and engage large numbers of aircraft.

So, if this task is almost impossible for large numbers of highgly capable fourth generation fighter jets, how can four (beautiful) Cold War Era aircraft be challenging adversaries for the Joint Strike Fighter?

Photo credit: Lance Cpl. Ashley Phillips / U.S. Marine Corps

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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