America is home to three military air forces including the United States Air Force (USAF), United States Naval Air Forces (USN, USMC), and United States Army Aviation (USA). With roots stretching back to the early 20th century, these air arms are well understood by most Americans.But there are a growing number of private air forces in the US and Canada which Americans are overwhelmingly unaware of. Composed of retired military fighter and training aircraft, operated by ex-military pilots, these company-owned fleets provide a surprising range of airborne training services to the US armed forces. Quietly, they’ve been a feature of American military aviation for more than three decades, increasingly integrated but still on the fringe, a contracting force not spoken of freely or often by the Department of Defense (DoD).Business is about to pick up, however. According to the executives who lead the companies in this unique industry, the contract air services (CAS) trade is at a tipping point. “If there was ever a question about the future of the industry, it has been answered,” says Jared Isaacman, CEO of the Florida-based Draken International. “It’s not just a Navy thing anymore. The Air Force, the Marines, the Army – they’re all going to use it and NATO allies are going to use it. We’re past the question mark.”
For the most part, contracting these services out makes a great deal of sense. While the article notes ATAC support to TOPGUN and support for CAS training, there’s another mission set they don’t mention that has long used contractor support.
Area air defense by the surface fleet, that is, Aegis destroyers and cruisers, need targets to practice. While drones work well for live fire exercises, they also need tracking practice. And contractor support can provide that, and has done so for many years.