Top Aces Tests Adversary F-16’s New Aggressor Suite

Adversary/aggressor services company Top Aces has begun testing an F-16 equipped with a suite of gear aimed at giving fifth-generation Air Force fighters a more realistic sparring partner, the company announced. By the end of the year, the company expects to have 29 former Israeli F-16s in the U.S., most equipped with the new capabilities, for dogfight and other training.

The first flight of the F-16 equipped with the Advanced Aggressor Mission System, or AAMS, took place Jan. 19. The company said the suite has an open mission systems architecture to allow swapping in new capabilities as needed, including new sensors.

Combined with “the power and avionics of the F-16,” the AAMS suite “provides the most realistic and cost-effective training solution available to pilots flying fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22 or F-35,” Top Aces president Russ Quinn said in a press release.

Top Aces owns 29 ex-Israeli air force F-16s, of which eight are in the U.S. and four more will arrive in “the next few weeks,” with the remaining 17 to arrive later this year, a company spokesperson said. The company has government approval to bring all 29 to the U.S. and to equip “at least half of them” with the AAMS within this year, she said.  

The AAMS comprises an active, electronically-scanned array radar (AESA); a helmet-mounted cueing system; technical datalink; infrared search and track (IRST) system; “high fidelity weapon simulation, allowing accurate replication of adversary tactics”; an advanced electronic attack pod for passive radio-frequency detection capabilities; and “an array of tactical functions coordinating” these systems “to provide a spectrum of realistic adversary effects,” the company said.

Top Aces declined to identify the suppliers of the specific systems, such as the radar and helmet, because of proprietary concerns. Top Aces is one of a number of companies providing adversary/aggressor services to the U.S. Air Force and Navy and other nations.

“We are not currently able to disclose” who made the systems in the AAMS suite, the company said through a spokesperson, but “the AESA, helmet and datalink systems are all modern, fielded and proven systems fully compatible with US systems and have demonstrated significant technical capabilities ideal for the adversary role.” The company’s F-16s are cleared “to carry numerous fielded [electronic warfare] pods, including the ALQ-119, ALQ-131, ALQ-184 and ALQ-188.”

The spokesperson said the AAMS suite is already flying on several of its seven A-4 Skyhawks providing aggressor services to the German air force “and other European customers for advanced airborne training.” Another 14 will be equipped with the AAMS and are in or en route to the U.S.

The AAMS was installed in the Top Aces F-16 by M7 Aerospace of San Antonio, Texas, which is owned by Elbit Systems of America.

“The plug-and-play nature of our AAMS … allows for the addition of new and emerging sensors well into the future,” Quinn said. This “provides the flexibility to upgrade our F-16s and meet the needs of the Air Force for years to come.”

In late 2019, the Air Force awarded $6.4 billion worth of indefinite quantity/indefinite delivery adversary air (ADAIR) contracts, which run through 2024, to seven companies, including Top Aces. The companies are to provide “realistic and challenging adversary air threats and close air support threats,” the Pentagon said at the time. Eight bids were received. The Air Force considers the commercial ADAIR mission to still be an experiment to find out if it can free up frontline fighters for real-world missions that would otherwise be used for adversary training—and save money doing so.

“All capabilities we are bringing meet or exceed those specified in the IDIQ requirements for Category C (Advanced) capabilities,” the company said.

Top Aces operates what it claims to be the “largest fleet of commercially operated fighter aircraft in the world,” numbering among its assets the A-4, the Dassault Alpha Jet, and the Bombardier Learjet 35; and it is “the first company … to acquire the supersonic F-16.”