Draken International - Training The Tip Of The Spear

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Draken International was founded by entrepreneur Jared Isaacman in 2012 and has rapidly become one of the leading adversary training companies in the world, contracted by numerous nations' armed forces to provide a variety of simulated threat scenarios. Draken's fleet comprises a varied selection of former military trainers and fighters, such as the McDonnell Douglas A-4 Skyhawk, Aero L-159, Aermacchi MB-339, Mikoyan MiG-21, Dassault Mirage F1 and Atlas Cheetah.

Draken's motto is "Exerceo cuspis" which can be translated as 'Training the tip of the spear', and that's how they see themselves: they provide adversary aircraft so that the best of the military's front line fighter types can sharpen their skills against a realistic opponent. The pilots are all drawn from the military fast-jet community, most having retired from active service, but some are still serving in the U.S. National Guard as well as flying for Draken. There are a number of former F-22 Raptor pilots and one former F-35 pilot. The board is also drawn from senior ex-military personnel. The company's aim is to provide the best red air platform available.

The three main types in current use are the A-4, the MB-339 and the L-159. The company is owned by Isaacman, and he buys withdrawn fleets somewhat speculatively, so that when the time comes and an agency wants to fly against a certain type or against a certain capability, Draken will have a fleet ready to go either immediately or in a matter of weeks. The MB339 fleet came from New Zealand some years ago, when that country's Air Force totally relinquished its combat inventory in 2001. Many of the A-4Ns also came as a result of the RNZAF's decision, though both fleets were in store for a decade or more before finding their way to Florida. Other A-4s were sourced from Israel. As is often the case with Draken's buys, the MB-339s had very low airframe time, having only been in service for 10 years.

Currently MB339s are serving customers in France (at Nimes-Garons) and in California (Mojave). As with all the company's adversary types, there is a requirement that they must have radar capability. Those that remain in the hangar can be readied for flight in just a matter of weeks.

The L159s are even newer, having barely seen service with the Czech Air Force before being withdrawn and sold.

This L-159 is one of a number that will arrive in 2018 and be re-built by Draken, before joining the current fleet of these robust, agile light-fighter/trainers. The re-build process is short enough so that the company expects to have all of this year's imports up in the air and earning their keep by the end of the year. Recently a deployment of Draken's L-159s to Holloman AFB in New Mexico saw 16-ship launches, multiple times over two weeks, and the aircraft's legendary reliability proved itself with not a single sortie missed.

The L-159 is a development of the L-39 Albatros of which several thousand were built in the Soviet era, and was reportedly the most widely used jet trainer ever built. Aviation Week's Military Aircraft Database shows just under 600 L-39/59/159 types in current military use around the world, whilst hundreds of others have found their way into private ownership. Several display teams use the L-39 as their mount, including the "Black Diamonds." Isaacman also owns that team and is a display pilot with them.

The largest fleet currently operated is the A-4 Skyhawk, most of which spend their time on the flightline at Nellis AFB, Nevada. They regularly fly against F-35s at Luke AFB in Phoenix, Arizona, and also against the Marine Corps at Miramar, California. The A-4s also are contracted to fly against the Hawaii Air National Guard F-22 Raptors at Hickam AFB, Honolulu.

The services which Draken offer include air-to-air, air-to-ground, ship services, flight training, air-to-air refueling and R&D, as well as MRO and consulting.

The Skyhawks are kept so busy that they are hardly ever at home in Florida except for periodic maintenance. As with all the Draken aircraft, most MRO is done in-house, by a large team of specialist engineers.

 

Recent acquisitions by Draken are 20 Dassault Mirage F1Ms from Spain (plus a couple of two-seaters from France), along with 20 Atlas Cheetahs from South Africa. The Cheetah is a development of the Dassault Mirage III and the IAI Kfir, and only Ecuador currently still flies them. The Mirage F1 is in service with six air forces around the world and is clearly a highly-prized adversary, as one of Draken's competitors has also bought a fleet of them from France. The Spanish ones bought by Draken have particularly low airframe time, and have likely suffered less in the Spanish climate than the former French examples. The first few F1Ms are expected to arrive in April, and all are expected to be in service by the end of the year.

The final type in the inventory is the MiG-21, of which 30 or more are on the inventory, awaiting possible future contracts. These were another speculative buy, this time from former Polish Air Force stocks. One of the mottos on show in the Draken hangar is "Build it and they will come" (credited to Isaacman) and it references the strategy of buying fleets that may not be required right now, but will (hopefully) be needed in the future.

The U.S. Air Force has a pilot shortage right now and has a large shortfall in the number of mission hours it needs to fly. Shrinking budgets have led to reductions in training and diminished readiness. Many of the force's legacy fighters are at or beyond their original design life limits, and the cost per hour to fly them is rising rapidly. Fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 are only available in limited numbers and are stlll very expensive to fly. Draken aims to fill some of the need by providing very capable, well-maintained, cost-effective fleets, flown by some of the best-trained fighter pilots to come out of the military, and all at a fraction of the price of the Air Force doing it for themselves. Former serving officers also fill some of the senior non-flying roles, such as Maj. Gen. (ret) Polumbo, former commander of the 9th Air Force.

 

 

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