F-35B Lightning II Trains with ATAC
(Source: US Marine Corps; dated Nov 6, issued Nov 13, 2017)
The Marine Corps is using first-generation Hawker Hunter and third-generation F-21 Kfir (pictured) fighters operated by the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company to train its new and transition pilots for their F-35B certification. (USMC photo)
MCAS BEAUFORT, S.C. --- The Airborne Tactical Advantage Company landed aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Aug. 20.

The detachment flew to Fightertown to help train transition pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501. While aboard MCAS Beaufort, the training squadron will be providing real life enemy scenarios for VMFAT-501.

“We are a civilian contractor which provides real life enemy threat for training purposes for the Navy and Marine Corps,” said Jeremy “Grunt” Gunter, the ATAC detachment officer in charge. “We primarily support ship exercises such as COM2X and MEUX. However, we also support naval and Marine Corps fleet replacement squadrons. So for the next two weeks we will be helping VMFAT-501.”

The training syllabus for VMFAT-501 consists of classroom work and practical application with the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. By adding real life enemies to maneuver and fight against the transition pilots of VMFAT-501 have to think against a real enemy and not a simulator.

“Simulators can only get you so far when you are learning a new aviation platform,” said Maj. Ross Fearon, the executive officer of VMFAT-501. “We try and have either ATAC or Marine Fighter Training Squadron 401 come and help us out. By having the simulated red air, the pilots have someone to think against and fight in real life and pressure on the other fleet squadrons here is alleviated. Training with the F/A-18 squadrons is beneficial but not always to them. In some circumstances our training needs will be fulfilled but not theirs and with the snipers here the F-18 squadrons can conduct their training and we can conduct ours. Everyone’s training needs are met.”

ATAC is flying with MK-58 Hawker Hunter aircraft and the F-21 Kfir aircraft (Emphasis added—Ed.), four pilots, and a team of eight maintainers to support the rigorous schedule. All of the cadre and maintainers are experienced prior service members. VMFAT-501 sets up, plans and organizes all of the training and logistics to conduct the training they need. They have pilots at various levels of training and qualifications that will be working with ATAC. 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 Gunter. “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 Navy and Marine Corps.”

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