To prepare for future military conflicts, US Air Force pilots undergo intensive training that includes simulated dog fights. This ordinarily pits military pilots against each other, one in a US jet, the other in an "enemy" fighter painted in blue, brown, or black camouflage.
But maintaining these so-called "aggressor" squadrons is costly, and takes valuable combat pilots out of the field. To mitigate this problem, Defense Department officials say they could outsource the aggressor role to the private sector.
"That is something that is actively under consideration," said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, according to Defense One. "We have to see how the dollars and cents work out."
Still, there aren’t many companies that own fleets of military fighters, and even fewer who have properly trained fighter pilots. Draken International, based in Florida, is one option that has experience in flying adversary missions. Canadian-based company Discovery Air is another.
Insiders hope that the Pentagon’s need for private sector partners will spur growth in the industry.
"What we see out here is a growing interest and a growing need for outsourcing certain traditional military training tasks that [the Pentagon] used to always handle," Russ Bartlett of Textron Airborne Solutions told Defense One.
"This [market] is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, these days. It could easily be a multibillion-dollar market in five years."
"The industry that we began is literally exploding," Jeff Parker, CEO of the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company, added.
The US Air Force has seen a number of budget cuts recently. Earlier this month, Maj. Gen. Scott West called the Pentagon’s air fleet "small, old and heavily tasked."
"[IF] a B-17 [bomber] that flew in World War II had flown in Desert Storm, the aircraft bombers we are using today are older than those B-17s would have been. It’s an aged fleet," he told the US Congress’ Subcommittee on Readiness.
These complaints are due, in part, to budget cuts enacted three years ago. While the United States used 4.2% of its GDP on defense in 2012, that decreased to 3.3% in fiscal year 2015.