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Top Aces augments, extends fighter jet training contract with RCAF 

By Ben Forrest | December 5, 2023

Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 45 seconds.

Two Skyhawks will begin training with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) next spring, with two additional A-4s to be integrated by 2025. Eric Desbiens Photo

Top Aces has agreed to upgrade and extend its fighter jet training agreement with the Canadian military, adding the A-4 Skyhawk advanced aggressor fighter (AAF) to its Canadian fleet. 

The Montreal-based company and Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) announced Dec. 5, 2023, they will extend their existing agreement for Contracted Airborne Training Services (CATS) by two years, running through October 2029. 

“These airborne training services help to ensure that Canadian Armed Forces personnel are ready for their missions and [are] prepared to protect Canada,” said defence minister Bill Blair in a statement.  

“These services allow our personnel to practice responding to attacks, detecting and tracking targets, and carrying out electronic warfare missions — bolstering their readiness. We will continue to work with Canada’s world-class aerospace industry to provide the Canadian Armed Forces with the training that they require.” 

DND has picked up the first of two options to extend the initial 10-year training deal it signed with Top Aces in 2017. The extension has an estimated value of $331 million, plus taxes, and brings the value of the contract up to $749 million.  

Top Aces plans to add the A-4 Skyhawk AAF to its Canadian fleet early next year, allowing it to better replicate the capabilities of current-generation adversary fighters. 

Two Skyhawks will begin training with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) next spring, with two additional A-4s to be integrated by 2025. The single-engine jets are capable of speeds up to Mach 0.9 and will be equipped with Top Aces’ proprietary advanced aggressor mission system (AAMS). 

“Top Aces continues to modernize and enhance our services to meet the evolving needs of the RCAF,” said Paul Bouchard, founder and CEO of Top Aces.  

“The addition of AAMS is very significant because it integrates sensors and functions that replicate advanced adversary fighter aircraft. This latest enhancement will be particularly beneficial to the RCAF as it transitions to the HEP2 CF-18 and subsequently the F-35.” 

Under the CATS program, Top Aces simulates both hostile threats and coalition aircraft in training exercises for the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army. In Air Force exercises, Top Aces pilots often act in an aggressor role, enabling RCAF pilots to learn and practice defensive tactics or to counter an attack.  

Eric Desbiens Photo

It’s expected the decision to integrate Skyhawk AAFs will reduce the use of CF-188 Hornets in adversary roles during training. 

The company said this will also enhance the training of CF-188 Hornet pilots, particularly during the second phase of Canada’s Hornet Extension Project (HEP2), and may help mitigate the human resources challenges anticipated as the RCAF transitions to a fleet of F-35 fighter jets. 

Top Aces initially signed a $418-million contract for CATS in October 2017, with two options to extend the contract. DND can extend the deal until March 31, 2031, if it decides to pick up the second option.  

Under the current agreement, the majority of CATS exercises will occur from Bagotville, Que.; Cold Lake, Alta.; Halifax, N.S.; and Victoria, B.C. Additional training will take place in locations across Canada and in the United States, the DND said.  

Top Aces is also required to make investments in the Canadian economy equal to the value of the contract, under the federal government’s Technological Benefits Policy.  

“This program highlights a critical investment in Canada’s local economy and the importance of supporting Canada’s world-class aerospace industry,” said public services and procurement minister Jean-Yves Duclos. 

Top Aces has partnered with the Canadian Armed Forces for training since 2005 and operates a fleet of Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jets and Bombardier Learjet 35s.  

Its A-4 Skyhawks have been upgraded with modern instrument flight rules (IFR) capabilities, a tactical air navigation system and ejection seats, among other improvements. The aircraft is powered with a Pratt & Whitney J52 P408 Turbojet engine. 

“Canada’s visionary approach to CATS has been adopted by air forces worldwide, including the U.S. Air Force and other allies in Europe,” said Bouchard, Top Aces CEO.  
“Top Aces is very proud to extend its long-standing partnership with Canada. We will deliver advanced training services that enhance combat readiness and offer numerous cost-efficiencies in support of CAF operations.”  

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