VICTORIA, British Columbia — Firms are battling to win a billion dollar contract to provide Canada's military with an aggressor aircraft training fleet, a deal that could pave the way for further expansion of such services on the international market.

Winning the contract is particularly critical for the Canadian-based Discovery Air Defence, which already provides such services to Germany and Canada. But the company is facing competition from the US-based Draken International, which has teamed with CAE of Canada to offer a fleet of aircraft for Canadian fighter jets to train against.

Called the Contracted Airborne Training Services (CATS), the service will run over an initial 10-year period, followed by an optional the option to continue for another five years. The CATS contract could be worth up to CAN $1.5 billion (US $1 billion) over that period of time.

CATS will provide aircraft to simulate hostile threats for ground and naval forces as well as fighter pilots. The project also provides aircraft to train for training of forward air controllers as well as planes to tow targets and carry electronic warfare systems for various training scenarios.

Pierre-Alain Bujold, spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department that coordinates military equipment purchases, said the bids went in Feb. 16.

"The evaluation, which includes aircraft inspection, is expected to take up to five months," he said. "The contract is expected to be awarded by the end of 2016."

The winning bidder is required not only to provide aircraft and pilots but also maintenance crews and engineering support.

Mike Greenley, vice president and general manager, CAE Canada, said the firm views the Canadian contract as its entry into exporting such services internationally.

"This collaboration with Draken is the spark of a global relationship," he explained. "We intend to deliver the Canadian program and then bid and deliver other programs internationally."

He noted that Draken International of Lakeland, Florida, operates the largest fleet of privately owned fighter aircraft in the world.

"With the size of Draken's aggressor aircraft [fleet] we will make a great team for international pursuits," he added.

The CAE and Draken team have proposed a fleet of Douglas A-4 Skyhawk fighter aircraft to support the CATS program.

Garry Venman, vice president of business development and government relations at Discovery Air Defence, said the firm has now provided more than 55,000 hours of airborne training services for the Canadian Forces, the German armed forces and other air forces. worldwide.

He said the company has its eye on a potential $3 billion global market for airborne training services, which includes potential contracts in the US. The company has a US-based subsidiary and is also looking at markets from the Australia to the Middle East. It has provided such services to Canada since 2005 and started delivering similar services to the German military in 2015.

"The Germans are quite happy with the service," Venman said. "We think we can easily expand to offer services to additional countries in NATO. We're seeing positive concrete evidence that air forces are starting to seriously consider the role contracted adversary plays in their future training environments."

Venman said that customers are requiring more capable adversaries as they transition to next-generation fighters.

Discovery Air Defence is in the process of acquiring F-16s for its fleet although the firm has declined to provide many details. about that acquisition.But Venman noted that, "The real driver will be the sensor technology, not necessarily the aircraft performance.

"Our strategy is to develop our in-house engineering capabilities to have solutions to provide technology insertions into these platforms which make them a representative training adversary," he added.

Greenley said CAE and Draken are also proposing to conduct research and development for a next-generation aggressor threat capability. That next generation capability would be able to use actual aircraft, as well as simulated planes, to create a realistic threat picture.

For example, although an air force pilot might be facing two aggressor aircraft in a live scenario, the pilot's display would show four enemy planes, Greenley explained. Two of them would be simulated.

"So the pilot is engaging in an even richer scenario than what is actually in the air," Greenley said. "In the future that is how we believe the market will go."

David Pugliese is the Canada correspondent for Defense News.

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