A couple weeks ago I argued that in the national debate over air superiority, we’ve been too focused on specific models of fighter jets and how many of them we should buy, when the overall air-superiority system includes much more than just fighter jets. Training, in particular, is often overlooked.
It’s increasingly likely that the future U.S. Air Force will include just around 200 F-22s (240 on the outside) and possibly no more than 1,000 F-35s (that’s my prediction, not an official figure), versus the nearly 2,100 stealthy fighters the air service once said it needed.
With smaller fleets, training will become all the more important to preserving U.S. air superiority. Over at the New York Examiner, Dave Majumdar explains how a small group of pilots at the F-22 Weapons School is working hard to develop the tactics for making the most of a small force of stealth jets:
Developing a graduate level instructor pilot course for a fifth-generation fighter poses some challenges of its own, Major Micah “Zeus” Fesler, Chief F-22 Weapons School Instructor at the 433rd Weapons Squadron, Nellis AFB, Nevada, explains. “The course teaches instructors [that] the jet has some great, absolutely phenomenal capabilities, but you can still do it better.”
With even novice Raptor pilots scoring lopsided victories against superior numbers of veteran adversary pilots flying legacy fighters, the challenge for the Weapons Instructor Course is to teach students how to kill “lots of adversaries, as quickly and as efficiently as possible,” Fesler explains. Fesler added that just because a pilot can defeat any number of opponents, “That doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it. There is always something you can do better.”
Communications is one area begging for improvement, Majumdar reports:
[A] major focus of the Raptor Weapons School is on teaching the students how to manage the wealth of information generated by the plane’s sensors. Display management and information management are crucial to employing the Raptor properly, Fesler explains, adding that communicating with other non-F-22 aircraft is especially important.
And especially difficult because the F-22 does not have a datalink for automatic information transmission to older fighters. F-22s’ datalinks only talk to other F-22s, so all comms between Raptors and, say, F-15s are voice-only. This is a major design flaw that the Air Force is trying to fix. With the Raptor fleet unlikely to top 240, getting the F-22 to work better with older fighters is a big priority. Until there’s a tech fix, that means more and better training.
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