Why are Pilots Leaving the Navy? One Senior Officer's Opinion:
August 3, 1998
Discussion Thread: #s 149, 152, 153, 155, 156, 158, 160
The email below is a response from a very experienced, active-duty military fighter pilot, with substantial command experience and about 3000 hours in fighters. He gives his assessment of why flyers are leaving the military. He raises some basic issues that echo opinions I heard often in the "hollow military" days of the 1970s.
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Email form Military Pilot
Mr. Spinney: As a career fighter pilot with two tours in Bosnia, I commend your efforts to address all the reasons why junior military junior pilots are leaving.
I'd like to underscore comments from a previous email about (1) pilot flight hrs/mo. and to expand the discussion to include (2) accuracy in reporting deployed operational effectiveness.
(1) If pilots are aggressively flying fighter aircraft 30-35 hrs/mo., 12 months a year in a combat like environment, retention problems will cease. I averaged this as a junior pilot in a fighter aircraft. It was the foundation of my flying career. Many junior fighter pilots are now averaging 16-18 hrs/mo. This may enable them to take off, cruise, and land safely. It does not instill that gut level of confidence and experience necessary for combat effectiveness against a determined foe (air or ground). Today's junior pilots are among the most talented ever, they will not stay put in organizations milking them along into mediocrity at less than 20 hrs per month.
(1) b. The USAF and USN eliminated dedicated adversary squadrons some years ago due to their "high costs." Fighter pilot retention is one of several immeasurable costs associated with this short sighted managing the "bottom line" decision. Arguments that we won't face any significant air to air threats in the next 5-10 years fail to appreciate what it takes to be an outstanding military pilot. If a pilot fights and thrives in air to air combat, he excels in all other mission areas. The reverse is rarely true.
(2) Please find below another "The Best of All Possible Worlds" reporting approach. Here is a general officer reporting in an official capacity about the OUTSTANDING combat effectiveness of precision weapons in Bosnia. Most pilot reports I've seen CONTRADICT this assessment. He also apparently failed to report that most "precision weapons" are highly sensitive to cloudy weather and terrain (of which there is plenty in Bosnia). Most pilots I served with do not share the general's opinion and could provide significant and credible evidence to the contrary. This apparent disconnect between field combat reality and beltway briefings does little to inspire junior military pilots interested in sustaining service reputations of integrity and future combat excellence -- ambitions that, unfortunately, sound hopelessly naive and out of place in today's environment.
Attachment Provided by Military Pilot
Defense News July 27-August 2, 1998
U.S. Air Power Transforms Into Urban Warfare Tool
By Lisa Burgess Defense News Staff Writer
WASHINGTON-- Precision-guided munitions are changing air power from a blunt instrument to a versatile, multifaceted tool ideally suited to today's largely urban conflicts, according to a senior U.S. Air Force officer.
Air power formerly was used only to defeat other air forces in the skies, support ground troops or inflict mass destruction through bombing.
Today, "air power can go the full spectrum of conflict," from peacekeeping to all-out war, said Brig. Gen. Charles Wald, Air Force director of strategic planning and deputy chief of staff for plans.
In a July 17 address here sponsored by DFI International, a consulting firm here, Wald called on the Pentagon to rethink its traditional air warfare doctrine and recognize the growing capabilities the Air Force brings to the fight.
"People who argue about air power need to stop arguing only about Vietnam and start talking about the capabilities demonstrated in the [Persian] Gulf and Bosnia," Wald said.
Wald, who served as wing commander at Aviano Air Base, Italy, during operations Deny Flight and Deliberate Force in Bosnia in 1995-96, said precision-guided munitions were instrumental in persuading the Serbs to come to the bargaining table and sign a peace accord.
Bosnia also was the first truly modem conflict involving air power, Wald said, because of the large proportion of precision-guided munitions, so-called smart bombs, used.
"Contrary to what people think about the gulf war, 90 percent of bombs dropped by U.S. forces there were dumb," Wald said.
Since the gulf war in 1990-91, "almost all U.S. military aircraft have [been equipped with] precision weapons," Wald said. During operations in Bosnia, 60 percent of all coalition bombs were precision-guided munitions, and almost 100 percent of the munitions dropped by the U.S. Air Force were smart bombs, Wald said.
The smart bombs, together with highly accurate targeting data received by aerial and satellite reconnaissance and human intelligence-gathering, allowed pilots to bomb Bosnian targets that were extremely close to civilian facilities, Wald said.
"The first bomb I ever dropped off a fighter was in an urban area in Bosnia, 25 to 50 meters away from a hospital," Wald said.
Based on film recovered from fighter and bomber aircraft, U.S. Air Force bombs landed with 99.5 percent accuracy in Bosnia, Wald said. Of those, 70 percent were direct hits (defined as impacting less than 15 feet from the target). The other bombs hit with-in 30 feet of their intended targets, Wald said.
U.S. Air Force engineers now are focusing on further improvements to precision-guided munitions. "We are developing a lot of capability with smaller bombs and better munitions," Wald said.
For example, the Air Force is working on a project to allow data to be fed from the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System via a new 1760 data bus directly to precision-guided munitions while the bombs are loaded aboard an aircraft.
Flexibility in the way combat commanders view their air assets is key, in view of the historic shift in the 1990s away from large-scale battles, such as Desert Storm, and toward regional ethnic conflicts requiring multinational peacekeeping interventions, such as Bosnia.
The same air force that is expected make transport and logistics its first priority in a peacekeeping operation may be required to supply air-to-air fighter support the next day, and bomber sorties against anti-aircraft sites the next, Wald said.
But as combat environments become more complex and aircraft capabilities grow, the commanders responsible for directing air forces seriously are lagging in their understanding of how best to employ modern air power; Wald said.
"Airmen's philosophy has been that we are a support agency: 'Tell us what to do and we'll do it,"' Wald said. "That's not a good thing, because people who don't understand air power have been misapplying it.
"We airmen have to start standing up and telling people how to apply air power," Wald said.
U.S. Army sources said a balance between different services is important regardless of the combat environment.
"The ability of air power to precisely strike the right targets is an extremely important capability for urban operations," an Army colonel said July 21. But, he added, "Air power is not necessarily the correct tool for all circumstances."