From January 10-13, I traveled on official business to Fallon Naval Air Station (NAS) and Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), both in Nevada, to review air combat training in the Navy and Air Force.

Background to and Purpose of This Report:

In 1997, I traveled to the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA and the Joint Requirements Training Center in Fort Polk, LA. I was impressed with the training the Army was attempting to conduct to improve the skills of the Army's combat units, but I also found serious personnel and material readiness problems. (Copy of Report is available). The Department of Defense described my findings as "totally wrong" and asserted that there were only a few readiness problems "around the edges "… "that have been resolved" (Copy available).

Since that 1997 report, readiness has become a major defense issue. The Joint Chiefs of Staff testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in September 1998 that they had serious readiness concerns and that an infusion of $17 .5 billion per year above the President's budget would address this and other problems. The President subsequently submitted a revised fiscal year 2000 Future Years Defense Plan asserting a major increase over six years of $112 billion (i.e. on average $18.6 billion per year), and Congress further increased that funding above the President's augmented request by $11.0 billion in 1999 and by $8.3 billion in 2000 (thus far).

My purpose in traveling to Fallon NAS and Nellis AFB was to assess whether DoD's and Congress's actions have brought any significant improvement to the Navy's and the Air Force's premier air combat training facilities and the combat units sent there—compared to what I found at the Army's commensurate units in 1997. The answer, in short, is I found the same dedication on the part of commanders and personnel at these facilities to their training mission, but I also found the same, if not worse, personnel and material readiness problems afflicting Navy and Air Force air combat units.

Summary & Introduction:

At our premier air combat training facilities, we have too few instructor pilots, too few aircraft for them to fly, old—sometimes structurally failing—aircraft that are representative neither of the potential enemy aircraft they are assigned to portray nor of the aircraft available to operational units. These aging aircraft are inadequately supplied with spare parts, and they routinely lack basic weapon system components that student pilots will be required to use in combat. Student pilots, while highly professional, are coming to these training facilities with less flying experience and proficiency than previously, and more and more time is used to bring them up to minimal levels of skills. Given the inadequate material support and the diminished time routinely available to give pilots complete combat-ready skills, we are producing a combat pilot cohort that—while not second rate—compares poorly to what the Navy and Air Force have produced in the past.

As I discuss below, these problems are not the result of poorly performing instructor, student, maintenance, or command personnel in the field at Nellis and Fallon. The root of the problem can easily be traced to Washington, D.C.

Air power is touted as our most important edge against potential enemies, and the most likely type of force to be used in the future, based on the asserted victory of air power alone in Operation Allied Force. Yet, the Navy and Air Force are being forced to produce a tactical air force of degraded skill and quality.

Despite falling readiness being used as a reason to increase defense spending, the increases thus procured have not been sufficiently applied to the problems described; the solution requires a departure from past Washington, D.C. budgeting behavior.


Fallon Naval Air Station at Fallon, NV houses the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, which trains each Carrier Air Wing (about 70 aircraft and 1,500 personnel) before each aircraft carrier battle group deploys to sea duty. About four carrier air wings are trained per year. Each air wing training rotation takes 4-5 weeks. Also conducted at Fallon are instructor pilot ("Topgun") [1] and other air to air, air to ground, air control, and helicopter courses, for a total of roughly 30,000 training sorties per year. This training is supported by about 130 officers, 250 enlisted, and 500 contract personnel. Also employed for this training are 7 F-14A and 24 F/A-18A aircraft that constitute both the instructor and "adversary" (see below) air fleet. Units being trained bring in their own aircraft. This enables an assessment of the material and human readiness of operational, not just training, units.

Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas performs similar missions for the Air Force. Four to six week long "Red Flags" are conducted five to six times per year to train pilots for air to air and air to ground combat operations. Nellis also conducts a Fighter Weapons School to train instructor pilots, similar to the Navy's "Topgun," and an Air Ground Operations School to train the Air Force's version of close air support. Nellis houses over 10,000 personnel, 155 aircraft of 10 different types to conduct training and "aggressor" (Air Force synonym for "adversary") sorties. At any given time there are, on average, 1,100 student pilots and support personnel being trained. Both developmental (i.e. laboratory) and operational (combat "realistic") testing is also conducted at Nellis for aircraft and weapon systems. A total of 43,000 training and testing sorties of all types were flown in 1998. The Air Force hopes to conduct Red Flag training about once every 18-20 months for each major active Air Force unit. Air National Guard and Reserve units come to Nellis for training less often: about once every two years.[2]

An essential part of the training for both Fallon and Nellis is the presence of "adversary" or "aggressor" aircraft and pilots to employ known potential enemy tactics. Also present on the ground are surface to air missile and other simulated "threats" to "blue" aircraft to contest air superiority and oppose air to ground strikes.[3]

Personnel Problems:

One of the most far-reaching problems identified at both Fallon and Nellis is the declining skill level of pilots in the operational force. Pilots have less opportunity to fly at their home units, mostly because aircraft are not always available—a spare parts issue.[4] As a result, junior Navy pilots were described as very professional in terms of high levels of book knowledge, but also having at least 20 to 30% less "traps" (carrier landings, which is a significant Navy measure of flying experience) and even less flying hours in the air when they come to Fallon for pre- deployment training. Because incoming pilots are less proficient, Fallon basically uses its first week of flight training to bring the pilots up to where they should be. This and related factors mean that about a third of the total training flights at Fallon are used just to bring pilots up to the skill level they should be at on the day they arrive. This difference, we were told, is not made up by the end of the syllabus.

In addition, because pilots in training do not have sufficient opportunity to train with key subsystems (e.g. FLIR pods, Laser Guided Bombs) which will be used in combat, pilots leave not only with less proficiency than in the past, but even after "graduating" they may have no hands-on experience with certain key subsystems. The first time they use them in combat may be the first time they ever use the real thing. We were advised informally that, especially in Washington, we will be told pilots leave Fallon with an acceptable level of proficiency for fleet deployment, but, in fact, they will not be leaving with all the skills they need.[5]

At Nellis, some active Air Force units are unable to meet the "normal" schedule of coming to Nellis once every 18 months. In some cases it is two years or longer between rotations. This occurs because units are away on deployments, which sometimes can be better than Nellis training because it involves actual combat operations (such as employment in Operation Allied Force), but more often it is a peacekeeping deployment where there is little or no combat training (just "converting fuel into noise" or "boring holes in the sky") and skills atrophy.

While it was noted that Nellis' syllabus has gotten tougher and that incoming students were still strong on classroom knowledge, it was also noted that new students are less proficient in certain key skill areas. This resulted in more basic training and a higher "bust" (drop out) rate. It was also noted at Nellis that the quality of flying hours had declined; there was more basic "boring holes" and less time to develop higher, especially "leadership" (high level) skills. This was described as a particularly significant issue.

At Nellis, not only was the quality of training an issue, but quantity was an issue as well; too few new instructor pilots are being turned out. For example, to support the Air Force F-16 community's requirement of about 100 instructor pilots "out there," the school needs to graduate about 33 instructor pilots per year. The current rate is 20-24. There is no current plan to expand the training to the needed rate.

At Nellis, the lack of experience was also shown in maintenance crew. For maintainers, the units were fully manned, but the individuals there were significantly less experienced than in the past. This was cited as common, not just at Nellis but across the Air Force.

Another serious Navy-Air Force problem is a shortage of "adversary/aggressor" pilots and the training sorties they fly. Fallon's "core" requirement is for 25-30,000 sorties (a requirement described as too low) flown by adversary pilots for all training activities. Currently, they fly about 6,000 less than that. For training both at Fallon and for visits to operational units, perhaps as many as three to four times the 25,000-30,000 sortie "requirement" was cited as what was needed to get fleet pilot skills to where they should be. This would also require numerous additional adversary aircraft and pilots (see below). The shortage of available adversary sorties was described as the most serious training problem extant.

At Nellis, a "constant fight" is needed to generate adequate aggressor sorties, and the quality (aggressiveness) of aggressor pilots has reportedly declined. The Air Force flies only about 6-8,000 aggressor sorties per year, compared to the Navy's 25-30,000. Nellis personnel considered their total to be about 2,000 short of the amount needed. Thus, at both facilities there was both a quality (experience) and a quantity (too few sorties) problem in key training.

Equipment Problems:

At Fallon there are a total of 31 "adversary" aircraft available. This inventory consists of 7 F-14 "Tomcats" and 24 F-18 "Hornets." At Nellis, there is a unit of 13 F-16s. It is these aircraft that attempt to represent enemy MIGs, SUKOIs, Mirages, etc. The pilots of these aircraft are trained in former Soviet tactics, which is typically the doctrine of likely opponents. There are several significant problems with these "enemy" aircraft and the rest of the training equipment at Fallon and Nellis:

Adversary/Aggressor Aircraft Wrong Model/Too Old/Too Few

The aircraft are not threat representative, and there are too few of them. They are US aircraft and do not present to the pilots being trained the visual silhouette of likely enemy aircraft, nor their aerodynamic, electronic, or weapon system characteristics.

Adversary pilots are schooled to attempt to fly aerodynamically as if they were a MIG, etc., but for some maneuvers this is simply impossible. For example, F-14s, F-18s, and F-16s simply perform differently from the Mig-29 or Sukoi-27: in some respects better, in others worse. Also, the F-14, -16, and -18 lack the unique weapon systems found on the Mig-29, Su-27, and other real threats. Thus, Navy F-18 and F-14 pilots fly only against their own F-18s and F-14s, and the Air Force flies only against their own F-16s.

Before 1998, the aggressor function in the Air Force was performed by four squadrons, each equipped with 24 aircraft, not the total of 13 now nominally available. Nellis would like to be able to expand the F-16 aggressor cohort and add a F-15 unit, but funding is not available and is not planned. At Fallon, a large 36 unit F-5 aircraft unit is available to augment the F-14s and F-18s, but for structural reasons the F-5s have been limited to 3 Gs, which means they cannot maneuver as fighters.[6] Also, because these aircraft lack radars, they are useless as "beyond visual range" adversaries. Thus, they have been or are now limited as either "dogfighters" or long range combat trainers.

For the multi-week "Topgun" instructor school at Fallon and the Fighter Weapons (instructor) School at Nellis the aircraft are too old to be representative of the aircraft in the fleet; thus, some of the skills taught may have to be learned differently on a different model of the same type of aircraft when the student returns to his operational unit. At Fallon, the F-14s and F-18s are all the initial "A" models, which is not what is now deployed to the fleet. At Nellis, the F-15s are more recent "C" models, but they are still quite old, and they break down often. In some cases the airframe is so old that flight restrictions may soon be imposed to slow aging and structural fatiguing. Already the aircraft are restricted not to use wing (fuel) tanks (to slow structural fatiguing).

The Fighter Weapons School at Nellis is tasked with training instructor pilots for all aircraft in the Air Force inventory, but in some cases Nellis lacks examples of the aircraft-type to conduct the training.[7] In other cases, the School possesses the aircraft type but not in a deployed-unit representative configuration. In those cases, the training simply goes on with available equipment and suffers as a result. In other cases, when the school does possess a modern, fully equipped, fleet representative aircraft, the aircraft will sometimes be "lost" to an operational unit with a higher priority need.

Second, the training aircraft at Fallon and Nellis are not just old, they are frequently broken.

At Fallon, the available aircraft are the oldest F-14s and F-18s in the Navy; because of their geriatric nature, they are maintenance nightmares. On any given day, only 2 of 7 F-14s are available to fly, and just 10-11 F-18s are available; the rest are broken (not "fully mission capable").[8] For example, Navy F-14/18 units at sea require about 20 parts per day from sources not on the carrier; the F-14/18s at Fallon require about 200.

Fallon needs about 15 aircraft per day to present a useful training cohort. This means they are often incapable of doing so, or some aircraft must fly more than one sortie per day—which, of course, exacerbates wear and tear and maintenance needs. At Nellis, the 13 total available F-16s really means a flyable cohort of 7 aggressor aircraft for Red Flags. For instructor pilot training they need about 12 aircraft per day from the larger, diverse instructor training aircraft inventory. On average, they are short of this requirement about twice a week. Different issues were cited for different aircraft types.

For example:

  • F-15E: training aircraft cannot now fly more than two, sometimes three, aircraft per day. A normal operational flight is four aircraft; thus, this aircraft type cannot "train as we fight," which is a prime objective.

  • A-10s are all quite old and are experiencing frequent engine and gun problems. The aircraft in better shape are frequently "sucked out" by operational units. Typically, there are too few aircraft to fully represent operational tactics.

  • Unavailable Spare Parts: The spare parts to keep these maintenance-hungry aircraft operating are simply not available. The training units at Fallon and Nellis are third in priority, compared to the operationally deployed units (first) and the operational units that have returned to the US (second). Thus, the older, frequent-break down aircraft at Fallon and Nellis need more parts than the newer, deployed aircraft, and Fallon/Nellis get the parts slower. Unfortunately, there are reports from the Navy units at sea that they too are now lacking adequate spare parts and from the Air Force that its operational "war requirements" for engines and engine parts are unmet.[9] In other words, it is not a case of the training units being robbed of parts to keep the higher priority units healthy; the higher priority units may be getting the others' part, but they do not appear to be healthy, either.

 Missing spare parts usually result in "cannibalization" (the removal of parts from one aircraft to keep another flying, which in turn incurs a double effort by maintenance crew, which in turn wears them out). "Cann" rates were stated as high in the Navy; at Nellis, data provided showed that the Cann rates for the first quarter of 2000 were much higher than the overall rate for 1999—for some aircraft types the rates had about doubled.

The question was discussed:  Where are the extra spare parts Congress has been buying (or thought it was buying) since 1997?

The maintenance and command personnel at Fallon simply did not know; they have not seen them. At Nellis, parts funded in FY 1997 "have begun" to show up; however, the volume was sufficient to only slow the readiness decline, not to reverse it. Hypothetical explanations were discussed:

  1. The extra parts are with the deployed units (which some recent reports refute; see endnote #9);

  2. All the extra parts, and then some, have been gobbled up by the high operational tempo the Navy and Air Force have been commanded to fly because of political decisions in Washington;

  3. The DoD procurement system is so ponderous that parts funded in 1997 have not started to come out the other end of the pipeline in 2000, or

  4. The amount of spares being bought is simply inadequate. I strongly suspect the answer is a combination of #s 2, 3, & 4 and no units are in truly good "spare parts shape;" only more thorough independent research can provide a reliable answer.

This spare parts mystery points out a related problem, not discussed on this trip but addressed in multiple GAO and DoD IG reports. As has become conventional wisdom after years of reports, the DoD financial management system is a bad joke. Attempts to audit the services inventories simply results in IG reports that the books are unauditable and from GAO that major pieces of equipment, not just spare parts, are not where they are supposed to be and are unlocatable unless someone is tasked to go search for them. In such a system, it is hardly surprising that maintenance people do not know where or when they will get the parts they need. Imagine, if you will, a car company that could not find the parts your car needs, does not know when it will get them, and fixes your car by stripping parts off of your neighbor's. This sub-Yugo level of material support is where the DoD financial management systems lurks.

Training Equipment Is Missing/Unrealistic:

Training is conducted with an insufficient number of subsystems and live weapons for realistic training. Fallon itself has too few target searching-identifying-tracking pods (FLIR & LANTIRN pods) and too few live bombs for each pilot to get adequate experience with them. Only 15-20% of what is needed for training is actually available. Fallon would like each pilot to have the opportunity to deliver just two live laser guided bombs (LGBs) per rotation; instead, they typically have 10 LGBs for each wing of 70 aircraft (0.14 bombs per pilot, not 2.0). As a result, pilots go to deployments, and potentially to combat, with too little experience on some combat systems essential to F-14 and F-18 air to ground effectiveness. One experienced pilot told us that in the 1970-1980s an A-7 light bomber pilot would drop in live ordnance in a single rotation at Fallon what today's pilots get to drop in an entire career.[10]

At Nellis, instructors also emphasized the importance of using real munitions in air to ground operations, not training rounds and certainly not simulations. The budget, however, simply does not allow it. Guidance units for laser guided bombs were, for example, given to the operation fleet and never returned; now the School is simply unable to train employment with weapons as basic as laser guided bombs.[11] Both Navy and Air Force pilots are sent back out to operational units without sufficient amounts of experience in delivering basic types of live guided munitions.[12]

Condition of Operational Units: As operational units "rotate" into Fallon for their pre- deployment training, they bring their own aircraft and equipment. This provides insight into the condition of the operational units themselves. Typically, 10 of the 12 F-18s and about 7 of 10 F-14s assigned to a squadron are in good enough condition to come. These units—not just the Fallon-based units—are also short of their own mission essential components, such as FLIR and LANTRIN pods and live guided bombs to drop. We were not able to collect data at Nellis on the material condition of visiting units.

Infrastructure Problems: Another key part of the training at Fallon and Nellis are the surface to air missile (SAM) radars or simulators of those radars to operate against pilots to further prepare them for combat. At Fallon, seven relatively elderly Soviet-era SAM threats are replicated (including the SA-2, 3, 5, 6, & 8 systems), but at least 10 more modern—and prevalent—systems are not available (including the Soviet/Russian SA-10, 11, 12, 13, & 15, the French Crotale, German Roland, and US Stinger systems). Fallon has identified these and other infrastructure deficiencies. The current budget plans $360 million over ten years to address these. However, the plan is too modest; if carried out over the planned ten years, the assets would be largely obsolete when they are finally deployed.

The threat display at Nellis is more complete and more modern than at Fallon. It can replicate an entire modern integrated air defense system (IADS), such as that found in 1991 in Iraq. Unfortunately, the assets are not particularly mobile and moving the ones that are can often run afoul of EPA regulations. Accordingly, Nellis does not loan out its assets but instead invites outsiders to go there. At Nellis, personnel did not point out to us major infrastructure problems that are not addressed in future budgets.

Cross-Cutting Problems:

At Fallon, there seems to be little cross training for fighter pilots with units outside the Navy community. This appears to be an issue of insufficient resources, rather than a lack of appreciation for the training pay-offs. Marine fighter units do train regularly at Fallon, but US Air Force, Air National Guard, or fighters from foreign nations visit only on occasion. Despite there being a German Luftwaffe fighter unit as close as Holloman AFB in New Mexico, visits from NATO fighter units do not regularly occur.[13]

The German Luftwaffe unit at Holloman, with F-4 aircraft, has trained at Nellis, and a Luftwaffe unit with Soviet made MIG-29s has come to cross train.[14] Training with allied units seems more common at Nellis. For the next Red Flag exercise, units from the UK, Venezuela, and Singapore have been scheduled. Also, Navy electronic jammer and fighter units participate in Red Flags or other training exercises on a regular basis.

A major problem at both bases is the distance from each other and from other bases. Even though Nellis and Fallon are both in Nevada, the distance is enough to require refueling for either F-16s or F-18s to get to the other facility and train. This means that costly tanker support units need to be employed or that fighters will have time/fuel just to conduct one short engagement before it is time to go home.

Conclusion, Recommendation, and Rational:

The Joint Chiefs have discussed addressing the shortage of adversary/aggressor aircraft. Their solution was to buy new F-16 aircraft and to find the pilots and support personnel, presumably from existing units, to man then. This was found to be "prohibitively" expensive; just the aircraft for a single F-16 squadron at Fallon was estimated to be $600 million or more. A less expensive option would be to refurbish existing, retired F-16s in the "boneyard" at Davis-Montham AFB in Arizona (cost for aircraft about $250 million). But this still leaves the needed personnel unfound and unfunded.

Personnel stated it would be "best" to have actual examples of potential enemy aircraft. But, buying and supporting Russian Mig-29s and/or Su-27s, even though they can be initially purchased at bargain prices, is too expensive, we were told. The problem is not getting the aircraft but supporting them and their systems. Their uniqueness would require a new and costly infrastructure.

Individuals at Fallon proposed what they regarded as a more feasible and less expensive idea: to base a reserve, or Air National Guard, F-16 unit at Fallon and a Reserve F-18 unit at Nellis. The units would be transferred from existing fighter units, and to obviate political opposition, the localities losing the Reserve or Air National Guard units would receive new units, from Nevada, in lieu of what they were losing. For the Navy, the F-16 is the preferred "adversary" aircraft; for the Air Force, the F-18 is preferred: dissimilarity is an important attribute. In both cases, there is an available support structure for the aircraft in the US inventory, and experienced pilots exist. Both Navy and Air Force personnel said having such dissimilar aircraft from the other service would be a major improvement and would be optimal in terms of costs and training effectiveness.

This idea also had its critics. It is unknown if reserve and ANG units were large enough, if they have "extra" pilots available from their current peacekeeping/deployment schedule, and whether training them in adversary tactics is effective. It was suggested ANG pilots may already be too busy flying peacekeeping missions, and at least one individual questioned whether they were skilled and aggressive enough.[15] If such units were to be ANG, it was suggested they should be "full time," not weekend-only, units.

It would, as argued by personnel at Fallon and Nellis, be more expensive to purchase, operate, and man true adversary/aggressor aircraft (such as Mig-29s and Su-27s, and perhaps Mirages), but that would offer the highest quality training.

In any case, both services need more aircraft (and pilots) to fly adversary/aggressor (and instructor) sorties.

The only totally unacceptable option for adversary/aggressor (and instructor) aircraft acquisition appears to be the current plan: to do essentially nothing.

These is also a painfully obvious shortage of spare parts and support equipment, which may extend beyond the "lower priority" training community to the operationally deployed forces. For this problem no light is appearing at the end of the tunnel.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that there are some readiness problems (such as parts shortages) in the less important, non-deployed support infrastructure but that the deployed forces, at "the sharp end," are in decent shape. This "wisdom" is wrong in two major respects: first, as stated in some recent articles and reports, [16] the deployed forces are experiencing some significant shortages.

Secondly, and as this report attempts to show, the Navy and Air Force air combat training force structure has been starved into decline. The implications are far reaching and long term: without the best possible, fully supported training, our pilots will, quite simply, not be the best. They will be, in fact they are now being, sent to combat theaters without meeting standards that were commonly met in the past and that current instructor personnel regard as minimal. In fact, in some respects current "standards" are inadequate. The implications for the lives of pilots and the ability of the US to achieve its own goals in a conflict are obvious.

In the past two years, uniformed and civilian personnel have reported serious readiness problems—if not a veritable readiness crisis. These reports have paved the way for significant increases in the DoD budget, both from the President (for example, a claimed $12 billion increase in the FY 2000 DoD budget request) and from the Congress ($11.0 billion in final 1999 appropriations and $8.3 billion in 2000, so far). However, it appears that a major pretext for the budget increases—the readiness deficiencies—have not been the major beneficiary.

Some of the increases have been totally illusory: for example, the President's 2000 request contained $3.1 billion in unfunded Military Construction projects and $1.6 billion in phony (unspecified) rescissions that Congress had to pay for just to enable the programs requested by DoD. In other cases, the increases have simply gone to other recipients (add-ons unofficially solicited by the Joint Chiefs and other add-ons—requested neither by DoD nor the Joint Chiefs).

Individuals in Congress and DoD argue strenuously for added funding for projects such as accelerated missile defense, expanded shipbuilding, additional R&D in multiple areas, and much else. Compelling arguments can, and are, made for many—not all—of these additional projects. However, I am unconvinced that any of them should have a higher priority than readiness, including the "low priority" readiness of Fallon and Nellis.

The solution is very simple: spend more money on training (new & different aircraft and more of them, more adversary & aggressor pilots, more spare parts, and more weapon systems and support systems) for pilots going into combat or places where it may occur. It remains to be seen if some in Congress and DoD will point to readiness as a reason to increase the defense budget and then add money—but not for readiness. It is this Washington, D.C. budget behavior that needs to be altered.


1. To get an accurate representation of "Topgun," we were advised not to watch the Tom Cruise movie of the same name.

2. At present, the Air Force does not routinely bring units to Nellis for training just before a deployment, as the Navy does. The Air Force is reorganizing itself into "Air Expeditionary Units" (composite, deployable units) and plans to in the future regularly bring them to Nellis before scheduled deployments for peacekeeping or combat.

3. This kind of combat-realistic air-to-air and air-to-ground training was initiated, for the Navy, during the Vietnam war when it was revealed that US fighters were not enjoying the same highly favorable exchange ratios against enemy fighters over North Vietnam as had been the case in Korea or the later stages of World War II. After this type of training was initiated, our exchange ratios over North Vietnam improved, and there have been waxing and waning efforts to continue it ever since.

4. Typical operational units receive funds for 25 flying hours per month, but many units are forced to turn some of their flying money back in because their aircraft are broken so often that they can't fly as often as 25 hours per month.

5. These problems were further articulated in printed briefing material provided to us ("N5 SOC Lecture: Air Wing Performance;" see appendix C). For example, 50.1% of air to ground strikes were on target as of November, 1999; the goal is 75%, and the trend has been for accuracy to decline since 1996. Similarly, 48.5% of close air support strikes were inside 50 meters (a relaxed criterion for close air support), and the trend has been a decline since 1996. In air-to-air combat an approximate 5 to 1 kill ratio has been achieved—compared to a goal of 13 to 1 and a Desert Storm combat experience of 36 to 1. The cause of this declining, below-goal performance was attributed to "basic element execution errors" [Pentagon-ese for lower aircrew skill] and "support and opportunities to train with required systems have decreased" [less crew time with the aircraft and weapons]. The lesser performance can also be measured in the 20.5 hours of flying pilots receive per month, a rate 4.5 hours short of the 25 hours per month goal. The result has been "impact tangible in air wing performance at Fallon.," "Fallon training improvements could not overcome unit support/training deficiencies," and "Tiered readiness degradation is affecting our ability to train/fight" [translation: there is a measurable decline in the skills needed to fight, survive, and win].

6. Recently, the structural problem was resolved and the limitation removed. However, further problems are anticipated, and the Navy is seeking replacements in the form of newer F-5s being discarded by other nations.

7. In such cases, the training is sometimes conducted wherever the aircraft type is deployed (e.g. in Saudi Arabia).

8. Much of the maintenance problems with these old aircraft seem to come in waves. Last year, the F-18s—like much of the rest of the fleet - were experiencing severe engine problems and shortages. Half the entire fleet was "down" and the problems became urgent. Finally, the problem was declared a "priority" and addressed. Now it's the radar that seems to be breaking across the fleet

9. Recent reports ("Defense Week," January 18, 2000, "Top Carrier Warplanes Run Low on Parts" and January 24, 2000, "Air Force Short of War Requirements for Fighter Engines") indicate that, while first in priority, the deployed units are not getting their spare parts either. The first report states that "cannibalization" [striping some aircraft of parts to keep others operating) has climbed precipitously in the last five years and is not declining, and, despite assuring blandishments from senior commanders to Congress, the spare parts situation for the at sea units is bad (cannibalization rates doubled in 1999 compared to 1995) and getting worse. The second report cites a service-wide shortage of F-15 and F-16 engines and engine spare parts.

10. The recent DoD/White House decision to perform only inert weapons training at Vieques Island , Puerto Rico (because of the political opposition there following an accidental death) can only make this problem worse—Navy-wide. If Vieques is closed down, which now appears to be a real possibility, still further deterioration can be expected.

11. Newer GPS guided systems are available and used.

12. While most of the data showed that since the early 1990s many of these issues show degradation, data from Fallon show that over the short term—since mid-1997—there has been some improvement in some issues: available working aircraft, available FLIR and target pods, and opportunities to deliver live ordnance all have actually shown improvement since 1997. At Fallon, these appear to be the result of strenuous efforts by the unit commander, such as insisting on improvement in maintenance performance from his contractor, rather than from service-wide improvement in issues such as spare parts and the availability of support systems. And, current numbers still compare unfavorable to the past for the medium and long term.

13. There are caveats here. Some instructor pilots have been able to go to Europe to cross train there. Some NATO support aircraft (e.g. AWACS-type command and control aircraft) do visit Fallon about once per year, but not fighters. US Reserve/ANG A-10 close air support and observer aircraft and some F-16 fighters and B-1 bombers also visit for training regularly. Fallon is attempting to bring the Luftwaffe fighter unit at Holloman to Fallon, but this has not yet occurred.

14. Pilots at Nellis commented that while the MIG 29 is extremely short ranged, in a dogfight it is any extremely difficult adversary (a very agile aircraft with a effective short range missile that is cued by a easy-to-use helmet mounted sight). In my judgment, it is especially unfortunate that no such visit has yet been made to Fallon. It might tend to remind the Navy of the value of high agility in fighter aircraft —a measure where the new F-18E/F does not perform as well on certain performance measures as certain other foreign and domestic aircraft.

15. The adversary pilots at Fallon are Reserve, and concerns that there would be proficiency or aggressiveness problems have been overcome.

16. See also, "Quarterly Readiness Report to the Congress," Department of Defense, July-September 1999.

Weapon System Effectiveness


Subject: Trip Report: Navy and Air Force Air Combat Training

Date: January 30, 2000