Aging aircraft and a lack of modern capability have weakened the U.S. Navy’s adversary fleet, and the addition of contract air services (CAS) has not met the growing needs of fleet squadrons. It is imperative that fighter aircrew train against adversary aircraft that are as analogous as possible to the real threat. The Navy must recapitalize its adversary fleet and more aggressively manage CAS to meet the unit-level needs of tactical aviation.
The Navy’s Adversary Squadrons
The Navy’s adversary force (“red air”), largely flown by Navy Reserve pilots, comprises the FA-18A and FA-18C, which were designed in the 1970s, and the Vietnam-era F-5N (with some Navy F-16s, also designed in the 70s). Keeping these aging aircraft airborne and upgrading their systems have proven costly.
Listen to a Proceedings Podcast interview with this author about this article below:
1. In preparing this article, I spoke with representatives from several CAS companies.
2. Department of Defense Manual 4160.21, vol. 4.
3. In preparing for this article, I spoke with NavAir staff. Similar to my conversations with CAS industry, I avoid directly quoting or naming people.
4. Like the Charlies, the FA-18E/F Super Hornet was built as a 6,000-hour airframe. Charlies have been extended beyond that, and the Rhino is going to have to be as well, as the older Rhinos are now approaching 6,000 hours.