Squadron X has to execute a syllabus flight for a junior aviator, requiring two blue aircraft. Their mission is to ingress enemy airspace, bomb a target, and return to base. Squadron X has a quarterly flight-hour grant that it is expected to fly; these two flights (one by the lead, one by the wingman) count against the grant. To generate one syllabus event, the squadron spends 200 percent of the required hours (in fairness, the wingman may be able to get a syllabus flight simultaneously).
The student also must fight red air during this flight. Ideally, these are adversaries who can put four to six aircraft airborne. Their flight time counts against their flight-hour ledger, not Squadron X’s. But if only one or two adversary jets are available, Squadron X must make up the deficit with two of its own aircraft providing red air. Squadron X is now spending 400 percent of the required flight hours to produce one syllabus event.1 That investment, every day for a week, a month, a quarter, begins to add up.2
To mitigate this, Squadron X may beg Squadron Y to provide red air. “Help us today, we’ll help you tomorrow.” This merely shifts the problem, as Squadron Y now has to divert its training to spend hours on red sorties. Meanwhile, adversary squadrons, whose sole mission is to provide red air, wither for lack of aircraft and parts.
Compounding the problem with organic adversary availability is the problem with adversary platform capability. Threat nations rapidly are closing the gap with the United States by continually improving their fighter aircraft. As the enemy improves, the Navy’s level of training must rise to meet and beat them.
1. This is a basic scenario. The higher the qualification, the more blue aircraft, and consequently more red aricraft, are required to complete an event. A standard “division” (i.e., four-fighter) flight requires six-plus red air to execute, compared to as few as one or two red for a “section” (i.e., two-fighter) flight.
2. One syllabus hop costs the squadron about $92,000. See: LCDR Anthony Kochanski, USN,“To Fix TacAir Pilot Retention, Follow the Money,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 145, no. 1 (January 2018).