Happy 50th, TOPGUN! We dedicated a large section of this issue to celebrate the creation in 1969 of the Navy Fighter Weapons School and its successes over the past half century. This is not a glorification of the Hollywood version of TOPGUN; rather, it is an opportunity for current and former TOPGUN graduates and staff members to tell a story of innovation and overcoming challenges through hard work and dedication.
When Navy fighter aircraft failed to meet combat expectations in the skies over Vietnam from 1965 to 1968, an official inquiry (known as the Ault Report) recommended creating an advanced fighter weapons school at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego. One lieutenant commander and eight junior officers set up an office and classroom in an abandoned trailer, designed a course, and started teaching fighter aircrews to be aggressive, expert dogfighters. Their impact was immediate and dramatic—by 1972 the Navy’s kill ratio against the Vietnam People’s Air Force had improved fivefold.
In the 47 years since then, TOPGUN has been an innovation engine, creating tactics, teaching expertise, standardizing training, and driving technology and weapons requirements for the Navy fighter and strike-fighter communities. More recently, TOPGUN has been the model for other warfare communities as they built advanced schoolhouses and developed expert cadres of weapons tactics instructors to improve their own lethality and effectiveness.
TOPGUN’s history and lessons are rich and meaningful. Well done to the 50 years of “patch wearers,” and sincere thanks to the authors who brought us their insights this month.