Skill Level of Pilots in Air Force, Navy Seen as `Degraded'

By Scarborough, Rowan | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 21, 2000 | Go to article overview

Skill Level of Pilots in Air Force, Navy Seen as `Degraded'


Scarborough, Rowan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Air Force and Navy are producing combat pilots of "degraded skill and quality" due to aging aircraft and a shortage of flying hours, a congressional report charges.

"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 . . .," said the report compiled by a senior Senate defense staffer.

"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."

The report, now being circulated to key lawmakers as they write the fiscal 2001 defense budget, was based on the Senate defense staffer's inspection of the Air Force's and Navy's key air combat training centers in Nevada: Nellus Air Force Base and Fallon Naval Air Station, home to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center. These two desert bases provided pre-deployment pilots vast airspace to practice demanding aerial combat and air-to-ground warfare.

The Pentagon has been beset with combat readiness problems since 1997, when an increased number of overseas missions and shrinking defense budgets combined to create personnel and equipment shortfalls.

Today, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and the service chiefs contend the downward cycle has been reversed by two straight years of arms budget increases.

But the Senate defense staffer found the new money has not trickled down to these two important bases.

"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 minimum levels of skills," the report states. "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."

Among the report's findings:

* Air Force pilots are missing their normal training rotation at Nellis because they are on peacekeeping duty abroad.

* Neither Nellis nor Fallon has an adequate number of "aggressor" aircraft to mimic enemy tactics.

* Nellis' contingent of F-15E ground-attack fighters can generate only half the daily flights needed. …

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