Monday, December 17, 2007

Staying Sharp

Today's Air Force Times has an interesting read on one of the biggest problems created by the F-15 stand down--keeping those grounded Eagle pilots sharp.

With more than 400 air superiority F-15s grounded by safety concerns--for the third time in two months--hundreds of Eagle drivers are losing currency in the cockpit. Full-motion/high-fidelity simulators (available at active duty F-15 bases) can provide some training, but it's not substitute for actually flying the jet.

As the Times notes, the first qualification that pilots stand to lose is one of the most basic--landing the F-15. Air Force regulations require that "inexperienced pilots" (defined as those with less than 500 hours in the jet) fly and land an F-15 at least once every 30 days to remain qualified. While most pilots were able to log sorties between stand downs in November, the 30-day limit is now fast approaching for many inexperienced Eagle pilots.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Every day that the F-15s remain on the ramp creates an even bigger backlog of overdue check rides, incomplete upgrades, and delayed training classes. Before the Eagles return to the skies, unit commanders, instructor pilots, training program managers and scheduling officers must find some way to straighten out the mess, and prioritize training for all those F-15 pilots.

Officially, there's no word on when the stand down might end, but most F-15 units are assuming that they'll be cleared to resume flight operations next month. Work on revised training programs and flight schedules is already underway; in fact, it never stops. Still, we wouldn't want to be a training manager or "scheduler" in an F-15 squadron over the next couple of months. Those folks will certainly earn their paychecks.

In the interim, the new commander of Air Combat Command, General John Corley, is urging F-15 pilots to remain patient, and do what they can to "stay sharp." The (polite) response to that message goes something like this: "Yeah...right" and "How?" The impolite response can be viewed in "Doofer" books in every fighter squadron.

On a more serious note, we're wondering how the F-15 training/currency dilemma will impact unit readiness, or C-ratings. Since training is one of three major categories covered by C-ratings, a prolonged F-15 stand down would affect readiness scores in that area, and for the unit as a whole. C Ratings range from C-1 (fully mission ready) to C-4 (least prepared). The system covers three areas, training, personnel and equipment. A unit's overall score is dictated by its readiness in those categories.

However, as we've noted before, the C-rating system allows commanders to "adjust" their scores higher or lower, based on their assessment of the situation. It would be interesting to know how the commanders of F-15 units currently view their training situation and overall unit readiness. In most wings and squadrons, there are probably enough qualified (and current) pilots to support at least a C-2 or C-3 rating for a couple of months. Beyond that, a prolonged stand down will push the training grade to C-4, with a corresponding impact on overall readiness.

In that kind of environment, it's going to be awfully tough to "stay sharp."


davod said...

who benefits from the extended grounding of the F15.

How big a hole does this leave in our air defence cover.

Unknown said...

Davod--I'll take a stab at the second part of the question first. In terms of a hole, it's not as big as you might think; there are as many (if not more) F-16s sitting air defense alert as there are F-15s. In some cases, those units (particularly the Vermont ANG) are pulling duty at other sites, along with their "traditional" AD locations, such as Langley AFB, VA. In other situations (such as Alaska) the newly-arrived F-22s are performing air defense alert, and Canadian Forces CF-18s have also been helping out.

For the first part of your question, it depends on which adversaries you're talking about, and their intentions. In the Persian Gulf, for example, Iran doesn't have to worry about our F-15C/Ds for a while, although we've got more than enough assets (F-16,Navy F-18s) to compensate. Saudi air defenses will be crippled if their Eagles are still on the ground. The same holds true in Syria, with respect to the IAF F-15s.

In the Far East, we could see additional Russian bomber fights toward Japan with the JSDF Eagles on the ground, and our F-15s at Kadenda grounded as well. The standdown won't last long enough for someone to contempate offensive action against a U.S. ally, and besides, the Chinese and North Koreans know that we can utilize other assets and even get the Eagles back in the air on an "emergency basis," if necessary.