Thursday, June 28, 2007

Naval Aviation Inefficiencies—Part 1


Gadabout has seen much inefficiency in the military throughout his humble career, and since he is now retired he will share some of these issues with the reading public. Now realize that this is not whining on behalf of Gadabout, because he openly shared his views within the Navy while on active duty. Also realize that I firmly believe that the United States military establishment is first rate, the finest in the world and is tough as nails. The DOD is most likely the best run bureaucracy in the nation, but there is always room for improvement. Most of my observations will be naval aviation centric and will only lightly touch on the many unavoidable political pressures mounted by the legislative branch.

During this segment Gadabout addresses pilots, and how the navy has failed to fully optimize this segment of its manpower base. You must understand that it takes a rather large investment to train a pilot and it is even more expensive to train carrier based pilots. Of all the various aircraft the navy operates, TACAIR pilots require the most training and accordingly are the most expensive to train. The aircraft are expensive, maintenance requirements are extensive, replacement parts and engines are very high tech, and pilot training requirements are extreme. TACAIR pilots must be proficient in air-to-air, air-to-ground, close air support, in flight refueling, and carrier landings. Lots of stuff! Other carrier based aircraft usually have multiple crew members to divide workloads (E-2—5, EA-6—4, S-3—3) and have narrower mission areas. The F-18F has 2 crew members, one pilot and one naval flight officer, but most pilots are trained to flow back and forth between 1 seat and 2 seat variants.

Now, of all the mission areas mentioned above, carrier landings is the most critical. So critical, in fact, that a disproportionate amount of training and expense is dedicated to carrier landings. It makes sense, if you cannot land back at the ship at night, it doesn’t matter how many bridges you blow up or how many bad guys you shoot down. The aircraft must land safely! What is unfortunate is that many pilots do not make the grade with landings and are forced to leave their communities; most never to fly again. These lost souls are often referred to as “broken toys” and are branded as such for life. Sure, pilots “wash out” for other reasons too like being unsafe and reckless, personal problems, or failures in other mission areas. But most of them are still qualified pilots and can safely fly less challenging aircraft, but opportunities for transitions are limited. Why? Because other communities don’t want to accept failed pilots. Failed pilots moving to an “easier” aircraft sends a message to the “easier” community a negative message that their value is less than another’s. Simple.

Another barrier is that training tracks are so tightly controlled that there is little wiggle room to fit a broken toy into another airframe. If there is no room at the inn, then it is hit the road for the homeless pilot. It is simply too much trouble and interrupts planning cycles to re-detail them, so they either end up on an aircraft carrier serving in a meaningless billet until they can be processed for release from active duty or are simply discharged. These pilots, after millions of dollars of training, are tossed into the gutter year after year. Gadabout has seen this first hand many times.

My point is that many of these pilots could have made successful transitions to other aircraft (and in all fairness, some have), but timing, budgets and other concerns made it impossible to do so. Just because a pilot had problems landing on a carrier or fighting the jet under G doesn’t imply that they could not make it as a first rate patrol pilot. How about the Air Force? There are multiple aircraft that demand pilots, but there is no viable intra-service agreement in place for the Air Force to accept navy pilots in semi-awkward circumstances. In this sense, the navy seems to be expending manpower in wasteful fashion. Okay, break out the big guns and start shooting away at Gadabout!

Next segment: Aircraft Carrier Manning

8 comments:

Amie said...

I applaud you on this blog. Thank you for educating the public on the Navy's HUGE waste of money and time on this subject. These pilots are so highly skilled and to throw them away is just throwing away millions of taxpayer dollars. It attempts at breaking a man's soul, even.

Gadabout Jack said...

Thanks, Amie, I saw too many skilled and dedicated pilots getting the short end of the stick.
vrgj

Slag said...

Hey Gadabout,
This was starting to change some when I left Kingsville in the mid 90's. We had a minority student who had made it all the way through the program - except the boat. The Nav sent him to Corpus to fly props, and he ended up "breaking the deck" for other cones who stumbled at that late stage...

The Melvin said...

God I hope that minority student wasn't a woman, right? At any rate, the progress made in the 90's has either stalled or remains inadequate. I'm sure glad we don't hurt the feelings of the steele-eyed warriors of the non-carrier-based communities by forcing them to accept the fact that any TACAIR washout could do their job. No offense to them, of course. They do great work.

Richard said...

The Melvin's comments hurt my feelings...

Gadabout Jack said...

The Melvin, you hurt Richard's feelings...make up and let's move forward.

the melvin said...

I'm sorry Richard. You know you're the best. Honestly though, I meant no disrespect whatsoever. I am well aware that flight school grades do not always indicate the quality of fleet aviator or officer you will be. Furthermore, I understand that there are several aviators who met or exceeded the TACAIR grade but were in an exceptional selection group or simply did not wish to chose the jet pipeline. Moreover, I was taking a pot-shot at the P-3 douchebag who sat on my board...haha

the melvin said...

yeah, i know, i misspelled choose.