Military Training

Marine Pilots Lack Airspace, Ordnance to Realistically Train for a Pacific Flight

May 13, 2019

Marine pilots training in the Pacific have inadequate flight training facilities. allies for Cherry Point.

By Todd South – Marine Corps Times 

Marine pilots training for missions in the Pacific don’t have adequate airspace and lack realistic electronic warfare threats, according to a new report.

And that’s not all.

These aviators don’t have moving targets, don’t have dedicated drone flight space and can’t use one of their most effective weapons before they first enter combat.

All of those findings and more from a recent government audit released to the public on April 17 led to one overarching conclusion: “Aviation units do not receive realistic training.”

The defense inspector general’s audit covered training ranges for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps under the Indo-Pacific Command.

One detail shows a direct connection to where these problems could hit pilots in combat.

A Harrier pilot told inspectors that there was not enough ordnance for training. Specifically, that the last time MAG-13 pilots had been able to use the joint direct attack munition, or JDAM, in training was in March 2016.

“He stated that as a result, there was a good chance that Marines would arrive in a combat environment never having trained with the JDAM,” per the report.

The same pilot added that the simulators used do not replicate the missile well and weren’t effective for realistic training. Training problems for Marine pilots were not isolated to one location or one type of aircraft.

Aviators who fly the new F-35B jet fighter, the aging AV-8 Harrier, the AH-1 Cobra and even unmanned drones reported training troubles.

“We are proactively working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to address training shortfalls at Marine Corps ranges, including Yuma, (Arizona),” Capt. Joseph Butterfield, Headquarters Marine Corps public affairs, wrote in an email response.

The report included Marine Aircraft Groups 24, 12, 36 and 13. Those are spread out from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, across the Pacific to Japan and South Korea.

At the Fallon Range Training Complex, a naval air station in Nevada, weapons and tactics instructors, some with multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, told investigators that “airspace, release headings and impact areas” at the training site were “too restrictive to use the preferred standoff weapons that are required to defeat a near-peer threat.”

Aviators reported low fidelity electronic warfare training tools at FRTC, Yuma and the closest site for pilots in Okinawa to even train with the admittedly substandard EW tools was Iwakuni, on mainland Japan.

“Many of the ranges in our sample did not have the advanced electronic warfare systems needed to accurately replicate near-peer threats; therefore, training against electronic warfare systems at those ranges in our sample was not realistic,” inspectors wrote.

Even the surface-to-air threats at that range were dated, having been developed and fielded in the 1960s and 1970s.

An F-35 pilot at Yuma also reported that airspace restrictions prevented pilots from shooting stand off weapons. Restrictions also meant he could not fly in a fighting formation of four planes at a time. Pilots had to use simulators to do such basic tasks.

The Yuma site also can’t replicate “double-digit threats,” a key to air battle training for modern competitors.

A direct example, the Russian Pantsir long-range air defense system, which includes truck mounted surface-to-air missiles, was listed as one such threat that Marine pilots cannot train for at Yuma.

Even rotary wing pilots said that Yuma urban training complexes were so standard that after one or two runs pilots training became predictable.

It “does not provide a realistic training environment for helicopter gunnery operations,” according to the report.

Drone operators noted that they did not have any dedicated airspace at Yuma, having to share the skies with manned aircraft, which limited them in training.

A Harrier pilot also shared that the aircraft’s main weapon, a laser-guided rocket, could not be used to hit moving targets at the site because of a lack of moving targets to shoot.

The targets are remote-operated vehicles that tow a target sled. The report did not define why those items were unavailable or missing from training.

The assistant secretary of defense for sustainment told inspectors upon receiving the audit that the Pentagon would develop “a strategic plan to identify and address inadequacies at training ranges.”

Inspectors traveled from February to May 2018 to Arizona, California,

Alaska, Japan, Hawaii and South Korea to evaluate how well the ranges met training standards for realistic combat preparation, especially near-peer competitors.



Troubling Air Range Issues Demand Attention

May 13, 2019

Article discussing antiquated flight training facilities for US military. Allies for Cherry Point.

For a couple of years now, the topline strategy coming out of the Pentagon has called for a renewed emphasis on big nation state threats like Russia and China.

We’ve heard dire warnings from smart people who say the U.S. is rapidly losing its technological edge and that war with near-peer rivals would be much harder and more costly than we’d like.

Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made improving “lethality” one of the top military buzzwords.

That’s why we were somewhat stunned to read a recent investigation report on the training ranges used by fighter jet pilots. The investigators found many training facilities are completely antiquated and unable to adequately prepare today’s units for a conventional war.

The investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General focused on ranges used to train for operations in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.

For example, a Navy range in Nevada is still using 50-year-old surface-to-air simulators and electronic warfare simulators that do not “replicate the threats pilots would face in combat,” according to the report.

At a joint range up in Alaska, the electronic warfare simulators replicate Soviet missile systems from the 1980s and are so out of date that they do prepare pilots for today’s near-peer threats.

A U.S. Air Force training range in Japan features simulated surface-to-air threats “from the 1960s and 1970s,” according to the report.

Pilots complain that their training becomes “repetitive and predictable” after just a few runs.

“As a result,” the report concluded, “the aviation units in the USINDOPACOM area of responsibility could not train as they would fight.”

The IG blames these range problems on financial woes caused by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, ongoing counter-terrorism operations across the globe and the fluctuating budgets Congress imposed on the services during the past decade.

But at some point, the Pentagon also must take ownership of this problem.

It is not an effective use of scarce defense dollars to buy dozens of the most advanced aircraft in the world every year if the U.S. military cannot provide facilities for pilots to train on them and learn real-world warfighting skills.

This is just another example of how the politics of defense spending is eroding readiness. At one end are pressures to boost pay, mostly through targeted bonuses, and to increase the size of the force. At the other are the constant calls to ratchet up the purchase of high-tech weaponry and equipment.

So, what gets squeezed in the middle is the actual process of training the force we have to use the weapons systems we’ve already purchased.

Readiness is inherently complex and involves thousands of interrelated factors. It’s hard to hold the Pentagon leadership totally accountable for something that is essentially impossible to measure precisely.

This is especially true when most top leaders hold their top jobs only for a few years before moving on, creating a perverse incentive to kick the can down the road.

But finding Soviet-era missile systems at a training range used by F-22s and F-35s reflects a staggering level of negligence.

The inability of aviation forces to train as they fight increases the risk that they will be unable to accom- plish their mission and that attrition of pilots and aircraft will rise unnecessarily in an actual battle.

The problem has now been clearly identified. We are waiting to hear how it will be corrected.

(From the Editors – Marine Corps Times)