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Businessinsider.co.za | in a Major War, the US May Run Out of Pilots Before It Runs Out of Jets

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An F-35 student pilot climbs into an F-35 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, July 7, 2017.

(US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

The US Air Force is increasingly focused on preparing for a fight with peer military — Russia or China.In such a fight, the service is likely to lose pilots and aircraft in numbers that would be hard to replace.“In a peer fight, we’ll take losses in both, so we need capacity in both,” the head of Air Combat Command said last year.For more stories visit www.BusinessInsider.co.za

US Air Force leaders are increasingly concerned about large-scale pilot and aircraft losses in a war with a peer-level adversary.

During an event in October, Gen. Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, noted that the Air Force needed to be mindful of its sustainment capacity, particularly when it comes to pilots and the advanced aircraft they fly.

“Historically, in a peer fight, air forces normally lose because they run out of pilots before they run out of platforms,” Kelly said, noting that both Germany and Japan “ran out of pilots before they ran out of airplanes” during World War II.

Air Combat Command is responsible for organising, training, and maintaining combat-ready units for the US military’s combatant commands, and Kelly, a career fighter pilot, echoed a sentiment that Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. expressed in his first major strategic document, published almost two years ago.

Future airmen “are more likely to fight in highly contested environments,” Brown, the service’s top officer, wrote at the time, “and must be prepared to fight through combat attrition rates and risks to the Nation that are more akin to the World War II era than the uncontested environment to which we have since become accustomed.”

Pilots and jets

F-16 at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Fowler/US Air Force

Pilot shortages aren’t new and aren’t unique to the Air Force. A 2019 Defense Department report said all of the military’s service branches “are experiencing pilot shortfalls due to several years of underproduction in pilot training and reduced aircraft readiness.”

But it’s a particularly acute problem for the Air Force, especially its fighter fleet. The service estimates that it needs to retain about 21,000 pilots across its active, Guard, and Reserve components and sets a goal of training 1,500 new pilots each year.

It has had difficulty meeting that goal and has struggled for nearly a decade to close the gap between the number of pilots it has and the number it seeks. The shortfall was roughly 2,100 pilots in 2019, 1,925 in 2020, and 1,650 in 2021. The Air Force has also fallen short of its training goal. It trained 1,263 pilots in 2020 and 1,381 in 2021.

There are many reasons for the shortfall.

Training new pilots is extremely time-consuming, expensive, and difficult. It can take up to five years and cost between $3 million and $11 million to train a new mission-ready fighter pilot.

A Pilot Training Next student and instructor pilot prepare for a training flight in Austin, Texas, June 22, 2018.

US Air Force/Sean M. Worrell

The service has also struggled to retain trained pilots who can get higher salaries and better benefits from civilian airlines. Replacing an experienced pilot can take as long as eight years.

The time and expense of that training has only increased as aircraft have gotten more advanced. Moreover, elements of the Air Force’s selection process, such as requirements for flight hours, are largely unchanged since the 1970s, which limits the pool of potential candidates.

The Air Force is also worried about its ability to replace lost pilots and aircraft — what Kelly calls “sustainment capacity.”

“In a peer fight, we’ll take losses in both, so we need capacity in both,” Kelly said. “Our sustainment enterprise, and our weapon systems sustainment accounts, are designed for steady-state, often just-in-time logistics supply chains, and a ramp to a surge sustainment and supply capacity is a tough, very tough business.”

The Air Force operates sophisticated aircraft — especially low-observable fifth-generation fighters and bombers — that would be hard to replace quickly like aircraft used in World War II.

A T-1 Jayhawk, T-6 Texan II, and T-38 Talon training aircraft fly over Texas, May 17, 2018.

US Air Force/Senior Airman Moshe Paul

“It’s not like turning, for example, Ford’s Willow Run plant into B-24 factory, that, oh by the way, produced a bomber every 63 minutes in World War II, or turning a Packard plant to convert it to produce Merlin engines,” Kelly said. “It just doesn’t happen in today’s supply chains and high-tech manufacturing practices.”

Kelly and other Air Force officials have warned that the service’s air-to-air weapons haven’t kept pace with its advances in aircraft.

As a result, they say, those aircraft may have to get closer to their targets, exposing them to the increasingly advanced anti-aircraft weaponry that Russia and China are fielding.

“We will not get a good return on that investment of low-observable platforms if, due to weapons limitations, we have to push them into ranges where everyone is observable,” Kelly said.

Solutions

A Pilot Training Next student on a virtual-reality flight simulator at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Austin, Texas, February 5, 2019.

US Air Force/Sean M. Worrell

The Air Force has a number of initiatives underway to combat these problems.

It is reforming its selection and training processes in order to get more active pilots into aircraft more quickly without sacrificing quality.

A new program called “Undergraduate Pilot Training 2.5” includes realistic virtual-reality simulations aided by artificial intelligence as well as remote instruction to help new pilots get through initial training within seven months instead of a year. After that, those pilots can move on to training in the specific aircraft they will fly.

Nearly 200 pilots have graduated the new program since July 2020, and the program is expected to become standard across the Air Force by the end of 2022.

An immersive training device used to enhance undergraduate pilot training as part of the 2.5 training program, January 12, 2022.

US Air Force/Mary Crump

The Air Force is also trying to expand the pool of pilot candidates by decreasing the amount of flight experience needed, encouraging ROTC cadets and enlisted personnel to become pilots by giving them air and ground experience through flight simulators and aviation courses, and accelerating training for civilians with flight experience through the “Civil Path to Wings” program.

The Air Force is also seeking longer-range fifth-generation weapons for its fifth-generation aircraft to give them better chances against rivals with advanced weaponry.

“The short version is that we will enter a peer fight with the capability and the capacity in people, equipment, platforms, and resources that we have on hand and be very challenged, as every nation will be very challenged, to surge industry to meet the demands of consumption that a peer fight would bring,” Kelly said.

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News24.com | Thousands Protest in Madrid Against NATO Summit

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A crowd demonstrates against NATO.

Photo by Oscar Gonzalez/NurPhoto

Carrying the hammer and sickle flags of the former Soviet Union, thousands protested in Madrid on Sunday against a NATO summit which will take place in the Spanish capital next week.

Amid tight security, leaders of the member countries will meet in Madrid between 29-30 June as the organisation faces the unprecedented challenge of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is expected to consider the bid, opposed by alliance-member Turkey, for Finland and Sweden to join.

The Nordic nations applied in the wake of the Russian assault on Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls the war a special military operation he says in part responds to the accession to NATO of other countries near post-Soviet Russia’s borders since the 1990s.

READ | Biden said Putin’s goal of weakening NATO by invading Ukraine backfired spectacularly

“Tanks yes, but of beer with tapas,” sang demonstrators, who claimed an increase in defence spending in Europe urged by NATO was a threat to peace.

“I am fed up (with) this business of arms and killing people. The solution they propose is more arms and wars and we always pay for it. So, no NATO, no (army) bases, let the Americans go and leave us alone without wars and weapons,” said Concha Hoyos, a retired Madrid resident, told Reuters.

Another protester, Jaled, 29, said NATO was not the solution to the war in Ukraine.

Organisers claimed 5,000 people joined the march, but authorities in Madrid put the number at 2 200.

READ | Pandor says Finland’s bid to join NATO indicates a decline in international security

Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said in a newspaper interview published on Sunday that the summit would also focus on the threat from Europe’s southern flank in Africa, in which he said Russia posed a threat to Europe.

“The foreign ministers’ dinner on the 29th will be centred on the southern flank,” he told El Pais newspaper.

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News24.com | Turkey Police Break up Istanbul Pride March, Detain Dozens: AFP

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File image.

Hakan Akgun/dia images

Turkish police on Sunday forcibly intervened in a Pride march in Istanbul, detaining dozens of demonstrators and an AFP photographer, AFP journalists on the ground said.

The governor’s office had banned the march around Taksim square in the heart of Istanbul but protesters gathered nearby under heavy police presence earlier than scheduled.

Police detained protesters, loading them into buses. AFP journalists saw two buses of people who had been held, including AFP’s chief photographer Bulent Kilic, who had been handcuffed from the back.

Kilic, who was also detained last year during the Pride march, is currently in police custody.

Hundreds of protesters carrying rainbow flags pressed ahead with the rally in defiance of police.

Although homosexuality has been legal throughout the period of the modern Turkish republic, LGBTQ individuals point to regular harassment and abuse.

Istanbul Pride has taken place every year since 2003.

The last march which took place without a ban – in 2014 – drew tens of thousands of participants in one of the biggest LGBTQ events in the majority Muslim region.

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In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won’t be billed. 

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News24.com | NASA Blasts Off From Australian Outback in ‘historic’ Launch

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NASA’s first-ever launch from a commercial site outside of the United States blasted off from Australia’s Outback late Sunday, in a “historic” moment for the country’s space industry.

In the first of three planned launches from the Arnhem Space Centre, the rocket, carrying technology likened to a “mini Hubble” telescope, lifted off — blasted about 350 kilometres (218 miles) into the night sky.

“It is a momentous occasion for us as a company in particular, but it’s historic for Australia,” Equatorial Launch Australia CEO Michael Jones told AFP ahead of the lift-off.

Jones, whose company owns and operates the launch site in the far north of Australia, described it as a “coming out” party for the country’s space industry and said the chance to work with NASA was a milestone for commercial space firms in the country.

After a series of rain and wind delays, the suborbital sounding rocket soared into the sky to study x-rays emanating from the Alpha Centauri A and B systems.

After reaching its apogee, the rocket’s payload was to capture data on the star systems before parachuting back to earth.

READ | NASA is slowly powering down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 photos from its 45-year mission.

According to NASA, the launch offers a unique glimpse of the distant systems and unlocked fresh possibilities for scientists.

“We’re excited to be able to launch important science missions from the Southern Hemisphere and see targets that we can’t from the United States,” Nicky Fox, NASA’s Heliophysics Division director in Washington, said on announcing the mission.

Jones said the unique location had made preparations hard, with years of work to get regulatory approval and the need to haul rockets on barges to the launch site – about 28 hours drive from Darwin in northern Australia.

“I think for the team, it’s gonna be, you know, a huge relief that it’s done,” he said.

READ | ‘Giant leap forward’ – South Korea space rocket launch puts satellites in orbit

But with the next launch already looming on July 4, the break would be short-lived.

“We need to, you know, dust ourselves off, take a day off and then get back into it in readiness for the next launch because it’s just as important.”

It is the first NASA rocket to launch from Australia since 1995, and the project was hailed as the start of a “new era” for the country’s space industry by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

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