November 26, 2012
Credit: Credit: USAF Airman 1st Class Teresa Cleveland
Bill Sweetman London
The failure of so-called “fifth-generation” fighters, the F-22 and F-35, to arrive on time and on cost is having cascading effects throughout U.S. and allied fighter forces, ranging from fundamental changes in U.S. Air Force F-22 pilot training to accelerated upgrade and life-extension efforts for F-16s.
F-22 training has undergone “a dramatic change” recently, according to Maj. Gen. Larry Wells, commander of the U.S. Ninth Air Force. Wells now leads most of the service's F-22 force, with the transfer in October of Tyndall AFB's F-22 “schoolhouse” from Air Education and Training Command to the Ninth Air Force.
One of the major shifts is toward joint training with F-15s, F-16s and other non-stealthy assets. This is in recognition of the fact that sliding F-35 deliveries and the small number of F-22s—the Air Force's buy having been truncated in 2009 because of its high costs and to help fund the JSF—will mean the service will not have a majority-stealth tactical air force before 2030.
F-22 pilots are now training to operate in “sensor formation,” spread 10-15 nm apart, and to act as “quarterbacks” for Boeing F-15C/D fighters. “We used to operate the F-22s four to five miles apart—and as we ran out of weapons, the enemy kept coming,” Wells said at Defence IQ's International Fighter conference here this month.
One challenge in this role is that the F-22 “talks to itself very well,” Wells says. The fighter's intra-flight data link communicates only to other F-22s, “and it will be a long time before we have full interoperability.” Another presentation at the conference shows that the F-22 will be able to receive Link 16 data in 2014, with the fielding of Increment 3.2A upgrades, and send Link 16 data (location, identification and track data) in 2015 via an unspecified gateway system. Until then, the only means of communication from F-22s to other assets is voice radio.
In another change to training, Wells says, F-22 pilots routinely face simulated jamming and other problems. “Early on, we flew with full-up systems all the time. Today, it's the opposite. Every day, something is not available —it may be communications, it may be GPS.”
On the positive side, Wells says F-22 capabilities are improving, as are training standards. “We've been flying the F-22 like an F-15,” he says. At the same time, steps are being taken to prepare pilots better for the F-22. New pilots coming from T-38 training fly eight “high-performance lead-in” sorties in F-16s before taking on the Raptor because, Wells says, “we learned that pilots coming out of the T-38 on to the F-22 did not do well. That's something that nations buying the F-35 should consider.”