Document created: 15 October 2003
Air University Review, November-December 1974
As Headquarters USAF leaders shape the Air Force for the time frame of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), the B-1, F-15, and A-10, they face many serious problems. That they will be equal to the task is unquestioned; however, to solve the problems, they need to know what the problems are. Flight simulation is one. Simulation is creating a problem about which little awareness has been demonstrated, principally because we appear to be on track.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) has issued its long-awaited report on the use of flight simulators by the Department of Defense.1 The Air Force was reported to be well ahead of the other services in planning for effective use of simulators. Nonetheless, we need to look closely at the impact of what was said. The GAO report recommended that the Air Force and Navy:
. . . use simulators as much as possible to reach [Flying Training Squadrons’] and maintain [Combat Flying Units’] proficiency, including . . . evaluation of pilot proficiency.2
The report also developed in great detail that 25 percent of Air Force flight time for bombers and fighters could be replaced by simulator hours, which could save about $300,000,000 annually. A 50 percent substitution would save about $620,000,000.3
The problem that results from all this is rooted in the difference between how both DOD and the GAO perceive simulation and how simulation can, in practice, be applied. Among the various mission areas, the greatest difference in perception lies generally in the area of tactical air power and specifically in the realm of continuation training in combat units.
Let’s turn back the clock and see how we got where we are today. First, simulation became an active subject within the USAF in early 1970 when General John D. Ryan, then Chief of Staff, sent a letter on simulation to Aerospace Defense Command (ADC), Air Training Command (ATC), Military Airlift Command (MAC), Tactical Air Command (TAC), and Strategic Air Command (SAC). In that letter he outlined some training principles used by the airlines that he would like to see incorporated into command flying training programs:
1. Insure that each course is
structured to contain precisely the training required.
2. Give only training appropriate to the individual.
3. Measure training on proficiency, not on course length.
4. When a skill is particularly difficult, seek ways to alter the task to make it easier.4
He was clearly discussing the formal flying training courses listed in Air Force Manual 50-5, USAF Formal Schools Catalog. Later, in 1970, a USAF Policy Letter on Systems Approach to Training (SAT) was sent to all major commands. This letter explained SAT as a technique for management of training that could lead to significant economies. Application of the SAT technique called for the selection of the right hardware and software and appropriate training.5 The objective of SAT was to assure incorporation of the airline training principles. The stated SAT policy provides that:
1. At Hq USAF, the Directorate of
Personnel Training, DCS/Personnel, would promote the use of SAT in the major
2. SAT would be applied to all new training systems.
3. SAT would be selectively applied to existing education and training systems.6
During the next couple of years, the training course words fell by the wayside, and all-inclusive words began to come to the fore, such as “Incremental plans are needed which apply SAT to our flying training programs.”7 The flying training course emphasis had disappeared. What seemed to emerge was a general feeling that, because we did some of our training with simulators, the cheaper simulator hours could be traded on a one-for-one basis with the more expensive actual flying hours.
where we are today
We are currently at a critical decision time that requires some backpedaling. Let’s look at the situation.
First, simulation on the scale that we are considering is currently being used in the training of airline crews. While some airline pilots fly the simulators for training and proficiency, other airline pilots fly all the airplanes available in passenger and cargo revenue-generating operations. The alternative to this is to take aircraft out of revenue operations and use them for pilot training. Therefore, simulators are an economically wise choice for the airlines. The Air Force became interested for the same economic reason. Simulation was seen as a concept for savings.
It was obvious from the start that any savings would have to come from reduced flying hours and the concomitant economies. Flying-hour costs are comprised of petroleum, oil, and lubricants; spares; maintenance manpower costs in man-hours and overhead. For example, flying-hour costs are $1473 for a B-52 and $853 for an F-4.8 Obviously, with simple flying-hour cost calculations, if 50 percent of a 200,000-hour B-52 flying program could be accomplished by simulation, $148 million would be saved. More complex and comprehensive calculations could yield different savings; however, savings would always result. A similar application can be made to fighter missions.
Upon critical examination of this simple and desirable alternative, some interesting facts become apparent. A most important fact is that flying-hour costs are high principally because of the manpower required to generate a flying hour. This fact is important because it gives a clue as to where large savings are possible.
For instance, in a Combat Crew Training School (CCTS), where the unit product is a trained pilot, effective simulation can produce direct flying-hour trade-offs. But, as we look at the combat mission units, it begins to be less clear.
Take the strategic bomber mission as an example. If we decide to produce the fatigue of long missions by simulators and then allow crews to fly a short bomb run, we could perhaps save 50 percent of our currently expended flying hours. This would, in gross terms, tell us to reduce our maintenance manpower by 50 percent, and we would have to do so if the advertised savings were to be realized. Now, we could probably stand some reduction so long as sufficient manpower was retained to generate the force in support of war plans. And, in the case of strategic bombers, training mission sorties probably exceed wartime mission sorties.
The same kind of logic applies to strategic defense. Wartime mission requirements are probably less than training requirements. To the extent that this is so, full flying-hour-cost trade-offs can be realized through quality simulation. However, manpower can be reduced only to the point where wartime and peacetime mission requirements meet. And it is precisely at this point that flying-hour costs must increase to account for more maintenance manpower spread over a smaller flying-hour program. Incidentally, no one seems to know really where that point is, and it doesn’t appear that anyone is searching for it. It might be an interesting search, since manpower and programming actions deal in flying hours, and wartime requirements are in sorties that must be generated from an unknown posture at an unknown time.
Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that some savings are possible by effective use of simulation, especially in formal training courses and in airlift and strategic mission areas. However, the savings expected from simulation in tactical mission units portend a potentially serious dilution of air power. We have now reached the point where the record must be set straight—even at the expense of some credibility—or we must prepare to manage significantly different tactical fighter forces in the future.
Unlike the other mission forces, tactical fighter forces have a wartime sortie rate that is greater than the peacetime flying-hour program. Likewise, maintenance manning is based on wartime requirements that preclude making the manpower reductions explicit in a simulation concept focused on savings—savings tied directly to peacetime flying-hour costs. If savings were to be directed by DOD for economic reasons, serious dilution of tactical air power would occur.
Where, then, does simulation fit into the scheme of things for tactical mission forces?
simulation and tactical fighter forces
To answer that question, we need to examine the mission(s), pilot and ground support skills, and future fighter aircraft. The examination need not include CCTS’s where full simulation application and savings are appropriate—assuming they are not assigned a contingency combat mission.
The mission of tactical air forces is widely known:
Tactical air forces are organized, equipped and trained to conduct sustained air operations aimed at destruction or neutralization of enemy forces.9
Tactical aircrews and ground crews together shape the weapon system continuum; however, they do have markedly different but equally important functions.
Tactical aircrews are currently assigned an almost impossible complement of mission tasks. They are expected to be expert air-to-ground bombers and skilled air-to-air tacticians. The myriad of training events for F-4 crews is enough to tell even the less-than-realistic manager that skills will be diluted by weather, ranges, maintenance problems, etc. This is the clue to simulation for today’s tactical forces. Simulation should be viewed as supplementary training aimed at maintaining aircrew skills, which tend to be diluted through diversity of tasks and a wartime mission effort that is greater than the peacetime flying program.
Ground maintenance personnel of tactical forces are the same breed of technical specialist used throughout the Air Force. Although training requirements for aircrews could justify a larger peacetime flying program, this program naturally remains less than the seven-days-a-week program required to support the higher wartime mission sortie rate.
Since the ground maintenance personnel assigned to tactical fighter units are at the minimum level necessary to support the specified wartime sortie rate, flying-hour reductions cannot include the manpower component when calculating anticipated savings. Therefore, the manpower savings explicit in current simulator/flying-hour trade-off philosophy cannot be realized without degrading combat capability. In addition to the mission, pilots, and ground crews, our future aircraft, principally the F-15 and A-IO, need to be surveyed. In keeping with the capacity of pilots to master skills, we will be back to a concept of air-to-air fighter pilots and air-to-ground attack pilots, both essential to accomplishment of the tactical mission. Once more we will be in a position to give aircrews and ground crews adequate training to maintain mission skills sufficient to assure success in combat. Even so, these new aircraft with computer-interfaced weapon delivery systems should be easily simulated, and mission enhancement should be possible.
Let’s look again at the question of how simulation should fit into the scheme of things for tactical fighter forces. First, it should be considered additive to enhance skills, not a trade-off. Likewise, this view needs to be immediately and clearly articulated to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Congress. Moreover, if sources outside the Air Force persist in legislating or directing flying-hour reductions in favor of simulation, they need to understand clearly that the flying-hour savings will be small because the manpower component of the flying-hour costs, which is required to support the combat mission, cannot be reduced. As a matter of fact, constant manpower spread over a smaller flying program would have the undesirable effect of increasing USAF flying-hour costs for tactical fighter aircraft.
If carried to its logical economic conclusion, the concept of simulation for savings through flying-hour trade-off presents a clear and present danger to the future of USAF tactical air power. It moves us toward the position where our wartime mission capability will approximate our peacetime flying program, and you can’t defeat the enemy with a simulator.
Air War College
1. “Greater Use of Flight Simulators in Military Pilot Training Can Decrease Costs and Increase Pilot Proficiency,” A Report to Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States, 9 August 1973 (hereafter cited as Comptroller General’s Report).
2. Ibid., p. 3.
3. Ibid., Appendix I, p. 23.
4. “Flying Training Efficiency,” a letter from CSAF to ADC, ATC, MAC, TAC, and SAC, 2 February 1970.
5. “USAF Policy on the Systems Approach to Training (SAT),” an AF/DPTBD letter to all MAJCOMS. 13 November 1970.
6. Ibid., para 4.
7. “Systems Approach to Training,” a letter from CSAF to ADC, 2 February 1972.
8. Comptroller General’s Report, p. 16.
9. AFM 2-1, Tactical Air Operations, 2 May 1969, para 1-1.
Colonel Harry A. Goodall (M.S.B.A., George Washington University; M.P.A., Auburn University) is Commander, 8th Combat Support Group, Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand. He has flown F-102s and F-106s at Selfridge and McChord and from Clark AB, Philippines, where he completed 213 combat missions, 42 over North Vietnam. He has served as an air operations staff officer and Chief, Fighter Branch, DCS/P&O, Hq USAF. Colonel Goodall is a graduate of Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.