The photo above, culled from a poorly written text jumble featured among the Air Force’s Byzantine maze of official websites, showcases something more common and more unfortunate than is commonly understood. When the Air Force wants to provide perceptual legitimacy for a stupid decision or a bad policy, it gathers highly regarded officers together in one place for a “workshop” or “conference” and takes photos of them interacting. The record of these interactions becomes the official story, lapped up by the masses who, seized with the indoctrinated belief that their leaders will always act honourably and rightly, think the “working group” actually steered a big decision … when it was really predetermined all along. Read the article and take measure of the general quality of the bullshit being put on the scale here.

The issue is the Air Force’s sudden urge to overhaul pilot training. Never mind that’s already been overhauled several times in the last quarter century, with the introduction of a two-track system, retirement of the T-37, integration of the T-1 and T-6, and the abolition of semi-fixed washout rates. Ask most veteran USAF pilots and they’ll tell you these changes have resulted in a much more raw finished product. Shaping lesser-trained graduate pilots into operators ready for the field has fallen to the weapon system formal training units, and over time this has turned those units into stress-addled salt mines where instructors see themselves less as finishers responsible for refining trained pilots into operational ones … and more as guardians on the last line of defense between an “everyone passes” training pipeline and an operational environment they know to be arduous and unforgiving.

In the immortal words of Flavor Flav, don’t believe the hype. The service is suddenly seized with the idea of radically changing pilot training not because it wants to innovate, increase quality, or update the existing model. It wants to change things for one simple reason: to create more pilots.

Over the course of the last 15 years, the Air Force has absolutely gutted its own pilot corps. The issues started with the Iraq War, which dialed up operational tempo, put pressure on training regimens, and forced pilots into non-flying jobs in increasing numbers. Squadrons proved they could absorb these pressures and still be excellent, which led to more abuse from the institutional level.

Then came the urge to draw the force down, and to make the operations community bear a “fair share” of the manpower burden. This led to absurd decisions to cut pilots from the force at a time when the operational bill for the USAF was at all time steep level and projected to get more and more expensive. The result of cutting loose hundreds of people who were qualified to sustain the service’s operational contribution was that those who remained behind picked up more than their fair share.

Then came the support cuts. The structure underpinning operations was dismantled at the altar of budget cuts, sparing tradespace that could be committed to favored weapons programs. Suddenly, pilots were acting as their own supporters, which not only took the fun out of flying, but reduced the overall capacity of flying squadrons to generate operational outcomes.

But the real bloodletting was more sustained, more subtle, more insidious, and ultimately more dangerous to the future of the USAF. The service gutted its own aviation culture, actively alienating people who joined the militant wing of the least militant service but found it wasn’t really the military. They were expected to hone killing skills and refine their control over the aggression inherent in exercising violence … without being permitted to express or expose a scintilla of aggressive feeling or thought.  Without the freedom to exhibit a combat culture — one that recognizes the valid role of risk-taking and independent judgment. The Air Force has become a service of rulebook-clutchers. Narrow-minded managers who care more about public relations than killing enemies. A cabal of bake sale organizers who believe wars can be won without cursing, kerosene, or bloodlust.

It’s an open joke that the service’s current state of disrepair is totally self-inflicted. The greater tragedy is that it was avoidable, and proceeded contrary to the warnings of just about everyone with a jot of common sense, to include Tony Carr and John Q. Public. For about four years, we did everything humanly possible to expose and counter the continual fuckery that fleeced, diminished, and endangered the service’s aviation enterprise. Much of said fuckery was perpetrated by flight suit wearers so bent on future weapons that they forgot to make sure they would be a fighting force to operate them.

The supposed refinement of pilot training is not just another stepping stone on the path to institutional ruin. It’s a leap toward the fiery demise of a once grand organization. In that demise will perish the basic defense of the United States, even if if this loss doesn’t immediately manifest in a security crisis. Our enemies will notice. They will lurk. They will wait for their moment, and then they’ll make us pay. These are the stakes attached to watering down the training of our most core and consequential airmen.

The Air Force exists to fly. Flying is done by pilots. This means expertly training pilots is something like the Air Force’s raison d’etre. If the service isn’t doing this, it has no business existing.

This has long been an assumption among true bluesuiters … not the shameless cake-eaters wedging a half-assed seven hours “work” into a duty day, but the grit-fueled sky warriors who love aviation and its role in national defense enough to ply its trades in spite of any headwinds — even those fanned by their own service. That having the best trained pilots in the world is the reason we have a dominant aviation and aerospace advantage over the rest of the world is uncontestable.

Which is why it’s grotesque and shocking that the service’s current leadership is poised to embrace the worst idea since the ShamWow and energetically apply it at the strategic level — first masking it in Putin-esque propaganda. The idea that if we need to make more pilots, we should just give them less training. This is so stupid it burns.

But it’s happening. And in the current accountability-free environment, nothing will stop it from happening. The Air Force is poised to remove sorties and requirements from the T-6 and T-38 syllabi, pushing professional training onto the operational force. This is a grave error. When an Air Force pilot dons wings, it should and heretofore always been a beaming signal to the world that a killer capable of crushing enemies with little more than a rapid top-off was just created.

We don’t need an overgrown pasture of teletubbies frolicking in planning cells as they await sufficient training to entitle them to combat domination.

We need a force of aviators with knives in their teeth ready to stab enemies who dare test us straight through the spine … with aviation as their implement of choice.

I haven’t been this disappointed in the Air Force in longer than I can recall. I thought the current leadership had a grip. I thought they understood priorities. I thought they’d behave honestly.

Ever thus to misguided idealists.

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