While the U.S. Air Force has cut back on the
highly realistic air-to-air combat training, it has kept up realistic
bombing exercises. To this end, twice a year, the air force holds its
“Cope Thunder” exercises. There, pilots fly very realistic missions, as
much like what would be flown in actual combat as possible. While there
is some air-to-air training at Cope Thunder, the emphasis is on putting
together all the bombers, fighters, tankers and electronic warfare
aircraft needed for an assault on a prepared enemy.
force is less concerned about defeating enemy fighters, than it is in
dealing with increasingly dangerous anti-aircraft missiles (SAMs).
Russia, in particular, has been selling very effective SAM systems, and
Cope Thunder is a lot about how to deal with this particular Russian
menace. Russia has plenty of customers for its SAMs, because many
countries know that they would have to spend far more for warplanes to
match what the U.S. has, and then take years of expensive flying to get
pilots anywhere near the skill levels of American flyers.