Support: August 7, 2003

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The U.S. is facing a severe shortage of combat pilots, the U.S. Navy alone is short 30 percent of the 10,000 pilots it is supposed to have. Moreover, the Department of Defense is obliged to provide training for pilots of friendly foreign nations (training their pilots is one way to keep them friendly) and that just adds to the shortage. A solution has appeared out of nowhere as a private group of retired air force and navy pilots have bought 30 retired A-4 aircraft from Israel and New Zealand and reconditioned them to serve as trainers, and "aggressor" aircraft for combat flight training. That serves another important need, the decline in aggressor training in the air force and navy over the past decade. Budget cuts and the demise of the Soviet Union made it seem reasonable to drop the aggressor training. But this was what got the air force and navy into trouble before the Vietnam war. The navy soon established "Top Gun" training (followed by the air force "Red Flag" program) to train American pilots against aircraft operating as enemy warplanes would. This greatly increased the effectiveness of American combat pilots in Vietnam, and for two decades after that. The new firm is called Advanced Training Systems International (ATSI), and they already have a number of foreign clients lined up, and the Department of Defense has noted that ATSI could solve some problems for them as well. Since the Department of Defense is preaching outsourcing, and having civilian firms do military flight training is something the United States used early in World War II, it's an idea that might work. It will take a few years to determine if ATSI is a workable concept, or just another bright idea.

 


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