Support: Indian Top Gun Training Turns Towards China


July 13, 2010: India is replacing its MiG-27s with Su-30s at TACDE (Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment). TACDE develops new air combat tactics and trains pilots to deal with potential enemies. TACDE was established in 1971, to train the top one percent of fighter pilots, who would then spread what they learned from each other, to all the other pilots. Two years earlier, the U.S. Navy had established the original "Top Gun" training program. This used American aircraft for "aggressor (or dissimilar) training." This was in response to the poor performance of its pilots against North Vietnamese pilots flying Russian fighters. What made the Top Gun operation different was that the training emphasized how the enemy aircraft and pilots operated. This was called "dissimilar training". In the past, American pilots practiced against American pilots, with everyone flying American aircraft and using American tactics. It worked in World War II, because the enemy pilots were not getting a lot of practice and were using similar aircraft and tactics anyway. Most importantly, there was a lot of aerial combat going on, providing ample opportunity for on- the- job training. Not so in Vietnam, where the quite different, Russian-trained, North Vietnamese were giving U.S. aviators an awful time. The four week Top Gun program solved the problem. The air force followed shortly with its similar Red Flag school.

In 1976, Pakistan established a similar school. TACDE was initially created to cope with Pakistani air power, which was why MiG-21s and 27s have long been used to represent foreign aircraft. But now the most troublesome foe in the air is seen as China, where the top aircraft are, as in India, Su-30s.

Over the last thirty years, the concept of "dissimilar training" has changed. The U.S. Navy kept Top Gun as a program to hone fighter pilot's combat skills, as has TACDE. But the U.S. Air Force made their Red Flag program more elaborate, bringing in the many different types of aircraft involved in combat missions (especially electronic warfare.)

After the Cold War ended, it became increasingly obvious that none of America's potential enemies was providing their fighter pilots with much training at all. In other words, the dissimilar training for U.S. fighter pilots was not as crucial as it had been during the Cold War. Actually, it had been noted that flying skills of Soviet pilots was declining in the 1980s, as economic problems in the USSR caused cuts in flying time. During that period, American pilots were actually increasing their flying time. Moreover, U.S. flight simulators were getting better. American pilots were finding that even the game-oriented combat flight simulators had some training value.

So in the late 1990s, Top Gun and Red Flag found their budgets cut. But the programs remain, as does the memory of why they were set up in the first place. Since then, China went on to improve its combat aviation, giving its fighter pilots more flying time. Meanwhile, Chinese politicians maintained a bellicose attitude towards the U.S. and India. Now the Chinese have introduced "dissimilar training," causing the U.S. Top Gun and Red Flag schools, as well as TACDE, to get more resources. The Chinese move is certainly a very meaningful one, as it shows that they are serious about preparing their pilots to fight, and defeat Indian, Taiwanese and American pilots. Dissimilar training is how that is done.



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