United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program | Wikipedia audio article


The United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics
Instructor program (SFTI program), more popularly known as TOPGUN, teaches fighter and strike
tactics and techniques to selected naval aviators and naval flight officers, who return to their
operating units as surrogate instructors. It began as the United States Navy Fighter
Weapons School, established on 3 March 1969, at the former Naval Air Station Miramar in
San Diego, California. In 1996, the school was merged into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare
Center at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.==History=====
Genesis===In 1968, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral
Thomas Hinman Moorer ordered Captain Frank Ault to research the failings of the U.S.
air-to-air missiles used in combat in the skies over North Vietnam. Operation Rolling
Thunder, which lasted from 2 March 1965 to 1 November 1968, ultimately saw almost 1,000
U.S. aircraft losses in about one million sorties. Rolling Thunder became the Rorschach
test for the Navy and Air Force, which drew nearly opposite conclusions. The USAF concluded
that its air losses were primarily due to unobserved MiG attacks from the rear, and
were, therefore, a technology problem. The service responded by upgrading its F-4 Phantom
II fleet, installing an internal M61 Vulcan cannon (replacing the gun pods carried under
the aircraft’s belly by Air Force Phantom units, such as the 366th Fighter Wing), developing
improved airborne radar systems, and working to solve the targeting problems of the AIM-9
and AIM-7 air-to-air missiles. In May 1968, the Navy published the “Ault
Report”, which concluded that the problem stemmed from inadequate air-crew training
in air combat maneuvering (ACM). This was welcomed by the F-8 Crusader community, who
had been lobbying for an ACM training program ever since Rolling Thunder began. Among its
wide-ranging recommendations to improve air combat performance, the Ault Report recommended
that an “Advanced Fighter Weapons School” be established at Naval Air Station Miramar
to revive and disseminate community fighter expertise throughout the fleet. CNO Moorer
concurred.===Fighter Weapons School===
The United States Navy Fighter Weapons School was established on 3 March 1969, at Naval
Air Station Miramar, California. Placed under the control of the VF-121 “Pacemakers,” an
F-4 Phantom–equipped Replacement Air Group (RAG) unit, the new school received relatively
scant funding and resources. Its staff consisted of eight F-4 Phantom II instructors from VF-121
and one intelligence officer hand-picked by the school’s first officer-in-charge, Lieutenant
Commander Dan A. Pedersen, USN. Together, F-4 aviators Darrell Gary, Mel Holmes, Jim
Laing, John Nash, Jim Ruliffson, Jerry Sawatzky, J. C. Smith, Steve Smith, as well as Wayne
Hildebrand, a naval intelligence officer, built the Naval Fighter Weapons School syllabus
from scratch. To support their operations, they borrowed aircraft from its parent unit
and other Miramar-based units, such as composite squadron VC-7 and Fighter Squadron ONE TWO
SIX VF-126. The school’s first headquarters at Miramar was in a stolen modular trailer.
According to the 1973 command history of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, the unit’s purpose
was to “train fighter air crews at the graduate level in all aspects of fighter weapons systems
including tactics, techniques, procedures and doctrine. It serves to build a nucleus
of eminently knowledgeable fighter crews to construct, guide, and enhance weapons training
cycles and subsequent aircrew performance. This select group acts as the F-4 community’s
most operationally orientated weapons specialists. Topgun’s efforts are dedicated to the Navy’s
professional fighter crews, past, present and future.” Its objective was to develop,
refine, and teach aerial dogfight tactics and techniques to certain fleet air crews,
using the concept of dissimilar air combat training, or DACT, which uses stand-in aircraft
to realistically replicate expected enemy aircraft and is widely used in air arms the
world over. At that time, the predominant enemy aircraft were the Russian-built transonic
MiG-17 “Fresco” and the supersonic MiG-21 “Fishbed”.
Topgun initially operated the A-4 Skyhawk and borrowed USAF T-38 Talons to simulate
the flying characteristics of the MiG-17 and MiG-21, respectively. The school also used
Marine-crewed A-6 Intruders and USAF F-106 aircraft when available. Later, the T-38 was
replaced by the F-5E and F-5F Tiger II. One British writer claimed that the early
school was influenced by a group of a dozen flying instructors from the British Fleet
Air Arm who were assigned to Miramar as exchange pilots and served as instructors in VF-121.
A British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, declared in a 2009 headline, “American Top
Gun Fighter Pilot Academy Set Up by British.” However, the British naval pilots mentioned
in the article confirmed that the claim was false and that they had no role in creating
the curriculum and no access to the classified programs that the Topgun instructors participated
in to refine it. An earlier U.S. Navy air-to-air combat training program, the U.S. Navy Fleet
Air Gunnery Units, or FAGU, had provided air combat training for Naval Aviators from the
early 1950s until 1960. But a doctrinal shift, brought on by advances in missile, radar,
and fire control technology, contributed to the belief that the era of the classic dogfight
was over, leading to their disestablishment and a serious decline in U.S air-to-air combat
proficiency that became apparent during the Vietnam War. The pilots who were part of the
initial cadre of instructors at Topgun had experience as students from FAGU, but the
Topgun curriculum at Naval Air Station Miramar in 1968 was not of anyone’s creation but their
own. Air crews selected to attend the Topgun course
were chosen from front-line units. Upon graduating, these crews would return to their parent fleet
units to relay what they had learned to their fellow squadron mates—in essence becoming
instructors themselves. During the halt in the bombing campaign against
North Vietnam (in force from 1968 until the early 1970s), Topgun established itself as
a center of excellence in fighter doctrine, tactics, and training. By the time aerial
activity over the North resumed, most Navy squadrons had a Topgun graduate. According
to the USN, the results were dramatic. The Navy kill-to-loss ratio against the North
Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) MiGs soared from 3.7:1 (1965–1967) to 13:1 (after 1970),
while the Air Force, which had not implemented a similar training program, actually had its
kill ratio worsen for a time after the resumption of bombing, according to Benjamin Lambeth’s
The Transformation of American Airpower. The success of the U.S. Navy fighter crews
vindicated the fledgling DACT school’s existence and led to Topgun becoming a separate, fully
funded command in itself, with its own permanently assigned aviation, staffing, and infrastructural
assets. Topgun graduates who scored air-to-air kills over North Vietnam and returned to instruct
included Ronald E. “Mugs” McKeown and Jack Ensch. The first U.S. aces of the Vietnam
War, Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Willie Driscoll, received no official Topgun training, but
had, during F-4 training with VF-121, flown against Topgun instructors.
It was not until after the war in Vietnam ended that the Air Force initiated a robust
DACT program with dedicated aggressor squadrons. The Air Force also initiated a program to
replicate an aircrew’s first ten combat missions known as Red Flag, and the USAF Weapons School
also increased emphasis on DACT. The 1970s and 1980s brought the introduction
of the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet as the primary fleet fighter aircraft flown by
students, while Topgun instructors retained their A-4s and F-5s, but also added the F-16
Fighting Falcon to better simulate the threat presented by the Soviet Union’s new 4th-generation
MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ and Su-27 ‘Flanker’ fighters. However, the specially built F-16N developed
cracks in the airframe and was retired. Largely due to the end of the Cold War in
the 1990s, the Topgun syllabus was modified to include more emphasis on the air-to-ground
strike mission as a result of the expanding multi-mission taskings of the F-14 and F/A-18.
In addition, Topgun retired their A-4s and F-5s in favor of F-16s and F/A-18s in the
Aggressor Squadron.===Transfer to NSAWC===
In 1996, the transfer of NAS Miramar to the Marine Corps was coupled with the incorporation
of Topgun into the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC) at NAS Fallon, Nevada.In 2002,
the Navy began to receive 14 F-16A and B models from the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration
Center (AMARC) that were originally intended for Pakistan before being embargoed. These
aircraft (which are now designated F-16N/TF-16N) are operated by the Naval Strike and Air Warfare
Center (NSAWC) for adversary training and, like their F-16N predecessors, are painted
in exotic schemes. Topgun instructors currently fly the F/A-18A/B/C/D/E/F
Hornet and Super Hornet as well as the undelivered Pakistani F-16A/B Fighting Falcon.
In 2011, the Topgun program was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame
at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.==Course==Topgun conducts four “Power Projection” classes
a year. Each class lasts nine weeks and consists of nine Navy and Marine Corps strike fighter
aircraft—a mix of single-seat F/A-18Cs and Es, and two-seat F/A-18Ds and Fs. The Topgun
course is designed to train already experienced Navy and Marine Corps aircrews at the graduate
level (although it is currently not a regionally or nationally accredited educational program)
in all aspects of strike-fighter aircraft employment, which includes tactics, hardware,
techniques and the current world threat for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The
course includes eighty hours of lectures and twenty-five sorties that pit students against
Topgun instructors. When a pilot or WSO completes the Topgun course he/she will return as a
Training Officer carrying the latest tactical doctrine back to their operational squadron
or go directly to an FRS squadron to teach new aircrews. SFTIs can also become instructors
themselves at Topgun later in their career. Each year, a small number of aircrews do not
meet Topgun’s standards and are dropped from the course.
Topgun trains four to six Air Intercept Controllers in each class on advanced command, control,
and combat communication skills. They are completely integrated into the course and
participate in most of the training missions. These “AIC” students, some of whom are E-2C/D
Hawkeye Naval Flight Officers, go back to their Carrier Air Wings after graduation and
are given the responsibility of training all the air controllers and fighters in their
Carrier Strike Groups in the art of air intercept control.
Topgun also conducts an Adversary Training Course, flying with adversary aircrew from
each Navy and Marine Corps adversary squadron. These pilots receive individual instruction
in threat simulation, effective threat presentation, and adversary tactics. Topgun provides academics
and flight training to each Carrier Air Wing during their Integrated and Advanced Training
Phases (ITP/ATP) at NAS Fallon which are large scale exercises that can involve as many as
fifty aircraft. These large-scale exercises serve as “dress rehearsals” for future combat
scenarios. In addition to training crews, Topgun also conducts ground school courses
six times a year. The Training Officer Ground School (TOGS) offers graduate level academics
to Fleet aviators, adversary instructors and other officers and enlisted personnel.
Topgun holds a Strike-Fighter Tactics Refresher Course (also known as “Re-Blue”) once a year,
usually in the fall, bringing current fleet SFTIs back to Fallon for a two-day refresher,
updating Topgun’s recommendations. The Topgun course has changed over time. In
the 1970s, it was four weeks long; in the 1980s, five weeks. The final F-4 Phantoms
went through the class in March 1985, and the final F-14 Tomcats in October 2003. Programs
formerly run by Topgun that have been transferred to other commands or discontinued include
Fleet Air Superiority Training (FAST) and Hornet Fleet Air Superiority Training (HFAST):
coordinated programs of academics and simulators, training fighter pilots and WSOs in Maritime
Air Superiority in the carrier group arena.==See also==
Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (USN) United States Air Force Weapons School
Exercise Red Flag Tactics and Air Combat Defence Establishment
(India) Qualified Weapons Instructor (United Kingdom)==Popular culture==
Topgun was made famous by the 1986 motion picture Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.==Notes

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