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Readiness and the No-Fly Zone: Can We Have Both?


CSC 1997


Subject Area - National Military Strategy






Title: Readiness and the No-Fly Zone: Can We Have Both?


Author: Major David E. Ellis, United States Air Force


Thesis: Proficency and readiness of United States fighter crews suffer significantly as a result of ongoing enforcement of no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia.


Background: The air forces that performed so brilliantly in Desert Storm were a product of intensive training funded during the Cold War. Fighter crews flew more often and on missions dedicated solely to their training during the Cold War. Since Desert Storm the missions flown to enforce the no-fly zones are too benign to maintain individual flying skills. This erosion in pilot proficiency is directly related to the readiness of the force.


Recommendation: The United States Government should secure more training airspace in host nations and reduce the number of sorties flown in support of no-fly zones. The size of the deployed forces should remain steady in order to retain the ability to respond to regional crises. An alert force should be established to support the smaller number of missions flown in the no-fly zones while the remaining sorties are made available for more high intensity training missions in theatre.





Since the end of the Cold War, the size of the military forces of the United States has been significantly reduced while the operations tempo (OPSTEMPO) of these forces has increased considerably. Much has been written concerning the effects of these changes on the readiness of the military and its ability to support the current National Military Strategy.

During Desert Storm, the Air Forces of the allied coalition achieved the most lopsided victory in the history of airpower. The United States air forces played a major role in that victory. The capabilities of the force that fought in Desert Storm were a direct result of the intensive build-up and training efforts funded during the Cold War.

Since the end of Desert Storm the United States Air Force has reduced its force structure and funding for flying hours while increasing the number of deployments in support of contingency operations. In the post-Cold War era, the key to success for our military forces is to be able to spend time "...to deter war, resolve conflicts and promote peace..." while training to "... fight and win wars."[1] Much of the flying performed by the deployed aircrews manning the no-fly zones in Iraq and Bosnia is so benign that the proficiency level of aircrews is diminished rather than enhanced. When the next major regional conflict (MRC) rears its ugly head, the American people deserve to have the same caliber air force that fought in Desert Storm. If the OPSTEMPO continues along the current trend, the air force available for the next MRC will be significantly less capable than the force that was so successful in Desert Storm.



This author's personal experience includes time in an F-4 Phantom II Squadron during the Cold War (1986-88) and an F-16 Squadron (1991-94) participating in Operation Provide Comfort II and the early stages of Operation Deny Flight. During the Cold War, fighter crews flew more often and on missions dedicated solely to their training. Since Desert Storm, aircrews assigned to units enforcing the no-fly zones have been unable to maintain the same level of training. The missions flown to enforce the no-fly zones are, for the most part, valueless concerning individual flying skills. Pilots are unable to attain the same proficiency levels as their Cold War predecessors due to a lack of training sorties.

It would be irresponsible not to acknowledge the positive training opportunities that are associated with peacekeeping operations. Air Force fighter pilots are exposed to combined, joint and coalition operations and actual threats on a daily basis. They gain experience with live ordnance, international flight operations, deployment and redeployment of forces, and in many other areas they would otherwise not be regularly associated with.

There is no denying that today's military forces, as a whole, are deployed more often and are working harder than ever before. It is a fact that some services deploy more than the Air Force and some specialties within the Air Force deploy more than fighter pilots. United States Air Force "active strength has decreased 36 percent since 1988 [while] humanitarian/contingency operations [have] quadrupled" (see figure 1).[2] The following discussion will cover current effects of contingency operations on the flying proficiency of fighter pilots, specifically F-16 pilots, in the Air Combat Command (ACC). The effects on this small group can, generally, be considered similar to other fighter and flying units throughout the Air Force and in other services.


Figure 1. USAF Active Strength vs. Deployments

Source: HQ ACC Commander's Action Group, ACC OPSTEMPO Brief to ACC Commander, (Langley AFB, VA), 10 Jan 97, 2.


Measuring Readiness

The overall readiness of the fighter force is regularly measured through Status of Resources and Training Systems (SORTS) reporting by individual units. The unit SORTS report is a direct reflection of the proficiency levels of the pilots in that unit. Individual pilot proficiency is defined using graduated combat capability (GCC) levels A, B or C.

GCC level A is defined as "the minimum training required for pilots to be qualified and proficient in the primary operational capabilities of their weapons systems and capable of employing their system worldwide."[3] GCC level B includes the requirements of level A and pilots are "... additionally trained to support the specific units tasking(s) and/or specialized/collateral tasking requirements."[4] GCC level C is defined as "the training required for pilots who are qualified and proficient in the full operational capabilities of their weapons systems and can effectively meet all unit taskings."[5] Individual pilot GCC level is determined by the number of sorties and weapons and training events accomplished over a given training period. Table 1 contains typical sortie requirements for both inexperienced and experienced ACC F-16 pilots.



GCC Level


GCC Level


GCC Level


GCC Total




3-Month Look-back




1-Month Look-back




Table 1. ACC F-16 Pilots Annual GCC Sortie Requirements (Inexperienced/Experienced)


Source: Multi-Command Instruction (MCI) 11-F-16 Volume 1, Pilot Training - F-16, (Washington, DC: Department of the Air Force), 7.



Changing Standards

A typical fighter unit during the Cold War maintained the majority of its crews at GCC level C. The ACC goal for

F-16 units in 1997 is to have 70 percent of its pilots attain GCC level B.[6] This figure was arrived at by compromising between the minimum acceptable level of pilot proficiency and the increased OPSTEMPO today's units are forced to maintain.[7] Lower requirements could result in an unacceptable force and higher requirements might mean that the force can not fulfill its role in United States peacekeeping missions around the globe.

The main reason for this change in required proficiency is the maintenance of the no-fly zones over Iraq and Bosnia. A significant amount of flying hour dollars are diverted to finance these operations. The simple diversion of funds to protect the no-fly zones is not the only cause for the change in the quality of our Air Force. There are a number of other side-effects inherent in these operations.

Lost Proficiency

A real world operation should provide excellent training opportunities for fighter crews. For the majority of flights in support of Operation Provide Comfort and Operation Southern Watch this is not the case. A recent ACC F-16 Squadron Commander's assessment stated that the only training his pilots received was in tanker rendezvous and air-to-air refueling (AAR) procedures. According to the commander "5-10 minutes of training on a 3-4 hour sortie

[was] ... not nearly enough to maintain our skills over the span of the deployment."[8] This commander concluded that there were no opportunities to exercise any critical combat skills (See table 2 for detailed assessment).


Critical Combat Skills

Home Station

Training Exercises



LANTIRN Employment




Med Altitude Employment




Air Strike Control




4 Ship A/G Employment




4 Ship A/A Employment




Tactical Navigation




Maverick Employment








Table 2. Contingency Deployment Impact on Training Quality: F-16 Squadron Commander' Assessment (X = opportunity available to exercise specific skill)

Source: HQ ACC Commander's Action Group, ACC OPSTEMPO Brief to ACC Commander, (Langley AFB, VA), 10 Jan 97, 8.



Cost of Recurrency

If it is true that Air Force fighter crews will see reduced currency and proficiency in their weapons system while deployed to enforce the no-fly zones, then the next logical question would be what effect does this have on the overall health of the force. The simple truth is that most missions flown in the no-fly zones are spent circling the

area of responsibility (AOR) or manning combat air patrols (CAPs). The most challenging parts of the mission are takeoff, AAR, and landing. Combat mission skills such as basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) and Air Combat Tactics (ACT) are perishable and quickly atrophy in such an environment. As a result of these long deployments, F-16 pilots return home non-current and non-proficient in certain events.

The fighter operations training branch of ACC conducted a survey of F-16 units returning home from Operation Southern Watch. The results of this study show that, on average, it takes four sorties per pilot to regain lost currencies (minimum proficiency) and 15 sorties per pilot to regain a proficiency level that the squadron commander is comfortable with. This proficiency level is still less than that of the unit before it deployed.[9]

Using an average of 25 pilots per F-16 unit and an average of one and one-half hours per sortie at $1772 per F-16 flight hour, recurrency and proficiency training costs an F-16 Squadron $265,800. This training takes approximately two months at a GCC level A flying rate. The net effect is a five month bite out of the flying year which leaves the squadron at a proficiency level lower than it was prior to deployment.[10] A typical F-16 squadron completes one 90-day rotation per year.

Recognizing the limited value of missions flown in support of the no-fly zones, ACC does not consider these sorties as GCC "counters." That is to say, the sorties flown do not count toward a pilot's overall GCC level and the annual requirements are prorated to reflect a three month absence from tactical flying. For example, if an inexperienced F-16 pilot spent three months flying in support of Operation Southern Watch, to achieve GCC level B he would be required to fly only three-fourths (105 sorties, reference table 1) of the annual requirements for that level. Reporting him at GCC level B does not accurately reflect his actual proficiency level.


An average of 80 sorties per day and 23,000 sorties per year are flown in support of Operation Southern Watch alone.[11] The majority of these sorties are flown by United States aircraft and the duration of these missions is considerably longer than a typical training mission. A Southern Watch sortie might last three hours or more while a typical training mission lasts one to one and one half hours. These longer missions have the overall effect of accelerating the aging of the air fleet.

Additionally, longer missions increase costs by reducing the chronological time between required aircraft

maintenance functions while increasing consumption of spare parts. Missions are flown with live weapons which, for the most part, are not employed. Expensive precision guided munitions are repeatedly exposed to the g-loading, takeoffs and landings. These unplanned captive flights reduce munitions shelf life and ultimately reduce national stockpiles.


What's Being Done?

In the past year significant steps have been taken to track and combat the adverse effects of peacekeeping operations. The ACC Commander's Action Group (CAG) has completed several studies to examine the OPSTEMPO of different units and identify trends and particular units that are effected more than others. The ACC goal is to limit annual deployed duty to a maximum of 120 days per year. The command has achieved limited success in attaining this goal for certain specialties.

It is important to note that for services such as the Navy, deployed duty of over 120 days per year is routine. Equally important to point out is that the Navy works under a tiered readiness posture where there is always some portion of the force in a work-up phase, others forward deployed and still others in a stand-down phase. By

contrast, Air Force units are designed to be ready to deploy 365 days per year and require regular high intensity operations to maintain proficiency.

The ACC Operations Section has established procedures for tracking data concerning the OPSTEMPO of ACC units. Additionally, they have developed criteria and programs to employ the tracking data to more routinely identify units, and individual specialties that exceed the ACC desired OPSTEMPO. Identification is certainly the first step in the problem solving process.

The ACC Training Section has developed, and is testing, a new training program to replace the traditional GCC structure. The Ready Aircrew Program (RAP) is designed to make training missions more efficient by linking required sortie types more closely to unit operational and contingency tasking. The new program will also be more directly tied to SORTS reporting to provide commanders objective criteria for reporting readiness and "quantifiable impact to...[unit] capability and readiness ...due to program reduction and aircrew manning shortfalls."[12]

What Else Can Be Done?

ACC has attacked the problem from a OPSTEMPO perspective and is working toward an annual deployment goal in an attempt to spread the pain as evenly as possible.

While some members of the ACC Staff have recognized the difficulty in maintaining pilot proficiency and some progress has been made, this problem still remains largely unsolved. The effects of long-term deployments on individual flying skills, pilot proficiency and "real" readiness has not been addressed satisfactorily. Until senior Air Force leaders truly realize that long-term readiness of the fighter community is being diminished, no satisfactory solution will be achieved. When this realization takes place, what are the options?

The most obvious solution would be to simply provide fighter pilots more opportunities for better training in conjunction with peacekeeping operations. Some units do enjoy a positive training environment during contingency operations. The Air Expeditionary Forces (AEF) that have deployed in support of Operation Southern Watch have regularly employed large force packages executing simulated air strikes in the AOR. However, the AEF is unique and unlike the typical unit that deploys in support of the no-fly zones. The typical unit has extremely limited training opportunities.

Other solutions to the training problem might include regular large package training for all units involved in contingency operations. However, this is not a satisfactory

substitute for high intensity air-surface training and still does not solve the lack of basic air-to-air combat training. For these missions large sections of secure airspace are required. Undertaking such training while deployed would require international cooperation, reconfiguration of deployed aircraft and allocation of aircraft specifically for GCC training missions. If the airspace could be arranged, there is still the problem of changing the structure of the deployed force. More aircraft and pilots would be needed to adequately man the peacekeeping operation and rotate into normal training missions. This would simply compound the OPSTEMPO problem.

A possible alternative to deploying more aircraft and pilots would be to maintain the deployed force and reduce the number of missions flown in support of peacekeeping operations. This would make aircraft available for training missions but raises the question of whether the AOR can be adequately patrolled with fewer sorties.

Depending on the strategic outlook and perceived Iraqi intent, there is a given minimum aviation force that the National Command Authority would like to have forward deployed to respond to a developing crisis. An acceptable solution might be to deploy this force but significantly reduce the actual missions flown in the AORs of Northern and

Southern Watch. A representative number of missions would be launched to maintain presence in the AOR and preserve the infrastructure while placing a small number of additional aircraft on alert to respond to any immediate AOR violations or other minor crisis. This process would produce available aircraft for dedicated high intensity training.

If this arrangement could be established, then the door would be open for the establishment of permanent units in the region and a yearly rotation of personnel. Deployment costs would be dramatically reduced and corporate knowledge, continuity and performance significantly increased.


This discussion is certainly not meant to have presented all the possible answers. The objective has been to raise issues for discussion. ACC leadership is working hard on the periphery of this problem and keeping close track of which units deploy, and how much, in a sincere effort to lessen the heartache for all. The training shortfall varies for different units deployed to different locations. The available information is daunting, and every rock overturned yields enough data to fill an entire volume. The bottom line is that after six years in the Persian Gulf, it seems evident that these operations will continue for quite some time. There must be a better way. Whether it

is increased efforts to gain training opportunities in-country, making these forward locations permanent duty stations, reducing our forward presence or some combination of the above, the solution will take some aggressive maneuvering with strong civilian and military leadership.


[1] A Distinguished Speaker, Lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 22 Jan 97.


HQ ACC Commander's Action Group, ACC OPSTEMPO Brief to ACC Commander, (Langley AFB, VA), 10 Jan 97, 2.


MCI 11-F16 Volume 1, Pilot Training - F-16, (Langley AFB, VA: Air Combat Command (coordinating Major Command), 1 October 1994), 7.

[4] MCI 11-F16 Volume 1, 7.


MCI 11-F16 Volume 1, 7.

[6] MAJ Jeffrey Bell, Chief Fighter Operations Training Section/ Operations Training Branch/ Conventional Operations Training Division (ACC/DOTO), Telephone interview by author, 10 January 1997.

[7] MAJ Jeffrey Bell, 10 January 1997.


HQ ACC Commander's Action Group, ACC OPSTEMPO Brief to ACC Commander, (Langley AFB, VA), 10 Jan 97, 8.


MAJ Jeffrey Bell, 10 January 1997.


MAJ Jeffrey Bell, 10 January 1997.

[11] LTG Carl E. Franklin, USAF, Commander Ninth Air Force, Lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 24 Jan 97.

[12] Air Combat Command Training Section (DOTO), Bullet Background Paper On the Ready Aircrew Program (RAP), August 1996.
















Air Combat Command Training Section (DOTO), Bullet Background Paper On the Ready Aircrew Program (RAP), August 1996.


Bash, Brooks L., MAJ, USAF, The Role of United States Air Power in Peacekeeping. Air University Press, 1994.


Bell, MAJ Jeffrey , USAF, Chief Fighter Operations Training Section/ Operations Training Branch/ Conventional Operations Training Division (ACC/DOTO), Telephone interview by author, 10 January 1997.


A Distinguished Speaker, Lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 22 Jan 97.


Franklin, LTG Carl E., USAF, Commander Ninth Air Force, Lecture presented at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 24 Jan 97.


HQ ACC Commander's Action Group, ACC OPSTEMPO Brief to ACC Commander, (Langley AFB, VA), 10 Jan 97, 2.


MCI 11-F16 Volume 1, Pilot Training - F-16, (Langley AFB, VA: Air Combat Command (coordinating Major Command), 1 October 1994), 7.


Schultz, R. H., The Future of Air Power in the Aftermath of the Gulf War. Air University Press, 1995.


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