This article was submitted by an active duty Air Force field grade officer with considerable expertise in the issues discussed. Anonymity is maintained because publicly questioning policies involving general officers makes reprisal all but a foregone conclusion in today’s Air Force.
While the much-maligned F-35’s back-breaking ejection seat, spontaneous engine combustibility, and budget busting cost overruns are well documented and in fact no one even knows if it’ll do the job for which it is being fielded, one area remains unexplored and unexposed: generals being trained as F-35 pilots.
While some would argue the “cost” is lower to train an F-35 pilot than an F-16 pilot, for instance because the training window is 25% shorter and requires only 1/3 of the required flights, the cost is still significant. The main question posed to you in reading this article: should general officers (GOs) be flying the F-35?
Pilot Training Cost
First, the costs to train a pilot must be identified. Below is a rough break-down:
Per Diem lodging: $13,500 = $75/night x 180 nights (6 months in Eglin’s large DV quarters)
Per Diem meals: $6,210 = $46/day x .75 x 180 (includes flat rate TDY adjustment; assumes no meals provided—could a GO be paid lower per diem to eat in a dining facility?)
Flight time: $1,248,000 = 39 flights x 1.0 hour/sortie x $32,000/flight hour (low conservative estimate of 1.0 hour sorties)
Simulator time: $61,000 = 61 events x 1.0 x $1,000/simulator hour (estimated but probably VERY low)
Uncaptured tangible costs: airfare, rental car/government vehicle/gas, etc.
Uncaptured intangible costs: productivity loss of GO not at work for 6 months, cost of not training a younger pilot needed for testing/combat, cost of other pilots unable to use the simulator so the GO can, etc.
The Air Force has at least two generals inducted in the prestigious F-35 pilot cadre at a conservative price tag of over $1.3M each: Maj Gen Silveria (Commander of the United States Air Force Warfare Center) and Brig Gen Pleus (Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing).
In evaluating the proposition that the cost was not worth the benefit in training Generals to fly the F-35, a series of questions are posited for readers to answer themselves. This series of ponderings expands into the area of what GOs should and should not do, and touches on the entitlement culture that allows those in the senior ranks to follow their whims and do whatever they want, regardless of cost. In some cases below, the obvious answer will follow the question.
Consider first Maj Gen Silveria, Commander of the United States Air Force Warfare Center. He commands a diverse organization responsible for testing, tactics development, and training relating to a variety of weapons systems.
Q: Is he training for combat or will he ever employ the F-35 in combat?
Q: Is he personally developing tactics, techniques and procedures for F-35 employment?
Q: If yes to above, should he be? Or should that follow to subordinates of much lower rank?
Q: As a Numbered Air Force equivalent Commander, does he and/or should he have the time to fly the F-35 proficiently?
Q: Are the significant tangible costs (actual costs to fly such as fuel, flight hour, parts, etc.) and the intangible costs (lost work time, impact of someone who really needs to fly the F-35 who can’t be the general is flying, etc.) worth it?
Q: What are the costs of remaining current to capitalize on the initial $1.3M+ investment of achieving F-35 pilot status?
Q: What are the possible benefits of, and/or reasons for, having this commander certified to fly the F-35?
A: Um … maybe so that he would have an understanding of the aerial combat beyond his previous experience and which could not be gained via simulator rides, which would be used in directing subordinates in devises F-35 uses. However, he has overseen MQ-1 tactics/training without being a certified Sensor Operator or Pilot, E-3 integration without being a certified Air Battle Manager, and Space/Missile TTPs without being certified to fly a satellite or launch a missile.
Q: Would your grandmother write a check voluntarily so that a GO, who in theory has or should have a significant day job, could take time away to fly the F-35?
Now consider the case of Brig Gen Scott L. Pleus, Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing. His wing is responsible for training F-16 and F-35 pilots.
Q: Is he an Instructor Pilot in the F-35? If not, why is he flying the F-35 in this Wing? If so, why is he an instructor?
Q: Is it the role of a training-designated Fighter Wing Commander to actually instruct in the airframe? Should it be?
Q: If yes to above, is the Wing Commander also certified to drive and/or instruct in a 10K forklift, bomb lifts, or fire trucks? All would be much cheaper and allow more access to more members of his command.
Q: What is the cost and time commitment of remaining current? What students and/or instructors are not flying in lieu of the Wing Commander?
Q: What Wing Commander-type stuff isn’t getting done because the Commander flies?
Who actually approved these generals to fly the F-35 and why? Was it positively determined to be worth it? Were they “entitled” to do so by a senior leader “entitlement culture”? How does this fit within the Secretary of the Air Force’s insistence that “Every Dollar Counts?”
Regardless of whether you agree that GOs flying the F-35 is wasteful, we can all agree on the cost of GO F-35 boondoggles for zero operational return: PRICELESS.
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