A shortage of funds, pilots, and training time has forced the Pentagon to consider hiring private pilots to act as “bad guys” during combat mission training sessions for the U.S. military. The Pentagon has stated that they hope to outsource the jobs to private pilots in order to “free up” uniformed pilots to participate in real combat missions. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told Defense One that the decision is based on the budget for the upcoming year, stating:
“That is something that is actively under consideration, We have to see how the dollars and cents work out.”
The outsourced pilots would fill a role currently held by U.S. service members. The lack of funds, pilots, and training time has already had a staggering effect on military aircraft and their crews. Air planes that are supposed to fly for 6,000 hours are having their lifespans extended to 8,000 hours to accommodate the lack of new aircraft, Marines can be forced to wait up to 18 months for replacement parts when a integral part of an aircraft breaks, and time that should be spent practicing with aircraft has been reduced to extend the life of the machines.
The military has a long history of hiring outside contractors to fill roles and James, along with several other officials, believe replacing military pilots with private pilots will reduce the cost of training missions.
“Aggressor squads,” like those commanded by “Viper” and “Jester” in the iconic 1980’s film “Top Gun” perform combat moves used in Dogfights and bombing raids to simulate an enemy attack on pilots training for combat missions. The Pentagon hopes to use the private pilots in this aggressor role. Replacing military aggressor squads with private aggressor squads would significantly reduce the number of hours military planes spend in the air and will significantly extend the lifespan of military planes. The government hopes to stretch the budget by passing the “wear and tear” onto planes owned by private pilots and contractors.
The number of private companies with high-performance military aircraft capable is relatively small at the moment but the industry is growing. Russ Bartlett CEO and president of Textron Airborne Solutions is one of many companies trying to enter the industry. He told defense one:
“What we see out here is a growing interest and a growing need for outsourcing certain traditional military training tasks that [the Pentagon] used to always handle,”
Bartlett believes the industry should “double” in size by 2018. He believes the industry will transform from a multimillion dollar industry to a multibillion dollar industry in just two years.