Attrition: Fighter Pilots Threatened On All Sides

Attrition: Fighter Pilots Threatened On All Sides, by James Dunnigan. We noted before that fighter pilots in Obama’s US are not receiving enough training, back to the level during the Carter administration. Now this:

Budgets shrank and, at least until 2013, fuel kept getting more expensive. This appeared to turn around in 2013, when flight hours per year fell to 120 hours for most pilots. That’s about half of what it was right after 2001. … But with it costing over $30,000 an hour to keep combat aircraft in the air many military budgets can’t handle it and neither better flight simulators or more air time in combat zones makes up for that.  …

In campaign after campaign [after WWII], the side with the fewer training hours per pilot, suffered the greatest losses. Now, unable to afford fuel for training, flight simulators are being used more frequently. These devices are becoming cheaper and more realistic, but research (mostly from training exercises, not actual combat) shows that each hour of simulator time is worth only about half or two-thirds of an hour in the air.

A bit of history:

The importance of flight hours was made clear during World War II (1939-45) when some nations simply didn’t have the fuel available for pilot training. They documented combat (and non-combat) losses increasing as training-hours-in-the-air declined. Nazi Germany’s warplanes began losing, big time, when they could no longer produce enough fuel to allow their trainee pilots sufficient time in the air.

This was a trend that had been ongoing since 1942. Up until that time new German pilots got 240 hours of flying time before entering combat. By comparison, British pilots only received 200 hours and Russian pilots even less. Germany ruled the skies. But in late 1942, Germany reduced training time to 205 hours. The British now had the fuel, and increased theirs to 340 hours, while the U.S. was providing 270 hours. In the Summer of 1943, the British increased flying time to 335 hours and the U.S. went to 320 hours. At the same time, the Germans reduced it to 170 hours. In 1944 the Germans were down to 110 hours, while the British were at 340 hours and the Americans at 360. The pilots with fewer flying hours got shot down more often and in turn were less likely to shoot anyone down.

The situation was the same in the Pacific, where increasingly effective U.S. submarine attacks sank so many Japanese tankers that there was not enough fuel available to train pilots.

In 1941, a Japanese pilot trainee 700 hours of flight time to qualify as a full-fledged pilot in the Imperial Navy, while his American counterpart needed only 305 hours. About half of the active duty pilots in the U.S. Navy in late 1941 had between 300 and 600 hours flying experience, a quarter between 600 and 1000 hours, and the balance more than 1000 hours. Most of these flight hours had been acquired in the last few years. But at the beginning of the war nearly 75 percent of the U.S. Navy’s pilots had fewer flying hours than did the least qualified of the Japanese Navy’s pilots.