They are now known as combat systems officers, or CSOs, and in the future they will all be trained at NAS Pensacola, Fla., alongside their Navy and Marine Corps counterparts. The Air Force already merged most of the nav and EWO training, leaving just one month of the six-month program separate.
AETC trains them in all aspects of air missions. “They may go to B-52s or might go to C-130s, but they go through training side by side,” Deitschel said. The formerly specialized officers will “know a good portion of what the other guy is doing” through the exposure.
The CSO program will try to give all the nonpilot rated officers a better background, so they “will be more proficient on the different systems, throughout multiple airframes,” said Lt. Col. Samuel Lightfoot, CSO career field manager on the Air Staff.
The Air Force has had nonpilot flying officers for much of its history. Most of them have specialized in a particular skill, such as long-range navigation, or weapons delivery as bombardiers and radar-intercept officers, or as electronic warfare officers to counter the threat of radar guided weapons.
But technology now can handle most of the navigation and can make it easier for one person to handle multiple tasks.
The impact of technology, and the Air Force’s need to save money by reducing personnel, required a change.
Although Jumper wanted to improve command and promotion opportunities for the nonpilot aviators, career advancement can still be somewhat limited.
Part of the problem is “the sheer numbers,” he said. The Air Force has about three times as many pilots as CSOs. Furthermore, many aircraft do not have a navigator position, limiting the number of squadrons that a navigator could realistically command. The career field is contracting, but it is not entirely without command opportunities.
Navigators have also been filling many staff positions that offer leadership potential, owing to a longstanding shortage of midgrade pilots available to fill those spots. At least five of the Air Force’s current two-star generals rose through the ranks as navigators.
The move is possible because, of 179 training days, only 37 require something unique for the various specialties. A main issue now is that the Air Force has yet to come up with an Air Force specialty code for CSOs. “They’re still handling it as navigator and EWO,” Deitschel said.
The Air Force had a retention problem with navigators and EWOs in the late 1990s and offered a bonus to encourage them to stay in uniform.
The community, however, is still affected by its own “bathtub,” or shortage, in midgrade navigators. Similar to what had happened with pilots, this nav and EWO shortage emerged in the early 1990s when the Air Force downsized following the collapse of the Soviet Union, noted Tom Winslow, aircrew analyst on the Air Staff.
The demand is changing, however. Stand-alone navigators are “a dying breed with the advent of GPS,” Lightfoot said, and in many of the fighters the electronic suites are so advanced that “a lot of the things that the second person would be doing are automated.”
In terms of supply and demand, however, the numbers now are a much better match than they were, and the retention bonus has been terminated, Lightfoot added.
Lightfoot also noted that EWOs are helping to counter deadly improvised explosive devices in Iraq, creating what is in essence a new mission for electronic warfare officers.
Although the demographics may look bleak, the Air Force in the future will still need mission commanders with CSO skills, Bigger said.
At Randolph, the 562nd today gets most of its Air Force students fresh from commissioning. But before they start instruction with the squadron, they complete a 60-day initial flight screening program that gives them the basics of aeronautics and 20 hours of flight time in light aircraft. Most of that training is done in six private flight schools in the San Antonio area.
There is “a lot less” curriculum devoted to time-consuming log keeping and paperwork, Bigger explained, and students no longer learn celestial navigation.
The operational elements were added in late 2005.
At that point, the current training syllabus splits. One track is for students who will become electronic warfare specialists. Those who will serve as navigators in bombers or E-3 AWACS aircraft, tankers, or special mission variants of the C-135 and C-130s have their own program.
EWO trainees learn to identify and counter electronic threats in two T-43 flights and multiple sessions in the 563rd’s advanced EW simulators. Navigators are getting two flights and 12 simulator missions, learning basic low-level navigation, runs over a target, maneuvering around threats, and problem solving skills.
All the students then go through the final T-1 phase at the 99th Flying Training Squadron, also at Randolph. There they will fly three sorties in the T-1 Jayhawk and one in a simulator to learn the crew coordination and teamwork needed in operational squadrons.
Surprisingly, despite the consolidation at the Navy’s Pensacola air station, future training will not be more joint.
“We’re two separate training units,” Bigger added, and the move was mandated by the most recent BRAC commission, which saw an opportunity to “dramatically increase efficiency.”
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