The USN Combat Learning Cycle: Prepare An Air Wing For Deployment While Supporting One Deployed


2014-10-28 By Robbin Laird and Ed Timperlake

Training is crucial to combat success.

As Admiral Nimitz confronted the last century’s challenges he concluded a core lesson for this century’s Pacific warriors:

“Having confronted the Imperial Japanese Navy’s skill, energy, persistence, and courage, Nimitz identified the key to victory: ‘training, TRAINING and M-O-R-E  T-R-A-I-N-I-N-G.’ as quoted in Neptunes’s Inferno, The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (James D. Hornfischer)”

The budgetary pressures on training will only impede combat success and put warriors at needless risk.

It is hard enough to fight and win; it is even more difficult when training gets cut to the bone and threatens to take away a core combat advantage which a well trained force has compared to opponents who are not as well trained.

It is also the case that the pilots and maintainers of today’s and tomorrow’s force are flying more complex aircraft, and in the case of the Navy Super Hornets and then F-35Cs.

This requires significant proficiencies, which go beyond simply being a competent “flyer” of an airplane; pilots are becoming key C2, ISR and strike assets all in one.

Clearly, training is crucial to dealing with the growth in complexity.

As General Hostage, the Commander of ACC, put it into a recent interview with us:

What we’re asking a young lieutenant to do in her first two or three years as a fighter pilot is so far beyond what they asked me to do in my first two to three years, it’s almost embarrassing.

The things we require of her, the things she has to be able to do, the complexity of the system that she operates are so much more taxing, and yet, they make it look easy.  They’re really, really good.

Training, training, training comes to mind as a requirement for dealing with today’s and the coming air systems which are managed by the fighter combat managers in their cockpits.

It is also the case that politicians are requiring the execution of stringent Rules of Engagement for pilots in combat; this can only demand more training, not less.

The importance of training and its role in preparing a carrier strike package for see was highlighted in a recent interview with CDR (S) Jayson “Plato” Eurick, current Air Wing Training Officer, at Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center, Fallon Naval Air Station.

During our visit to Fallon, it became very clear that the term training can confuse more than clarify.

Training sounds a bit like a nice to have preparatory drill, rather than what it is for the air power community – the shaping of core instincts for competent execution of missions.

Air Wing Training Slide from NSAWC Command Brief, July 2014
Air Wing Training Slide from NSAWC Command Brief, July 2014

Plato put it well:

Training can be conveyed in a couple different ways, depending how you look at it. 

The way we try to teach training is we work to the end state.

What is the end state right now? 

For example, we have an air wing that’s coming through Air Wing Fallon here starting Monday.

They’re coming here for their four-week exercise. 

In our training, we will convey to the air wing the importance of training, and that is not just daily routine training, I’m doing this, I’m doing that.

You are doing that training for a certain reason. 

In this case look at what the USS Bush is doing. 

That is what we will convey, the overall end state of what the training is going to eventually lead to.

And the mention of the USS Bush is not by accident.


Cdr. "Plato" Eurick after the SLD interview. Credit: SLD
Cdr. “Plato” Eurick after the SLD interview. Credit: SLD

What we learned from Plato was that the CAG on the USS Bush is in daily contact with Fallon to both provide input with regard to operations and their impact on preparing the next air wing out as well as to get help when needed with regard to altering tactics and training WHILE on deployment.

We discussed at greater length with the Commander of Fallon, Admiral Scott Conn and will circle back to this core point in that forthcoming interview.

Training is about getting ready for deployment and supporting deployment, which is certainly a broad concept of training.

We ensure that they (the air wing) get up to speed on all of the information that is currently taking place in theater. 

We don’t train Air Wing Fallon for a specific theater or country, we give them a broad brushed training, but we ensure that they get the information that is coming directly back from the guys overseas, in this case, the USS Bush.

 And then we train them.

Question: You have described the CAG talking regularly with Fallon.  Is this largely a one-way transmission?

Plato: “It is highly interactive. It is daily.  And we provide inputs when asked to improve tactics and training for ongoing operations.”

What Plato highlighted was that his team worked at the end of the workup cycle where the various elements of the air wing come together and prepare to execute the complex ballet at sea which is what a carrier air wing has to do to be successful.  After a four week training period, the air wing then goes to its at sea pre deployment exercise and then on to deployment.

So Plato and his team are at the end of the preparatory cycle, so the ability to input the latest operational information is central to mission success.

A key element of the discussion with CDR Eurick was about the central importance of the training officer aboard a carrier.

Pilots are coming in throughout the period of deployment and the training officer is focused on the integration of the pilots cycling through into an integrated airwing.

The various components of the air wing train to the ARP (Advanced Readiness Program) prior to coming to work with Plato and his team.

The entire air wing comes to Fallon for what’s known as Air Wing Fallon Detachment. 

That’s four weeks long, and that’s the program that I run and coordinate.

When they come here to Air Wing Fallon, this is the last real opportunity for the air wing to prepare for their sea deployment. 

And this is both the first opportunity, and the last opportunity for the air wing to integrate and work together without the other strike group assets. 

Up until this point, they’ve been working as five or six different units of excellence with regard to their respective platforms.

Question: How do you structure the four-week cycle?


We start out week 1 and 2 which is kind of like the first quarter, second quarter, we’re getting the flow, feeling the other team out, and what we’re going to do. 

We train the air wing on basic integration. 

We teach these nine squadrons how to operate together as an air wing. 

And it’s a learning process.

And now as we head into our week 3 and 4, basically, second half, we incorporate all of those lessons learned that have come back from overseas and theater. 

For example, we incorporate lessons learned from the air wing deployed on the USS Bush and what they are telling us they are seeing over there, what they are doing. 

We also seek feedback on what they were deficient in, and what they were very good at.

Question: When the four weeks are over, you then provide your evaluation to the CAG?


We do.

After every phase, what I referred to as the first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, I as the air wing training officer, we get in a room with CAG, DCAG, NSAWC admiral, the deputy commanders here, the skipper here, Proton (CAPT (S) Kevin “Proton” McLaughlin, outgoing STRIKE CO, previous TOPGUN), all squadron COs and XOs, and I give them a phase debrief at the end of each one of their phases.

We tell them, here’s the areas where you’re good, but more importantly, here’s where you’re deficient.

This is where you need to focus further attention.

And then at the very end of the detachment, we’ll do a final debrief, and we’ll tell CAG, here’s where you guys are solid in the air wing, keep it up. 

But here’s where you’re deficient, and this is what’s going on in theater, if you’re deficient in some of these areas, you need to focus your training on your integrated exercises, during COMPTUEX, focus in these areas because these are going to be your critical areas of concern when you go out on deployment in three months.

We will provide CAG with evaluation data throughout the Air Wing Fallon process.

Here are the targets you had assigned, and how many targets you actually destroyed. 

These are the weapons you employed. 

This is why you didn’t hit the target.

So we give CAG the information, and just tell him the areas NSAWC thinks that they’re deficient and need to work on, and then we let CAG make his own decision on how they did during Air Wing Fallon.

Question: Obviously training as we are discussing it here – the end state of going into preparation for combat – is crucial to mission success. 

How do shortfalls like reduced flight hours affect the process?


The guy who has been on combat deployment for nine months is comfortable because he’s been doing carrier operations. 

The guy that has very little flight hours or flight time over the last six months during the first month or two of deployment, he’s not very comfortable doing carrier operations. 

And it definitely raises the hair on the back of your neck.

And the longer you go, from being away from the ship,  whether that’s due to reduced flight hours, shore duty, whatever, it takes a lot more time and money to get the pilot back up to speed where he is comfortable to get on or off the Carrier.

We need to be strike fighter pilots, fighter pilots, weapons officers,  whatever it is. 

You have to be very good at operating your sensors, the integration in the cockpit, the weapons that are onboard your aircraft.

But you can’t focus on that part of your training or your job until you are very good at the basics of flying the airplane. 

You have to be comfortable flying the airplane, and operating all your button pushing, your takeoffs, your landings, all of that has to be second nature. 

You have to be able to do that in your sleep because you need to be able to focus on the more advanced and complex systems in the airplane.

And when you don’t fly that airplane on a regular basis, even though a simulator can account for some of that time, but you got to be able to get into the air, and experience the effects of the airspeed, the Gs, you know, just the ground rush that’s associated with the airplane.

When you get to that point where you’re comfortable, and you’re doing that on a daily basis because you have flight hours, all of that basic stuff is second nature. 

Now you can focus on more advanced and complex systems associated with the airplane.

Question: As you train to deploy, clearly the joint aspect is important as well.  How do you factor that in?


Once the Carrier goes out on deployment, yes, it is self-sustained, it is a global force wherever you want it, when you want it.

However, if you look at what’s going on, everything’s becoming joint integrated, e.g.  Joint strike fighter. 

Everything is going joint.

Air Wing Fallon training is now opened up to joint integration. 

So when the air wing is here in Fallon, they do three weeks of strictly Navy air wing training. 

And then the last week, we bring in joint assets to participate with the air wing during large force strikes.

So the Navy gets a look at how the Air Force does business. 

The Air Force gets to look at how the Navy does business. I think communities are going to continue to evolve the more we interact and integrate with each other.

Editor’s Note: The video above shows the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) relieving USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) in the Arabian Gulf, 10/18/14 and is credited to Navy Media Content Services.

The Command brief describing the command and its role can be seen below: