By Robbin Laird
In my discussion with Vice Admiral Miller last February we discussed the way ahead for the carrier air wing.
In that conversation, we highlighted the way ahead for the carrier wing in terms of a shift from the integrated to the integratable air wing.
The shift is a significant one in which the carrier air wing is reaching out beyond what is on the carrier organically to what it can tap into in the broader joint and coalition force kill web capabilities.
It is about how the carrier wing can both be supported and support an integrated distributed force.
And my recent visit to the Naval Air Warfare Development Center, focused on a significant development which highlighted the new way ahead.
At Fallon Naval Air Station, the NAWDC team is working fleet wide and expanding working relationships with the USAF and USMC to shape Training, Tactics and Procedures (TTPs) for the fleet in the high-end fight.
For example, NAWDC chaired a working group earlier this year on how the fleet can work together to shape integrated maritime strike operations.
During his almost three year tenure as Air Boss, Vice Admiral Miller worked with his team to set in motion a solid foundation for this transition.
In an interview on September 3, 2020 in his office at North Island Naval Air Station, San Diego, we had a chance to discuss the challenges which he and his team has faced during his tenure.
Question: What are the biggest challenges you faced when you became the Air Boss?
Vice Admiral Miller: “There were three main things when I came in, and most of them were near term focused.
“Readiness was unacceptable.
“For example, 50% of our FA-18s weren’t flyable. Readiness was clearly the first and the highest priority.
“The second one was to shift our training from counter-terrorism to what we need to fight and win a great power competition.
“The third involved manning challenges. We had gotten ourselves to where we had no bench.
“:We were putting our combat teams together right at the end game and sending them out the door on deployment, and we really weren’t cultivating the expertise we need for the high-end fight.
“We knew that meeting these challenges was not an overnight challenge, but required a sustained effort.”
Question: How did you work the readiness transition?
Vice Admiral Miller: “We designed and shaped a Naval Sustainment System for Aviation.
“We focused on creating an ecosystem to provide and sustain the mission capable airplanes that we needed.
“All good things come from up airplanes.”
Question: I have seen the training changes, which are significant at Jax Navy, Mayport and at NAWDC.
How would describe the training re-set and re-focus?
Vice Admiral Miller: “The key focus has been upon a complete reworking at Fallon.
“We have totally revamped the strike syllabus, for example.
“We have migrated the new approach into all of our workups, unit level workups, our advanced readiness programs, SFARPs, FARPs, HARPs, those sorts of things.
“Now we’re starting to work it all the way down to where we’re getting into the FRS’s, so that we work that level of training that we need all the way from when you get to your initial squadron, all the way up to our air wing Fallon and then deployments.
“And with the coming of the F-35s and CMV-22bs to the carrier air wing, what we’ve seen so far out of their SFARPs, which are the unit level Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program, up in Fallon has just been eye-watering.
“New training and new assets mean new training to work integration for the fleet.
“We will continue to evolve as our weapons systems evolve, to include MQ-25 and what it’s going to bring to the Carrier Strike Group in the middle of the decade.
“So we’re already starting to think about how we need to training as the carrier air wing evolves.
“We’re also making great strides as far as live virtual constructive and how we connect everything from our simulation capability to what we’re able to do out on the ranges.
“The one area that’s going to be a big issue for us this year, especially in Congress, is going to be the Fallon range expansion.
“With the changing nature of warfare, we need to change not just our training approach but the ranges on which we prepare for combat.”
Question: How are working to reshape the force from the personnel side of the equation?
Vice Admiral Miller: “We are changing the metrics to evaluate personnel.
“For example, with regard to maintainers we are focusing on building an AMEX, or an Aviation Maintenance Experience Score.
“We want our maintainers to not just say, “Hey, I’m a H-60 maintainer, or P-8 maintainer, or FA-18 maintainer, but I also have these qualifications.” So as you build time and you work in that type model series and you start getting different qualifications, now your AMEX credit score goes up.
“When we’re looking at putting the right person in the right job at the right time, we can note that ”Here are the people that have those qualifications, that have that experience, and so I’m going to go ahead and place you in a particular position that requires those skill levels.”
“This helps us as well to distribute evenly our talent so that we don’t have one squadron that is at the professional level and another squadron that’s at a collegiate level.
“We want to be able to distribute our talent such that all of our squadrons throughout the entire training continuum are evenly skilled, and therefore have the ability to surge if we ever get to that point, or, of course just working towards generating MC airplanes that enhance training across the OFRP.
“If we’re in a great power competition, we need everybody to good all the time.”
Question: Looking forward what is a big challenge you are leaving behind?
Vice Admiral Miller: “Strike fighter pilot production is a big challenge facing us.
“It is a cumulative process.
“When we had some T-45 physiological episodes in the recent past, we stopped training for a while. That caused that whole pipeline of people working their way to the fleet to come to a standstill for a handful of months.
“And then about the time we started working our way through that was when the FA-18s were experiencing their readiness issues, and then over the last couple of years we got that working again, we finally got the T-45 guys into the FA-18s.
“The bottom line: we weren’t being very efficient going through the year.
“We were kind of playing whack-a-mole. We got the T-45s working, we got the FA-18s working, got the T-6s working again.
“And then what happened with T-45 engines? Just this last year, we had some material failures of compressor blades, and we took T-45 engines that we were replacing it around the 1800 hours, and now we’re replacing those engine blades at 900 hours.
“And so that took the T-45, again, back to almost nothing for a while, little trickle charge. And now after working closely with Rolls-Royce, and we’re just now starting to get ourselves to where we’re healthy there.
“Over the last couple years, this has led to a shortfall of strike fighter pilots getting to fleet seats in squadrons.
“We’ve mitigated that by elongating the guys that are there, their orders a little bit longer, other things like that through detailing processes to mitigate that shortfall.
“That has an effect because those guys normally would be rolling to your TOPGUNs and to your test pilot schools and to be your FRS instructors.
“And this means that overall we have had a cumulative negative effect in terms of strike fighter pilot production.
“The pilot training at CNATRA is being revolutionized which will help with this challenge.
“We’re changing the way we train initial pilot training.
“And, as I mentioned earlier, we’re changing the way we train at the high end, at the air wing level.”
Question: Another challenge clearly is when you add new platforms, how do you get the operators to think past their legacy platform to what they are now flying.
How significant has been that problem?
Vice Admiral Miller: “This is a challenge, getting P-3 operators not to operate in the “alone and unafraid” mentality of their legacy aircraft, to what the P-8, Triton, Romeo synergy delivers to the fleet.
“This is a major training opportunity and challenge.
“We need to take advantage of the leaps in technology that we had as we modernize.”
Featured Photo: CORONADO, Calif. (0ct. 21, 2019) Vice Adm. DeWolf H. Miller III, commander, Naval Air Forces, inspects a new gunner seat of an MH-60S Sea Hawk, assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 on Naval Air Station North Island.
The MH-60S gunner seat redesign has adjustable lumbar support, energy absorbers and is comfortable for the aircrew. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeffery L. Southerland)