This is obvious right?
Well we live in tough times. Cuts here and there, delays from everywhere, many assignments and here you have a recipe for a disaster. On top of that the civil market is there, waiting and waving with money a stability.
How to sustain your fighter pilots capacity in this environment? The lack of pilots is a known problem and the biggest brains in US are already tinkering with this problem and I do hope that their solutions will start to change the trend.
Many recent accidents have happened due to the lack of flight hours. If a pilot flies just a few hours per month this is NOT enough. Last year Marines have tried to push the bar for non-deployed pilots up to the range of 7 to 11 hours a month from the 6-9 range. Their own standard would be 16,5h.
Let’s do the math and assume a regular civilian month with four weeks which gives us 20 days. While having 16,5 this would give us nearly 1 hour of flight every day. Of course this is just maths and not real world. The missions take longer and not every day as the maintenance would be unbearable but flying every day would give you a very well trained pilot. Of course there is the health/stress factor but not every flight has to be critically challenging. Some are supposed to retain the skills.
Lets move to the low level of last year – 6 hours. That isn’t much is it? If a mission would take 2h you would get to fly 3 times a month. This would be insanely bad. But that is the reality and the maths. You could chop those hours to smaller times like 30 minutes of flight but what scenarios could you train and what with the maintenance costs?
In Poland it gets even worse. I mean a lot worse. The core of the Polish Air Force flies on F-16 and while talking to top tier commanders I got to know that pilots tend to get around 250 hours a year and they are pushing the young ones towards 300. Lets stick to the lower number. This gives us nearly 21 hours a month (25 for the 300). Sounds nice.
But these are the F-16 pilots. They are the crown joule you know. But what with the MiG-29 pilots? Well. Here it gets worse. Even worse than with the Marines. Las month I have read an article about the amount of hours spent in the air by Polish MiG-29s. Poland bough some of them directly from Russia, some from Germany and some from Czech Republic.
According to the paper, the aircraft from Russia have around 900-1200 hours on their clocks. But… they were bought in 1989/90. Lets do the maths. 28 years give us 336 months. This gives 2,67h per month for the 900h aircraft and 3,57h per month for the 1200h aircraft. Now this should pop a red light. Those guys need to fly more and need it badly. Scratch that. They need new aircraft and they need them badly. They need 48 new machines so that the Su-22 pilots could also jump ship.
On top of that the Polish F-16’s are starting to lose their advantage. When they were bought they were top notch in the region but since it was 10 years ago the situation has changed.
A quick tender and new fighters is a must but… there are so many areas in the army that need to be covered that there are no high hopes on new aircraft. Missile systems are even a higher priority, also helicopters are badly needed. The fighter community got it’s present 10 years ago and if I would be a gambler I would bet that Poland will have new aircraft not sooner than in five years meaning that the new tender will end at that time and deliveries will start even later. This will mean that the F-16’s already in use will be 15+ years old and ready for a MLU. WHich will mean a new pile of money for the refurbishment. Time passes definitively to fast. I can tell you that.