The Air Force’s top operations official is looking to expand aerial training range space and bring in industry to provide “sparring partners” for pilots, as the service looks to make full use of new training opportunities for its fifth-generation aircraft.

Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, deputy chief of staff for operations, told attendees at a Wednesday Mitchell Institute event the Air Force is looking to 2019 to expand training resources to test the full extent of new sensors and emitters on its next-generation aircraft.

Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations
Lt. Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations

“We have a lot of range space in the United States. Frankly, every day that range space becomes more and more of a national treasure. We don’t have enough resources to make every range what I call fifth-generation ready,” Kelly said. “So we’ll take emitters we have and ones that we can acquire and the adversary training aircraft that we have, and pretty much focus them mostly on those ranges.”

Kelly said the latest sensors industry is developing for the Air Force is forcing the service to expand its range space to test the full extent of the new capabilities.

“Sensors that our industry partners are building for us can see a pretty darn good ways,” Kelly said.

The Air Force is also looking to award contracts in 2019 to build its program for air support aircraft to replicate adversary tactics against pilots training on new platforms.

“Our high end platforms, the fourth-gen and fifth-gen aircraft, they need sparring partners out there in the air. That’s going to come from one of two sources, either we’ll self-generate from other blue air forces, like our Navy partners. The much better opportunity for our aviators is to train against a contract sparring partner,” Kelly said.

Air Combat Command released a solicitation notice this summer on plans to hire companies to provide adversary air support, with contracts likely to be awarded in July 2019.

“Just like I mentioned fifth-gen ranges eat up a lot of range space, fifth-gen platforms kill a lot of adversaries,” Kelly said. “And I need then the highest adversary I can get. In a perfect world, it’s got a good radar on the nose and a jammer, hopefully a high-end jammer.”

Kelly said he sees a five- to 10-year timeframe of this effort to best replicate adversaries’ current tactics alongside the latest fifth-generation aircraft capabilities, while noting that a different program could be utilized in the future.

“Right now it’s the most viable solution I see for this fight,” Kelly said.