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Agreement establishes Fighter Associate Program

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (AFPN) -- Air Force Reserve Command and Air Combat Command have joined forces to begin the Fighter Associate Program.

Gen. Hal M. Hornburg, ACC commander, and Lt. Gen. James E. Sherrard III, AFRC commander, signed a memorandum of agreement that took effect April 2.

The Fighter Associate Program is designed to meet the need for fighter-pilot training by assigning reservists to active-duty units and active-duty pilots to Reserve units. The idea is not new but rather a refinement of two other programs already in place.

As a result of the drawdown in the early 1990s, the Air Force saw a major drop in fighter-pilot retention.

"When we downsized active-duty forces, we didn't realize we were losing all our trainers," said Col. Bob Nunnally, Reserve adviser to the ACC commander and leader of the team that developed FAP. "The active force requires 330 to 380 pilots a year, but it only has the resources available to train 302. A fighter pilot generally needs 500 flight hours to be considered fully qualified."

In 1996, the Air Force began looking for ways to stem the loss by retaining experienced pilots. The Fighter Reserve Associate Program began at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., in 1997.

FRAP offered pilots who were leaving active duty from Shaw's fighter wing the chance to continue flying with the same unit but in a Reserve status.

In December 2000, Gen. John Jumper, then commander of ACC, declared the program a success and directed his staff to find a way to expand it to other command units.

The other program, the Total Force Absorption Program, sent some active-duty pilots to Reserve and Air National Guard units after completing 18 months with an active-duty unit. The idea was that they would already have some experience and would be able to accumulate more flying hours and receive training from reserve-component units without overburdening already strained active-duty resources.

"The Reserve has a great pool of instructor pilots," Nunnally said. "Nearly all Reserve fighter pilots (have) prior service with extensive experience."

Both programs are considered successful, but they each have limitations. FRAP was limited to Shaw, and TFAP required pilots to report to an active-duty unit each quarter to receive training and mentorship necessary for active-duty career progression.

FAP takes the best aspects of both programs, combines them into one and expands upon them. There are two sides to the program: the Reserve associate unit and the active associate unit.

The Reserve side will place a detachment of four reservists, one full-time and three traditional, within an active-duty squadron. They will serve primarily as instructor pilots. At some units, there will also be six enlisted aircraft maintainers assigned, two full time and four traditional, who will serve as a team of experienced maintainers for training and continuity.

Initially, the Reserve associate detachments will join active-duty units at Hill AFB, Utah; Eglin AFB, Fla.; Nellis AFB, Nev.; a second unit at Shaw; and a unit here.

The active side will embed a team of three active-duty pilots in a Reserve squadron. The team will consist of one fully trained instructor pilot and two inexperienced pilots fresh out of flight training.

The active-duty instructor pilot will serve as supervisor, providing the inexperienced pilots with the mentorship and training they need, doing away with the need for quarterly trips to an active-duty unit. The instructor will also lessen the scheduling burden on the Reserve unit's instructors.

Active detachments are slated to join Reserve units at Hill; Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla.; Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas; NAS New Orleans JRB, La.; and Whiteman AFB, Mo.

Both AFRC and ACC airmen will benefit from the arrangement.

"When the active duty cut back pilot production, our recruiting pool disappeared," said Lt. Col. John Hart, the Reserve's 10th Air Force liaison to the FAP team. "Our older guys are retiring, and we're facing a shortage.

"FAP will help replenish the recruiting pool in the long run," he said. "In the shorter term, having active-duty people in Reserve squadrons will be a benefit due to potential reduced manning."

Hart said he believes ACC will benefit with the addition of proven instructor pilots and access to more aircraft and flight hours at a time when front-line aircraft are being pushed to the limit fulfilling operationsn around the world.

FAP will replace FRAP and Reserve involvement in TFAP for the combat air forces side. The TFAP program will remain active on the airlift side. Air National Guard units are not involved in the new program and will continue TFAP. That may change in the future, according to officials.

"This is just a first step," said Lt. Col. Patrick McAndrews, chief of ACC's flight management branch. "Five to 10 years down the road, we hope to expand the program to include the Guard."

McAndrews said he considers FAP to be another important step toward an integrated total force.

"We need to use total force as an avenue to train and equip our new lieutenants," he said. "It's sorely needed and currently lacking in the active-duty force."

Nunnally echoed the comments.

"We already work and fight together on the front-lines," he said. "We also need to train together and build a path to further integration here at home." (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)

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