In the year prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Army Air Corps (AAC) began construction of an aerial gunnery school in the desert north of the small town of Las Vegas, Nev. By December 1941, 10 AT-6 trainers and 17 B-10 bombers were the first aircraft flying from the Las Vegas Army Airfield (LVAAF), whose personnel marked a one-third increase in the nearby hamlet’s population of 9,000.
The demands of the world’s first truly global war, especially for aircraft, saw LVAAF operations rapidly escalate, with the first B-17 bombers and crews arriving for training as co-pilots and gunners. At the war’s peak, LVAAF was graduating 600 new gunners and 215 co-pilots every five weeks. As the war neared its end, the base converted from B-17s to B-29s, with a peak population of nearly 11,000 – with students comprising slightly less than half of that population.
LVAAF converted from training to a separation-from-service facility at the end of the war, before being deactivated on Jan. 31, 1947. It was reactivated in March 1948 as the Las Vegas Air Force Base (AFB), home to a new pilot training wing and gunnery school, then advanced from single-engine to jet fighter training with the onset of the Korean War. Nearly every fighter pilot and every “ace” flying combat in Korea’s “MiG Alley” received final combat training from what, in 1950, became Nellis AFB, named in honor of Nevada native 1st Lt. William Harrell Nellis, who was killed in action over Luxembourg in December 1944.
In September 1966, the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center (TFWC) stood up at Nellis as the premier training site for the Air Force’s top pilots. It was redesignated as the USAF Warfare Centerin October 2005, the current name under which the nation’s top airmen have trained to dominate the skies in every battlespace for 60 years.
Shortly before being assigned to his new post as director of operations, strategic deterrence, and nuclear integration for Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), Maj. Gen. James W. “Bill” Hyatt sat down with Defense senior writer J.R. Wilson to discuss the status and future of the Warfare Center, from which he graduated in 1990 and had commanded since November 2010. As a command pilot, Hyatt flew more than 3,700 combat hours over Iraq and Afghanistan in A-10As, F-16Cs, and F-15Es.
J.R. Wilson: What is the primary purpose of the USAF Warfare Center?
Maj. Gen. James W. “Bill” Hyatt: We are tasked by the chief of staff of the Air Force for advanced training, tactics development, and operational testing. We also provide well-trained, well-prepared airmen to perform in combat. We talk about it in terms of air power, but a fairly recent doctrinal change to the term air power expanded it to include air, space, and cyber.
We don’t do basic training – checking you out in an airplane. We take people pretty far along in their careers and do high-end training, which some people refer to as the Ph.D. level.
How does a trainee get to the Warfare Center?
Those going to the Weapons School are officers who have achieved instructor-level status. If you meet the minimum requirements and want to come here, you are nominated by your squadron commander. There are multiple applicants who are reviewed by a board meeting at Randolph AFB, which includes the commanders of the squadrons. We then take the top candidates and two or three alternates to meet the openings we have.
We also run Red Flag, Green Flag, and other training exercises covering all aspects of aerial combat and some ground elements. Those involve squadrons, not individuals, usually before deployment.
How does the Warfare Center differ from its predecessor, the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center?
It has morphed over time. The big difference is the TFWC was a great institution that focused predominantly on tactical execution of fighter aircraft and, in the waning years, incorporated bombers and other aircraft. The Warfare Center involves all weapons systems – fighters, mobility, cyber, ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]. We try to incorporate at both the tactical and operational level, to produce graduates who are purveyors of all things related to battlespace dominance, including command and control [C2]. You can be the best pilot in the world, but you also have to understand how you fit into the joint picture.
How long is the training?
The Weapons School has two classes a year, 5.5 months each. There are 24 weapons instructor courses – different disciplines, involving 28 platforms. We have 13 of those at Nellis and two advanced enlisted courses, with eight other bases across CONUS [the continental United States] doing the 11 other courses.
Those are at other bases because they generally are high-demand, low-density assets, such as the B-2, with only 19 in the world in a single wing at Whiteman [Mo]. So it is more efficient to keep that training there, bringing the students here for some specific courses. For example, our AFSOC [Air Force Special Operations Command] courses are at Hurlburt Field [Fla.], the C-130 schoolhouse is at Little Rock Air Force Base, and so on.
What is the end result you are looking for – super subject-matter experts, trainers of trainers?
When I came through 22 years ago, we were expected to become the instructors of instructors, learning everything there was to be the best possible instructor in your aircraft. That is still true, but now we also expect them to become masters of battlespace dominance, to understand how other platforms interrelate, how cyber and space work, how to incorporate non-kinetic and kinetic effects, how to roll in the C2 piece at the air operations center – so a lot more depth and breadth.