A fleet of L-159E Honey Badgers took to the skies over Klamath Falls Tuesday as Kingsley Field began a new training method it hopes will increase its output of fighter pilots.
The jets were piloted by contractors with Draken International, a Las Vegas firm providing “adversary aircraft” — pilots who act as enemy fighters during training exercises.
Captain Chris Dubois, with the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard, stationed at Kingsley, said contracting for adversary aircraft frees up instructors who would otherwise act as simulated enemies, as well as the F-15s used by those instructors. He said this will result in more flight opportunities for students and a higher output of trained pilots.
“The base’s mission long-term right now is still to provide the best F-15 pilots to the combat air forces but hopefully the integration will prove that we can produce more pilots and provide higher quality raining for our current 15 students,” he said.
Kingsley is the sole base in the country for training F-15 pilots. Pilot output has become a concern at Kingsley and other training bases due to a national pilot shortage in both the public and private sectors.
Col. Jeff Smith, commander of the 173rd, has said use of adversary air could double the base’s training output. Plans are in place to integrate adversary air long-term next year and Draken pilots are currently part of a test program taking place in June and July.
Dubois said they will tell if the program is working by how many more student sorties they are able to carry out. He said pilots with Draken are all former military and will be able to use their insight to assist with training.
“Leaning on their experience and their depth of knowledge will help our students learn as well,” he said.
Dubois said the Honey Badger itself will also be a valuable learning tool, as it provides a real-world example of threats pilots may respond to in the field. The jet is young compared to the F-15 (produced in 1997, 25 years after the first F-15) and is an example of more the modern aircraft found on the battlefield.
“It will provide us a realistic fourth-gen-type threat replicator for us,” said Dubois.
Despite the F-15’s long run in the U.S. Air Force, plans are in place to phase out the aircraft within the next decade in favor of the F-35 stealth fighter. Smith has said Kingsley would be prepared to switch to F-35 training and, with the help of community partners, is lobbying the Pentagon to do so.