A DAY AT NAS FALLON
Report and photos by George Karavantos
May 16, 2022
Few locations are as important to US naval aviation as NAS Fallon. Located in a remote corner of northern Nevada, about an hour east of Reno, is the place where some of the navy’s most important tactical training is being conducted. George Karavantos reports.
It is the home of the Naval Air Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC).
The NAWDC provides high level of training that transforms tactical naval aviators into superior war fighters. In addition, the station is home to Fighter Squadron Composite VFC-13 ‘Saints’, which flies the F-5N/F Tiger II in the fleet support role. This squadron is tasked with providing adversary ‘Red Air’ for the visiting fleet squadrons, including certain elements of the TOPGUN course.
Fallon is all about tactical training, therefore it forms an integral element of unit final workup prior to combat deployments. NAS Fallon is also a prerequisite stop for all Carrier Air Wings during their final preparation prior to deployment.
Squadrons come here for unit-level evolutions such as the Strike Fighter Advanced Readiness Program (SFARP) training, which is intended to maximize the tactical proficiency of strike fighter aircrews across the full spectrum of mission sets by using academic lectures, simulator events, and tactical training sorties.
This month’s turn was Carrier Air Wing’s 17 (CVW-17) based at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. CVW-17 consists of eight squadrons and one detachment:
Code Insignia Nickname Assigned Aircraft
VFA-22 Strike Fighter Sqn 22 Fighting Redcocks F/A-18F
VMFA-323 Marine Fighter Attack Sqn 323 Death Rattlers F/A-18C
VFA-94 Strike Fighter Sqn 94 Shrikes F/A-18F
VFA-137 Strike Fighter Sqn 137 Kestrels F/A-18E
VAQ-139 Electronic Attack Sqn 139 Cougars EA-18G
VAW-116 Early Warning Sqn 116 Sun Kings E-2C
HSC-6 Helicopter Sea Combat Sqn 6 Indians MH-60S
HSM-73 Helicopter Maritime Strike Sqn 73 Battlecats MH-60R
VRC-30 Fleet Logistics Support Sqn 30 Providers C-2A
“Completing the SFARP has been a tremendously valuable experience for our pilots,” stated the detachment officer in charge for the Shrikes. “The syllabus required everyone to rise to the challenge and achieve very high levels of tactical knowledge and performance in missions that ranged from urban close air support to offensive counter air.”
The quiet, remote desert of north Nevada isn’t quite where you’d expect the US Navy to perfect its war fighting skills. However, this is actually the perfect overland environment for pilots and weapons systems officers (WSOs) to be honing their skills. TOPGUN isn’t just a film from the 1980s, it isn’t a competition, it’s a training school, and today it remains an integral part of Navy’s high-end strike fighter aircraft syllabus.
What was once a dedicated “TOPGUN’ school for naval aviators has become a much more complex and arguably an important training center. The so-called Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center (NAWDC) is the Navy’s center of excellence for air combat training and tactics development. NAWDC trains naval aviation in advanced Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) across assigned combat mission areas enforcing combat proficiency standards.
NAWDC provides service to aircrews, squadrons and air wings throughout the United States Navy through flight training, academic instructional classes, and direct operational and intelligence support. The command consists of more than 120 officers, 140 enlisted and 50 contract personnel.
Today NAWDC features 4 primary courses, TOPGUN (Super Hornets); HAVOC (EA-18G Growlers), TOPDOME (E2-C/D Hawkeyes) and SEAWOLF (MH-60R ASW Seahawks).
F-5N/F Tiger II:
The Northrop F-5 Tiger II continues to serve at naval aviation in the adversary training role. The fleet includes 30 upgraded single-seat F-5Ns and a pair of two-seat F-5Fs that are operated by two Naval Reserve squadrons. The US Navy completed the acquisition of 44 Tiger IIs from the Swiss government in a reverse Foreign Military Sales program that began in 2000. The final upgraded aircraft was delivered to Northrop Grumman at its St Augustine, Florida, facility in April 2009. Under the US Navy’s F-5 acquisition/ recapitalization program, Northrop Grumman upgraded 43 F-5Es to F-5N configuration and converted three of the single-seat Swiss aircraft into two-seaters by replacing the F-5E forward fuselage with a refurbished US Navy F-5F forward fuselage.
F-16A/B Fighting Falcon:
The US Navy acquired a fleet of 22 single-seat F-16Ns and four two-seat TF-16Ns for use in the adversary role. The aircraft, which were based on the USAF’s Block 30 F-16C version, arrived in 1988. The discovery of fatigue issues caused the fighters to be retired after just 10 years of service. The US Navy later acquired 10 late-model Block 15 F-16As and four F-16Bs that had been destined for the Pakistan Air Force.