Naval Air Station Fallon is one of the US Navy’s largest and most important bases and is home to a host of interesting units. In a short series of articles, Paul Dunn takes a look some of the best known organisations, starting with the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center or NAWDC.
Naval Air Station Fallon is one of the US Navy’s most important locations for aviation training and development. Situated in northwest Nevada, in many ways, Fallon is to US Naval Aviation what Nellis AFB is to the USAF, with many of the units based at the two facilities having similar roles. One thing that both bases certainly do have in common is extensive range facilities. The Fallon Range Training Complex is huge and encompasses four distinctive range areas, including radar and threat simulations and areas for the delivery of live weapons.
The primary organisation headquartered at Fallon is the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center. Know for many years as the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center (NSAWC), the name change occurred relatively recently in order to bring it into line with a common standard of nomenclature with other naval warfare development organisations.
NSAWC itself was formed in 1996, when the Fallon based Naval Strike Warfare Center (known as STRIKE “U”) was combined with the Navy Fighter Weapons School (TOPGUN) and the Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (TOPDOME) which moved in from NAS Miramar, when that base passed to the US Marine Corps. The resultant organisation became the Navy’s primary authority on training and tactics development, a role that it continues to this day as NAWDC.
The NAWDC ramp is home to a range of different aircraft types, which represent the diversity (or more accurately, the lack of diversity) of types within Naval Aviation today. Clearly, versions of the F/A-18 Hornet make up the bulk of the US Navy’s tactical fleet, and NAWDC has examples of both Legacy and Super Hornets, along with a small fleet of EA-18G Growlers.
In addition to substantial numbers of Hornet variants, NAWDC has smaller numbers of MH-60 helicopters and E-2 Hawkeye AEW aircraft. NAWDC also has responsibility for the US Navy’s small fleet of F-16A/Bs, which are exclusively based at Fallon.
The F-16 fleet is interesting in itself. The Navy’s association with the USAF’s tactical fighter aircraft goes back to the late 1980s and the F-16N model. This was a dedicated adversary model of the F-16C, which was lighter and carried a simplified weapons system and radar. This made it an exceptionally high performance pure fighter, and it became possibly the ultimate adversary aircraft of its time. That era did not last long, however, with the discovery of hairline fatigue cracks in the airframes and their retirement in the late 1990s.
The F-16N fleet was subsequently replaced in 2003 with a collection of early model F-16A/Bs which had been built for Pakistan, but not delivered due to an arms embargo. Although the aircraft had been built many years previously and were somewhat “old”, they were very low time airframes, having been delivered to storage at AMARG almost straight from the factory. The Navy’s F-16s are all operated by NAWDC in the adversary role, proving very useful as a dissimilar type for F/A-18 pilots to train against.
Despite not so far having its own allocated F-35Cs, NAWDC is heavily involved with drawing up the tactical doctrine for employment of the Navy’s newest, fifth generation fighter and has, for example, used aircraft from VX-9 and the now disestablished VFA-101 in large scale exercises with other Navy tactical types.
NAWDC is responsible for training Tactics, Techniques and Procedures to naval aviation from an individual level up through unit level to joint operations, such as Air Wing readiness training. To achieve this, NAWDC consists of several individual parts, which are responsible for some of the different activities and courses to be run. Some of these are worth considering in more detail, so to that end, we will cover some of the more important organisations which fall under the NAWDC umbrella in subsequent parts of this series, but they will be listed here for completeness.
Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor Course (SFTI Course – TOPGUN)
The TOPGUN course needs little introduction for most people. Briefly, the SFTI Course is a graduate level course for Junior Officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, which turns out tactics instructors who then go on to fill the Training Officer role in their squadrons, allowing the most up to date and essential training information to filter down from NAWDC to the operational squadrons. The school is also responsible for providing similar training to adversary instructors and Air Intercept Controllers, and we will cover the history and operations of the legendary TOPGUN school in a future instalment.
Rotary Wing Weapons School (RWWS or SEAWOLF)
Responsible for teaching the Seahawk Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course, like TOPGUN, a graduate level course delivered to Navy helicopter pilots and aircrew, producing tactics instructors for fleet squadrons. The school is also responsible for teaching mountain flying to fleet squadrons and provides opposing forces for Air Wing detachments.
Carrier Airborne Early Warning Weapons School (CAEWWS or TOP DOME)
Responsible for providing the Hawkeye Weapons and Tactics Instructor course (HEWTI) and for developing tactics and techniques for the E-2 community. Also provides support for other NAWDC development and training programmes.
Airborne Electronic Attack Weapons School (AEAWS or HAVOC)
HAVOC is the newest of the NAWDC graduate schools, having stood up in 2011 with the EA-18G Growler. In common with the other divisions, the AEAWS is responsible for honing the tactics of the Growler community and also delivers the Growler Tactics Instructor course, the highest qualification available to Navy EA-18G crews.
Air Wing Readiness Training
Fallon is one of the few bases which can accommodate a full Carrier Air Wing, and the base is used as the location for pre-deployment workup training for the Navy’s Air Wings. This will be covered in a subsequent instalment in this series.
In the next part of the series we will look at Air Wing Fallon, using CVW-3 as an example. The author would like to thank Zip Upham for his assistance in preparing this article.