SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in a March 4, 2021, Defense Department memorandum outlined his priorities to continue protecting the nation from foreign and domestic threats while emphasizing the importance of international partners and allies as force multipliers.
“We cannot meet our responsibilities alone, nor should we try. Rather, we will consult with our allies and partners and, when appropriate, we will act together,” he said. “Where one country may lack the unique capabilities, others will fill that void, making us stronger as a team than the sum of our individual parts.”
The Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program here at Sheppard embodied that sentiment March 8-12 when the 81st meeting of the ENJJPT Steering Committee took place. The committee meets biannually to discuss topics such as the syllabus, participation level, financial issues and more.
Col. Robert Haas Jr., 80th Flying Training Wing and ENJJPT commander, echoed the secretary’s priority, adding the program is more than flying airplanes.
“The most important aspect is building partner relationships. All of that starts right here,” he said. “Day 1 when they show up, typically it is not one nation in a class. There are multiple nations. They become friends and they build life-long bonds that last.”
Although the committee met virtually due to the global pandemic, they were still able to work on important items to modernize the syllabus and program to meet the demands of each of the 14 partner nations. Haas said the committee gave a resounding “yes” to ENJJPT 2030, a student-centric approach to training pilots.
This holistic approach takes the program beyond the machinery and technology associated with producing combat pilots for NATO. It takes a specific interest in the individual.
“We’re looking at the mental and physical well-being of these young students because they will go on to fly fighters hopefully for the rest of their career,” he said. “In the fighter business, it’s a very stressful environment, and it’s very demanding on the body, too. So, we want to teach them how to take care of themselves mentally, physically and be able to execute for NATO and all of our partners.”
The committee also approved leadership to move forward with examining the day-to-day activities of instructor pilot at all levels to determine how duties can be adjusted to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the experienced aviators.
Haas said instructor pilots are an important piece to a triangle, or three-legged stool, of pilot training. The remaining two components are equally important, and all are needed to train fighter pilots for NATO and potentially grow the program to about 250 graduates annually, another initiative the steering committee approved.
“I need instructor pilots to fly airplanes, I need solid and ready aircraft to execute, and I also need folks to run the simulators and to teach academic instruction, to work that triangle out correctly and growing it to meet the demands of the students,” he said. “If I have one leg of the stool out of balance, then the stool won’t stand.”
The committee also gave the thumbs-up to a smoother transition from Undergraduate Pilot Training to Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals, the follow-on training curriculum that takes those with newly minted pilot wings and prepares them for fighter training. Haas said the purpose behind the tightening of the timeline is to create a ready, relevant and capable fighter pilot.
“What we did was take out the gaps and seams that exist currently in our T-38 undergraduate pilot training, then our IFF graduate pilot training, and we looked to knit those together so it’s just one smooth continuum of training for our young student pilots,” he said.
Currently, UPT graduates wait a few weeks to a few months before beginning the IFF curriculum. The transformation would have UPT candidates graduate on a Friday and begin IFF training on the following Monday. Haas said the window is tightened, but there isn’t a change in the actual training program.
Maj. Andrew Faith, a member of the Royal Canadian air force and Canadian senior national representative, said these are exciting times for the program and NATO. While ensuring the welfare and success of Canadian students, he is also focused on the program and its ability to endure.
The major said the student-centric approach is appropriate for the program as their primary focus is to make successful aviators and combat pilots for the alliance. He said instructors in the program have done in global operations what they are training today’s students to do, and the program is a passing of knowledge to the next generations of NATO aviators who are better than their teachers.
“That’s the goal. And if that happens, I think it’s a job well done. And I think we can do that with advances in technology, simulation and ENJJPT 2030,” he said. “These are things that will make our job better for the next generation so we can keep up with NATO and keep up with our allies.”
Haas and Faith both applauded mission partners at Sheppard as well as the surrounding communities for their support. About 300 members from partner nations live, work and send their children to local schools.
“It’s a very welcome atmosphere,” Haas said. “It’s a place where people want to stay, enjoy flying and conducing to mission.”
An exceptional move by the steering committee was its request to have the fall meeting be held at Sheppard. While the spring meeting is hosted by the 80th FTW and Sheppard annually, the fall meeting is traditionally hosted by a NATO partner. However, since it has been more than a year since steering committee members have visited the program’s campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are hoping to do so in the fall.