Who is better? Western trained fighter pilots or products of the Russian system. So many of us have seen firsthand the limitations of the Soviet-era training system, the robotic control of pilots and their inability to think on their own. I watched the transformation of the Polish Air Force from a soviet trained system to the Western NATO world when the Wall came down and soon after they procured F-16s. Since that time, a divide in the Polish Air Force of the F-16 (Western pilots) and the Mig-29 fleets have shown the dramatic difference between the two. Seeing how Romanian pilots fly their F-16s like a flying club instead of a legitimate lethal air force shows that giving Russian trained forces first rate fighters does not make them as capable as NATO air forces. The mindset does not permit pilots to think independently and execute with the precision that we expect from NATO forces.
I was interviewed by the Military Aviation History channel along with Dr Justin Bronk of the Royal United Services Institute on the topic, giving my western view of pilot training while Justin offered his insights into the Russian system. I have immense respect for Justin’s insights of air power and his views are usually frank and very accurate.
As Mike Tyson used to say: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
Most fighter pilots know that Russian and ‘Eastern trained’ pilots are not as capable as Western trained aviators. We all likely agree that NATO would win handily in any air battle with Russian forces.
Two issues to remember:
In our Cold War days, the soviet side outnumbered the NATO forces; Quantity has a Quality unto itself. We would have had to kill a lot of them to win and we were not that much more lethal than the Eastern bloc back in those days. 1 for 1 would not have done it for us.
You can’t retrain a pilot who has learned in one system and then is expected to think completely differently adopting our Western training. This will apply to the experienced Ukrainian fighter pilots learning to fly F-16s and heading to combat later this year. The young Ukrainian fighter pilots who have begun training in the West will learn our ways, but the older ones will struggle to ‘unlearn’ their old ways and become free thinkers.