The Way Ahead: Current and Future Readiness and Our Future Training Environment
By Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker
Commander, Naval Air Forces; Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet
In late January, I had the privilege to follow Vice Adm. Dave Buss as your new Air Boss, and I couldn’t be more honored and humbled by the opportunity to “fleet up” from Naval Air Force Atlantic and step in as the next leader of Naval Aviation.
Working closely with Dave for the last 18 months, I gained a solid understanding of our business and the readiness challenges we face, and I learned an awful lot watching him lead our community through some very challenging times.
I’d like to thank Dave and his wife Donna for an absolutely superb Air Boss tour and remarkable career in Naval Aviation. Dave was a true steward of our profession, leading with humility and integrity, and expertly managing change and transitions. His Naval Aviation Vision 2025 will continue to be our guidepost as we work to build and shape our future force. Dave and Donna leave behind a lasting legacy of leadership and service to our aviation forces, and nowhere was that more evident than at the end of his change of command/retirement ceremony when their son, Lt. j.g. Matt Buss-waiting to start pilot training at Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106-read “The Watch,” relieved his father, and then received his dad’s sword to symbolize the passing of the aviation torch-for at least one more generation. Thank you, Dave and Donna. All of Naval Aviation joins me in wishing you both continued success and happiness as you transition to the next chapter of your lives.
We continue to live in a turbulent and unsettled world. Those of us in uniform know all too well the insatiable demand for naval forces, Naval Aviation in particular, which we continue to see from our combatant commanders around the world.
Those commanders clearly value the strategic options and flexibility our carrier strike groups and other expeditionary aviation forces bring to their areas of responsibility. The challenge that lies ahead of us now is how we continue to sustain the capacity to generate those forces and ensure they’re going forward with the right capabilities to operate where needed—all in a fiscal environment characterized by ever-increasing uncertainty. A tall order indeed, with lots of tough choices and trade-offs ahead.
I’m committed to continuing Dave’s superb work as our Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) lead and will partner closely with the leadership triad that includes Vice Adm. David Dunaway, Commander, Naval Air Systems Command; Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps; and the rest of the NAE cross-functional team as we strive to maintain the wholeness and readiness of our aviation fleet. As always, we’ll rely heavily on Rear Adm. Michael Manazir, director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N98), and his N98 team’s aviation requirements and programming expertise.
As we move forward, I’ll focus our priorities in three areas-current readiness, future readiness and our future training environment. From a current readiness perspective, we must maintain the wholeness of our existing aviation forces, ensuring we have sufficient aircraft assigned to squadrons to meet their flight line readiness goals for each phase of the Fleet Response Plan; that we have spare parts (new or repaired) readily available to keep those aircraft flying; and that the Sailors who maintain those aircraft receive quality training en route to their squadrons, and whenever possible, are assigned to platforms where they already have experience.
Our deployed and next-to-deploy commands have generally received the resources they need, but we’ve struggled recently to meet flight line aircraft requirements for squadrons in maintenance and basic phase, and in some of our fleet replacement squadrons for both Navy and Marine Corps. I can assure you the NAE is fully engaged and diligently working to manage our inventory and the processes that generate flyable aircraft for the fleet, and our efforts will gradually reverse these trends.
For future readiness, Naval Aviation has successfully followed our Naval Aviation Vision 2025 as we’ve moved out of legacy aircraft and into new, more capable platforms in nearly every community. As we navigate the uncertain fiscal environment ahead, we need to keep these transitions on track. We must also develop and deliver the advanced capabilities (weapons, sensors and networks) that will allow us to pace the threat and maintain our warfighting advantages. These new capabilities will be delivered to outfit our forward-deployed forces first, eventually adding additional capacity when budgets permit.
Finally, as these new platforms and capabilities enter the fleet, we have to effectively practice and train to the new tactics that are already evolving. We’re currently stressed in terms of available airspace and use of the electromagnetic spectrum at our premiere training facility at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada. We need to transition more of that high-end training to the virtual and constructive world, and eventually integrate with live forces. That critical integration must also occur in our aviation fleet concentration areas, as we develop and refine distributed training solutions, linking both air and surface platforms across the force. This future training roadmap is a key enabler for us as we work to optimize the proficiency of our aircrew and make the best use of precious flying-hour dollars.
So as we move ahead in these three areas, I’ll always remember that the NAE works for you-our commodores, carrier air wings, and carrier commanding officers, and your subordinate squadron leadership teams, who make great things happen every day on our flight lines and on the flight decks of our aircraft carriers. Our top goal is to ensure you have the resources you need to focus on warfighting first, to be ready to operate forward and to be successful when you sail or fly in harm’s way!
For commanders at every level, I couldn’t be more proud of the way you lead our forces, and the way you and your amazing Sailors continue to perform with quiet professionalism and excellence at sea and ashore. Our Sailors and their families truly are our number one resource, and we can never forget that as we work through the increasingly difficult readiness challenges ahead. My commitment to you is to work tirelessly to ensure our Naval Aviation forces remain the preeminent fighting force for our nation.
Fly! Fight! Win!
Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, of St. Petersburg, Florida, graduated with honors from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in systems engineering and was designated a naval aviator in July 1984.
Shoemaker’s operational assignments include tours with Light Attack Squadron (VA) 105, USS Forrestal (CV 59); Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3, USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67); Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 105, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CV 69), USS Enterprise (CVN 65) and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75); CVW-17, USS George Washington (CVN 73); Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 9, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72); and CSG 3, USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). Shoemaker commanded VFA-105, VFA-106 (F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron), CVW 17, CSG 9 and CSG 3.
His shore assignments include VA-174 and instructor duty with VA-122 and VFA-106. He also served as aide to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and Commander, U.S. Pacific Command; was assigned to Navy Personnel Command (head of Aviation Officer Placement – PERS-433); and was the executive assistant to Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. As a flag officer, he served as assistant commander, Navy Personnel Command for Career Management (PERS-4) and later as commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, from June 2013 to January 2015. He has completed the Naval War College Non-Resident Program and is a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College.
Shoemaker has accumulated more than 4,400 flight hours, primarily in the A-7E Corsair and the F/A-18C Hornet and has 1,066 carrier-arrested landings. His personal decorations include the Legion of Merit (6), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (3), Air Medal (3) (one individual award with combat “V” and two strike/flight awards) and other personal, campaign and service ribbons.