Automatic budget sequestration cut deeply into the U.S. Air Force’s training in 2012. Air Combat Command got just $3.1 billion—three-quarters of what it needed to fully train the thousands of pilots flying the command’s 1,600 F-15, F-16 and F-22 fighters, A-10 attack jets and B-1 bombers.
So the command did something radical—and with far-reaching consequences as American air power retools for fighting high-tech foes following more than decade bombing insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Air Combat Command stripped certain airplanes of many of their missions, thus cutting back on the number of flight hours a particular pilot needed to be officially war-ready. Air-to-air dogfighting and low-altitude maneuvering suddenly became much rarer skills.
Perhaps most interestingly, the command essentially barred F-16s—at a thousand strong, America’s most numerous fighter—from engaging any enemy jet newer than a 1970s-vintage MiG-23.