When Brig. Gen. Trey “Lou” Rawls watched the movie Top Gun in 1986, his passion for flying was ignited and it led him to join the Air Force in 1993, starting a 30-year journey of flying more than 25 different kinds of aircraft.
He recently became the first general officer to be certified as a fifth-generation aggressor pilot.
“I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to fly with the 65th Aggressors,” said Rawls, who commands the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. “I feel like I’ve come full circle in my flying career. Going from watching a movie and now stepping into a similar role is amazing. It’s an honor to be a part of helping to develop technological capabilities that keep us ahead of our adversaries. It’s also a real shot of adrenaline to get to be around our patriotic Airmen.”
Rawls was certified on the F-35A Lightning II aircraft with the 65th Aggressor Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. The 65th AGRS’ directed mission is to know, teach and replicate fifth-generation air adversaries.
The U.S. Air Force aggressors were established in the wake of the service’s Project Red Baron study, which evaluated the air war over North Vietnam to determine why there had been such a dramatic change in the outcome of air-to-air engagements in the conflict. In the Korean War, pilots achieved a 10:1 kill ratio over North Korean and Chinese adversaries. Vietnam’s kill ratio dropped to 2.5:1.
Having the AFOTEC commander flying with the 65th AGRS provides a unique opportunity to determine how an Operational Test Agency can impact and improve warfighter training. Rawls believes this momentum will continue to grow.
“We have to ensure we’re keeping up with and surpassing our adversaries,” said Rawls. “In my role as an aggressor my job is to present our operators with the types of challenging problems they are likely to face from our adversaries. In my role as the AFOTEC Commander, my job is to ensure I provide material solutions and capabilities to address those same problems. It’s important to impress that if every acquisition dollar spent and every test event conducted isn’t resulting in more combat effectiveness and/or making Airmen’s lives better then we need to stop doing it.”
The 65th AGRS focuses on adversary threat replication by examining their doctrine, training, and capabilities. Using the F-35 as an aggressor allows pilots to train against low-observable threats similar to what adversaries are developing.
“The challenge is that we’re no longer the only big kid on the block when it comes to technology,” said Rawls. “However, when it comes to training, readiness, and talent, we’re still king of the hill. AFOTEC has an important role in ensuring the U.S. remains at the world’s most dominant purveyor of air power. We do this by ensuring we only focus on problems that need solving and then relentlessly pursuing those solutions that enable us to continue to enjoy an unfair advantage.”
“Due to the growing threat posed by PRC [People’s Republic of China] fifth- and sixth-gen fighter development, we must use a portion of our daily fifth-generation aircraft today at Langley, Elmendorf, Hill, Eielson, and now Nellis, to replicate adversary fifth-generation capabilities,” said Gen. Mark Kelly, commander Air Combat Command, during the reactivation of the 65th AGRS. “Precisely because we have this credible threat, when we do replicate a fifth-gen adversary, it has to be done professionally. That’s the aggressors.”
The F-35 offers an adversary air platform that allows the 65th AGRS to tailor, through mission planning software, the jet to replicate the desired red air aircraft. These settings are determined the 65th AGRS with the help of the intelligence community.
As the AFOTEC Commander, Rawls is responsible for the independent testing and evaluation of new and existing systems for the Air Force.
“We’re doing a better job going after the right problems because we are focusing more on outcomes and less on capabilities. America loves winners, nobody cares that the Air Force tried hard if we finish second. We get paid to win and my job is to help ensure that outcome continues,” said Rawls.