Brigadier General (Retired) Novotny: Skyracer Consulting, LLC

By Robbin Laird

Robert Novotny, now Skyracer Consulting, LLC,  recently completed a highly distinguished career in the United States Air Force as a General officer, career fighter pilot, and combat commander. Throughout his award-winning tenure, he has succeeded in numerous high-level positions around the globe.

In his final assignment, he was the Commander of the 57th Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and in this capacity, he oversaw nearly 5,000 Active Duty, government civilian, union, and contract employees responsible for the safe operation of the nation’s most advanced aerial combat exercises.

Furthermore, he was charged with managing the US Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, known throughout the world as the “Thunderbirds.”

We recently discussed the approach of the firm to working on defense issues.

Novotny said that a core focus is upon training and working with companies who are or wish to work with the USAF and the joint force with regard to training. A key challenge facing any of the services is moving beyond single platform training to working the broader question of what that platform can bring to the joint fight. Overcoming stove-piped training is a barrier facing the USAF and the other services.

Novotny and his company are focused upon how to get the kind of innovation which the force can deliver in the five-to-seven-year period. How to best build a more effective force with what you have and are likely to add in the mid-term?

As Novotny noted: “The bureaucracy’s natural tendency is to stay at rest. Working with my clients we are focused on how to move the system to get the kind of innovation the force needs to prevail in the period ahead.”

The company leverages its experience in Operational Tests, Developmental Test, and advanced weapons requirements and procurement to help its clients to secure business in the defense and intelligence communities.

For the most recent of our interviews of BG (Retired) Novotny:

Shaping a Way Ahead for Training for the High-End Fight: The Perspective of the Former Commander of the 57th Wing, Nellis AFB

By Robbin Laird

August 28, 2021:

I first met Brigadier General, retired, Robert Novotny at RAF Lakenheath in 2016.

There we focused on the coming of the F-35 to the base after the Brits would deploy the aircraft onboard their new class of carriers. We discussed the broader implications of being able to integrated F-35s throughout the region as well.

After that assignment he went to Air Combat Command at Langley AFB and then on to his last assignment which was the command the 57th Wing, Nellis AFB.

As the Wing’s website described their focus: “The 57th Wing, as the most diverse wing in the Air Force, provides advanced, realistic, and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space, and cyberspace. The 57th Wing builds innovative leaders in tactics, training and high-end warfighting to ensure world-wide combat air forces are prepared for tomorrow’s victories, while overseeing dynamic and challenging flight operations at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

“The 57th Wing is comprised of the United States Air Force Weapons School, 57th Maintenance Group, 57th Operations Group, USAF Aerial Demonstration Squadron (The Thunderbirds), and the USAF Advanced Maintenance and Munitions Operations School (AMMOS).”

In building out a series on multi-mission training, it obviously made good sense to get the perspectives of the recently retired commander of the key training wing in the USAF, notably after having visited PACAF and discussing their focus on reshaping USAF and joint force capabilities in the Pacific.

It is clear that in dealing with the post-land wars focus of the USAF, that advanced training is a key weapon system. 

Here is how BG (retired) Novotny put it:

“I think the good news is that the Air Force does find significant value in training. We find it not only significant in the virtual world, the war gaming world, but in particular, in the live fly scenario. There we put all of the relevant assets together in a formation, and we stress the human being component within the combat force. How does the air combat force integrate and operate and communicate in that kind of environment where there’s so many platforms and so many weapons systems?

C2 is clearly a key weapon system when working complex multi-mission combat integration.

Novotny put it this way: “How do we ensure that the communication architecture can do what we need it to do? How survivable is it when we stress it? Nellis and the 57th Wing are the crown jewel of the USAF for all testing and training. And I think you’ve seen in the last year, even the last two years, the explosion of the colored flags scenarios to broaden how we train as well.”

He then discussed the expansion of the training envelope as seen from the evolution of the training flag exercises. “Red Flag is a large force training exercises built upon some of our failures in Vietnam and is designed to get that young airman into those stressful situations, communicating mission planning, exercising, communicating debriefing in package formations that we think we might use against a conventional threat.

“Then we’ve created Green Flag, which is more focused on air-to-ground integration with our partners at the National Training Center and the Joint Readiness Training Center, both at Fort Irwin and in Fort Polk.

“But now you see the Orange Flag series of exercises, which is really an operational test integration scenario. We’ve been doing those for a long time. We’ve just finally put a name to them and where we bring yet to be released capabilities and systems and software and data links.

“And we put those systems into what we like to call deep end testing. It is a philosophy of throwing the child into the deep end of the pool and seeing if they swim. Instead of doing an iterative software release where we fly it for 12 months and we get it to near perfection, but never really stress it. And then we wind up fielding it to the combat air forces and find out it’s really insufficient for what we needed it to be.

“With the Orange Flag approach, we do deep end Orange Flag scenarios. And then I think most recently you’ve seen the announcement of Black Flag and Emerald Flag, which again are integrated test and training events really focused on getting after the highly contested environment with new and emerging technologies. Do these technologies work the way we want them to?

“From a training perspective, it helps us look over the glare shield into the future. How are we training today? And with these new tools that are coming to a new toolkit, are retraining properly for future warfare for future weapon systems, or do we need to change that?

“Nellis has the right mindset and the right vision. The USAF has the right vision. What we lack is consistent funding and an ability rapidly to upgrade those infrastructures. It is also the case that our weapons systems have out outpaced our current infrastructure.

“For example, I grew up on the Nellis Test and Training Range in the mid-nineties.

“And the threat we trained to was a North Korean MiG-29, who could only shoot me at about 12 nautical miles.

“Now we’re trying to train against what could be a J-20 Bravo low to almost zero RCS threat with an advanced electronic attack with surface air missiles that can shoot you at 400 miles. And we don’t have enough space. We don’t have enough geography to set up those kinds of scenarios.

“As a result, we’ve moved a lot of stuff to Alaska and even Alaska has significant restrictions while it has more room to try to exercise the systems. And you can only really fly up there predictably for about four to six months. Otherwise, the weather becomes problematic, both on the ground and in the air.

“This means that we are migrating a lot more work into the virtual world, which it is really good for exercising systems and the data links and the communication portfolio, but unfortunately alleviates all of the stress and pressure and that combat tempo of live training that we tried to create when we started Red Flag. The challenge is to find the best ways to combine the two as we train for the evolving challenges of the high-end fight.”

The virtual side of training is becoming important as well to train to the evolving threat envelope as well, as both the Blue and Red side add new capabilities.  

By modeling a new capability and inserting into the virtual side of live virtual constructive training, the approach is to anticipate how a new red side technological capability changes the combat equation.

We closed by discussing a crucial near to midterm opportunity to ramp up U.S. combat capability. 

Whether in the North Atlantic fight involving the Russians or the Pacific fight involving the Chinse, Russians or North Koreans, finding ways to ramp up air-maritime integration is crucial. The U.S. Navy is focusing on ways to fight more effectively as a fleet; the USAF is working on ways to shape a more effective integrated distributed combat force built around fight generation capability.

But why do the US Navy and USAF not train as an integrated force?  As Novotny put it, each force faces significant challenges to adapting to the new realities.

“We’re consumed by the tyranny of the present. I have to create this many pilots, I have to create this many wingman and flight leads etc. One problem is the constant threat of pilot retention. The never-ending demand signal from Central Command of deploying forces.  Reconstituting forces needing our own internal training requirements and more.  This is why training jointly, which is the way we’re going to fight today and in the future, seems to be the first thing that falls off the plate, which is maddening.

“I can’t tell you how many times that when we do those training exercises, for example, a Valiant Shield or a Northern Edge exercise, we find out how great those training experiences are because of what we learn.

“But then we immediately fall back into our comfort level, which is to train internally because my fleet is so inexperienced. My airplane fleet health is challenged right now. And I have many internal pressures from our own service to meet certain training requirements and checkpoints and due dates, coupled with deployments that I just can’t get to a point where I can go do those large joint or coalition training exercise. And that’s troubling.”

I suggested that one way around the chokepoint of the present is to leverage the coming of the B-21 to the Pacific. Clearly, the B-21 as a weapon system will have its major impact as an air-maritime combat capability. Why not build a training system into the B—21 program now that would shape joint maritime-air operations in the Pacific?

This would not solve all the challenges facing force integration, but would be a powerful building block which would drive change immediately when out of the box. And if the new bomber were to operate from Alaska and or Australia then working the Navy’s distributed maritime approach with the USAF’s approach to agile combat employment would drive significant change from its first appearance in the Pacific.

For earlier interviews of BG (Retired) Novotny, see the following:

Bringing the Future Forward: Accelerating U.S. and Allied Combat Power

Leveraging US and Allied F-35s in Northern Europe: USAF at RAF Lakenheath Prepares a Way Ahead