A Brief History of the USN Fighter Weapons School

By Willie Bodenstein


In 1968, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Thomas Hinman Moorer ordered Captain Frank Ault to research the failings of the U.S. air-to-air missiles used in combat in the skies over North Vietnam. Operation Rolling Thunder, which lasted from 2 March 1965 to 1 November 1968, ultimately saw almost 1,000 U.S. aircraft losses in about one million sorties.

During the halt in the bombing campaign against North Vietnam (in force from 1968 until the early 1970s), Topgun established itself as a centre of excellence in fighter doctrine, tactics, and training.

By the time aerial activity over the North resumed, most Navy squadrons had a Topgun graduate.

According to the USN, the results were dramatic. The Navy kill-to-loss ratio against the North Vietnamese Air Force (NVAF) MiGs soared from 3.7:1 (1965-1967) to 13:1 (after 1970).

Topgun conducts four "Power Projection" classes a year. Each class lasts nine weeks and consists of nine Navy and Marine Corps strike fighter aircraft. The course includes eighty hours of lectures and twenty-five sorties that pit students against Topgun instructors.

When a pilot or WSO completes the Topgun course he/she will return as a Training Officer carrying the latest tactical doctrine back to their operational squadron or go directly to an FRS squadron to teach new aircrews. SFTIs can also become instructors themselves at Topgun later in their career.

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