Fallon fits perfectly for NAWDC commander
Almost one year has passed since Rear Adm. Richard Brophy assumed command of the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, the Navy’s premier “school house” for training and tactics.
Coming to Fallon was not a new experience for Brophy, a native of Carmichael, Calif., who has held numerous command positions in the Navy. He received his commission in 1991 from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and was designated a naval aviator two years later after earning a master’s degree from Troy State (Alabama) University. Brophy figures he spent at least a year-and-a-half of his life in Fallon because of training requirements, or what he calls two weeks here, one month there, three months for Top Gun training.
“Quite frankly, it’s almost like home,” he said in a recent interview to discuss his role as NAWDC commander and center’s changing mission.
When he received his orders to report to Fallon as the newest NAWDC commander, he didn’t have to sell the location on his wife, who also comes from a long line of naval aviators.
“It has a small-town nature,” he remembers telling her.
The area holds many activities they enjoy — camping, fishing and hiking. Both met as students at the academy when they rode together on the cycling team.
“We’re big into getting out,” he said. “It can’t get any better out here.”
Not only does Brophy enjoy the smaller community after coming to Nevada from Washington, D.C., he said the NAWDC staff — which he kids as the repeat offenders —have been together for many years, which gives consistency to the training. Brophy said he feels Fallon’s community nature keeps drawing personnel back. He also knows of captains who have retired from the Navy while stationed in Fallon and have decided to stay in the Lahontan Valley. NAWDC’s success, therefore, depends on consistency.
THE CHANGING MISSION
During the past few years, NAWDC’s mission is slowly changing direction. In 2017, President Trump and his staff released the new national military strategy.
“We’re in what we call a great power competition where China and Russia are competitors,” he pointed out.
As a result, he said the White House, the National Military Strategy and the Navy strategy, which is the planning and conduct of war at sea, must use the same language in meeting current and future needs.
“The battles we had over the last 20 years will not be the battles we have in the future,” Brophy said. “There will be broad implications on how we train and equip our focus.”
NAWDC’s mission keeps evolving to meet those challenges. As a result, he said the Navy has changed the way it conducts its training and how the written syllabus for aviators is being modified, especially for the air wings that come to Fallon before they deploy.
“We put a lens on everything we do here, and we ask a question, does it or doesn’t it support our ability to train aviators to win and be lethal in a fight of the future,” he said, adding the syllabus takes into account threats from other nations. “Our adversaries have a vote in how you train.”
Brophy said when Navy pilots go to combat, they are expected to win or at least deter and also be mindful of the threats the nation faces on a day-to-day basis.
The battlefield of the future also requires modernization. Brophy said the Fallon Range Training Complex hasn’t changed too much in 58 years. Because of improved technology, pilots require more space to fly over their targets. The admiral said the lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq and the missions over Syria and Libya play into the expansion. Since the Navy presented its plans on the range expansion in 2016, the process has gone through hundreds of meetings, and Brophy said the Navy has adjusted its proposal to meet the concerns expressed by local governments and residents.
“There’s always give and take on it,” he said.
More than two years after the initial plan was rolled out, he said the Navy reviewed the input and accepted Alternative 3, the same choice voted by the Churchill County Commission. Brophy said that’s not where the Navy eventually started.
“We are part of this community and want to work with them to the best of our ability,” he said.
The FRTC modernization plan is now in the hands of Congress, but Brophy said he has no predictions on how lawmakers will handle the modernization proposal.
WARFIGHTING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Brophy, though, credits one of his NAWDC predecessors, Rear Adm. Scott D. Conn, for compiling documentation on the Navy’s warfighting of the 21st century. Conn, who left Fallon in 2016, is currently the 30th commander of the U.S. Third Fleet headquartered in San Diego.
“He articulated the challenges we face at the range,” Brophy said.
For the battlefield of the future, the military has been phasing in the F-35 fighter. In 2015, NAWDC worked with F-35C crews to refine their tactics, techniques and procedures with the FRTC. The first F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to train with NAWDC also conducted familiarization fights with local F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets. The Navy uses the F-35 C, which has a wider wing span for making carrier landings easier.
Conn told the LVN in 2015 future training cycles will ensure pilots know their roles and will be familiar with the jet. Although the F-35C is the Navy’s jet of the future, he said the F/A-18 Super Hornet isn’t disappearing.
“The Hornet will be around for 20 or 30 more years,” Conn said.
Conn added the F-35Cs, the (EA-18G) Growlers and the Super Hornets will work together within the joint force and with the Navy’s partners.
“NAWDC will get its first two F-35Cs this summer,” Brophy said. “Then we’ll ramp it up every couple of years and get a couple of more.”
Brophy said the F-35Cs’ capabilities are phenomenal with great stealth capabilities, range and speed. He said VFA 147, a strike fighter squadron based at NAS Lemoore, Calif., will receive 10 of the fighter jets and then come to Fallon later this year for training. Currently, the Marines have five squadrons at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and the U.S. Air Force has an F-35 aggressor squadron at Nellis Air Force Base east of Las Vegas. Brophy said Fallon is the epicenter where tactical training is conducted between here and Nellis.
A MILITARY LEGACY
Brophy comes from a military family, and the legacy now lives with another generation. His father retired as an officer with the Marine Corps, but the admiral decided to serve in another military branch.
“I broke the mold going Navy,” said Brophy, chuckling.
His wife, Kara, spent five years on active duty as a naval supply officer and comes from a family of Navy veterans. She’s a third generation graduate of the USNA.
“Her grandfather was an ace in World War II, and the USS Flatley is named for him,” the admiral said. “Her father is a retired admiral who served multiple tours in Vietnam. He was the first and last to land a C-130 (transport plane) on an aircraft carrier.”
Of their five children, three have decided to follow their parents at Annapolis. Their oldest, a daughter, decided to become a Marine and is stationed at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif. A son, a second class midshipman or junior, is currently attending the academy, but because of the cessation of classes due to COVID-19, he is in Fallon studying. Their youngest daughter, who is also home, has been accepted by the academy for the Class of 2024.
Another daughter attended the University of Virginia and married a Marine, and the second oldest daughter graduated from Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., and is a singer-songwriter.
“We do have a legacy, but only three of our kids have gone that way,” he said.
Because of the time he has spent away on deployments, Admiral Brophy quickly credits Kara for their children’s successes.
During his career, Admiral Brophy had a mission to Kosovo in 1996, but he deployed five times to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. He spent time on the ground at Kandahar Air Field when his F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter needed repairs.
Although the average length of a command at NAWDC has averaged about 18 months, Brophy said he doesn’t know what the Navy has planned for him after Fallon. Several commanders left Fallon to lead a Strike Force and two led the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain.
“I like to say there is a simple template, but there isn’t,” he said.