“You don’t own these planes son the taxpayers do”, One of the many iconic and best known quotes from the original Top Gun movie.
In 1986, a movie called Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise would send military recruitment into overdrive. Over 20,000 applicants for the military, mostly for the Navy applied around the release of the movie. The movie was such a huge recruiting tool, that military recruiters set up recruitment stands in movie theatres.
Now with the long awaited sequel in production and the star Tom Cruise putting out a tweet on 31st May with the image of Maverick (Cruise’s character in Top Gun) looking at his aircraft and the words ‘Feel The Need’, military recruiters are paying careful attention to its cultural impact and if it could help plug the hole in the US military recruitment problem.
So like its predecessor, could Top Gun 2, help boost recruitment into todays military? In the 32years since the first movie, much has changed, and much has happened, we’ve had 9/11, which was a huge recruitment tool for the military, along with the two wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. But with the end of both wars and the controversy of whether or not we should have ever gone into Iraq and the WMDs that never were has impacted amongst other recruiting issues both sides of the pond, in fact its not just a problem for the US & UK, all NATO countries are suffering with poor recruitment.
In 1986, we saw Maverick flying the iconic F-14 Tomcat up against fictional Mig-28s which weren’t actually Mig-28s (they were actually Northrop F-5s)and the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Neither the F-14 Tomcat or USS Enterprise are in service any longer, the F-14’s were taken out of service in 2016 and the USS Enterprise was decommissioned in 2017. In fact even Top Gun is no more, the Elite Navy Fighter Pilot School known as Top Gun has been merged into another training school in 1996, it was merged into the Naval Strike & Air Warfare Centre at NAS Fallon, Nevada.
So with Maverick back in the cockpit, can military recruitment be helped out of a recruitment black hole? The cast has been kept a closely guarded secret, the F-14 is no longer, but it has been replaced by the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, which earlier this year the US Government awarded Boeing the contract to modernise the US Navy F/A-18 fleet to extend the life of the Super Hornets from 6000 to over 9000 flight hours, which will mean the Super Hornets will continue to serve into the 2020s.
Very little is known about the plot or cast of the movie, but its thought the plot will evolve around main character Maverick as an instructor, which is suggested at the end of the original movie, but with the advances of military aviation and tactics over the last 32years, its thought the movie will explore the world of drone technology, fifth generation fighters and an end of an era of dog fighting. The sequels director Joseph Kosinski has said, this new approach is appropriate to the times we live in today.
Kosinski went on to say “The navy is very different now than it was in 1986, its a different world now, so you can’t remake the first movie, which gives you a front seat into the world of naval aviation and what its like to be in a fighter jet”.
The movie by Paramount will produced by Jerry Bruckeimer, David Ellison and Tom Cruise himself will also serve as a producer. The original mover grossed $179.8million domestically and $357million world wide on its release in the summer of 1986. It was directed by Tony Scott who had been working with Cruise on the sequel until his suicide.
In 2015, the United States Library of Congress selected ‘Top Gun’ for preservation in the National Film Registry as one of the 25 films named annually that are recognised for their cultural, historical and aesthetically significance.
Meanwhile, in back here in the UK, the armed forces are experiencing a significant shortfall in recruitment. A recent report from the National Audit Office found that an additional 8,200 military was urgently needed to meet the required level of readiness, and it would take up to 5 years to plug the gap. Significant areas of shortfall included the lack of regulars in specialist trades, such as intelligence, engineering, logistics, communications, pilots and medical.
The report concludes that current levels of recruitment are not a sustainable long-term it said: “the department’s reliance on a ‘base-fed’ model – where it recruits regulars into the lowest ranks and develops their skills and experience over time – has not enabled it to close capability gaps quickly enough.”
Clearly, there is a need for new thinking. In this situation, many believe the commercial sector can be the military’s ideal wingman.
In 2017, UK General Sir Nick Carter proposed plans to substantially increase lateral recruitment. While this hasn’t been put into fruition just yet, there are signs that all branches of the armed forces are beginning to recruit for specialist roles from the civilian sector.
According to a report sent to the Prime Minister, the Royal Navy is beginning to experiment with nuclear engineers, and the Air Force and Army are considering the use of civilian crews for helicopters and airbuses.
Going one step further, lessons can be learned from the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) which has been recruiting laterally for a few years now. Ironically, the ADF is the one doing the poaching. One of the primary criteria for applicants is they have to be a current or recently separated member of a foreign military.
Some organisations are already offering manpower substitution for the defence forces. In the UK, Inzpire closely cooperates with the Ministry of Defence and offers a wide array of training opportunities, from piloting to virtual training.
While lateral recruitment can shore up numbers, it may not be enough. The question also has to be asked if increasing recruitment numbers is even necessary.
“Top Gun: Maverick” is scheduled for release on July 12, 2019.