Top Gun pilots' split-second timing outmatches drones, former Navy strike fighter tactics instructor says

“Top Gun: Maverick,” the highly anticipated sequel to the 1980s classic, features the return of Tom Cruise as Lt. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell as he and other pilots wrestle with the new age of drone warfare.

A former Top Gun instructor told FOX Business that Navy strike fighters are still necessary as drone combat becomes more prevalent in today's U.S. Air Force arsenal.

“The person in the loop can make a decision so rapidly that a drone will not necessarily be able to do it, even with AI,” Tom Trotter said on “Varney & Co. Monday.

Trotter said there are military missions that lend themselves to a drone due to their high-threat nature, adding that putting human life at risk is the not best tactical option.

“As technology advances those are the questions we have to answer,” he said.

Trotter, a Miramar final commanding officer, said a fighter pilot’s capability of making split-second decisions is what separates them from any drone tactic.

“The instructors, in particular, the cadre of junior officers that train, they are the best of the best and that’s what you want in the fighter role,” he said.

The United States Navy Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program (SFTI program), known as Top Gun, train its top 1 percent of fighter pilots. Paramount Pictures’ success of the first "Top Gun" movie was a major recruitment vehicle for the Navy program when the film was released in 1986.

"Top Gun: Maverick" returns as the sequel that is intended to give fans the need for speed. But Maverick won’t be flying the Navy’s latest jet, the F-35C Lightning. Instead, Cruise’s character will fly the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter during his combat missions.


Trotter said the F-35C Lightning will live up to everyone’s expectations, but he still favors the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, a fifth-generation single-seat, twin-engine stealth tactical fighter aircraft.

“The kill ratio for an F-22 in exercises is off the scale,” he said. “You can’t see it. It goes very fast, supercruise. Supersonic without afterburner.”