In late October, after a reschedule due to Hurricane Michael, Group Editor Marty Kauchak journeyed to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida. He reports on the US Navy’s efforts to bring more technology and contractor support to bear on naval flight officer training.

This is a continual motion machine,” noted Capt. Scott Janik, Commander, Training Air Wing 6 (CTW-6). “Every two weeks we are checking in a new class and at the end of every month, if not twice a month, we are graduating students.”

CTW-6 conducts primary, intermediate and advanced training for about 350 Navy, Marine Corps and international flight officers annually. The roster of allied and friendly nation naval flight officer (NFO) training supported by the Wing includes Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Germany and others. That list may increase if international customers for P-8s, E-2Ds and other aircraft ask the US Navy to deliver this training under foreign military sales contracts.

One of the lesser-known consequences in the current revolution in maritime military operations is the complex roles of the NFO. USN and Marine Corps NFOs and their counterparts in allied services (dubbed military flight officer, in some instances), are completing missions in new, more capable aircraft in their Services’ air orders of battle. Some of these aircraft include the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and P-8A Poseidon, replacing, respectively, the E-2C and P-3C, at a quickening pace. Other Navy and Marine Corps NFOs support operations in E/A-18G Growlers, the replacement for the venerable EA-6. The flight officers assigned to these and other platforms are expected to detect, track, report and defeat, in a networked environment, the increasingly complex weapons platforms and weapons used by non-state actors and near-peer competitors in competitive littoral and blue ocean regions. To meet this convergence of requirements, the US Navy is stepping up its efforts to deliver more highly trained and capable, newly minted NFOs to its maritime command and control weapons platforms.

The Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Multi-Crew Simulator prepares new NFOs for assignment to P-8s, E-2s and other big wings. Image credit: CAE.
The Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Multi-Crew Simulator prepares new NFOs for assignment to P-8s, E-2s and other big wings. Image credit: CAE.

1:1 Student-Contractor Ratio

The air wing is comprised of Training Squadron 10 (VT-10) – for all primary training, VT-4 – providing training for P-8s, E-2s and other “big wings,” and VT-86 – delivering training for tactical aircraft customers.

About 325 contractor personnel support CTW-6, with CAE USA the most prominent.

For its part, the CAE-led industry team is involved with aspiring students from Day 1 thru their “winging.” In one instance, the training integration company provides contract instructors (CI) for both classroom and simulator training on the command’s T-6A Texan IIs, T-45C Goshawks and Undergraduate Military Flight Officer Multi-Crew Simulator (UMFO MCS). About 50% of CAE’s CIs are dual-qualified in T-6/T-45.

Janik called attention to the approximate 1:1 ratio of students to contract support personnel and minced no words: “This underscores the criticality of our partners.”

Further, CAE supplies and is responsible for life cycle support on these command training devices: two T-6A Operational Flight Trainers (OFTs) with a 270-degee field of view, Google Earth imagery for the entire continental US with 1m resolution, and other capabilities; five T-6A Unit Training Devices (UTDs), no visual system; 20 Station 2B47 Basic Instrument Trainers; six T-45C OFT devices with 210-degree field of view, National Imagery and Mapping Agency imagery at 1m resolution, and other capabilities; and the UMFO MCS.

John Ezelle, CAE USA’s Site Manager for its T-6/T-45 contract at NAS Pensacola, explained 2B47 training is computer-enabled learning “which allows the students to navigate, make keyboard entries and complete other course requirements.”

Ready, Relevant Enablers

The CWT-6 suite of training devices has the attention of the command leaders – with Captain Janik calling out the criticality of these technologies in helping prepare newly winged NFOs for fleet assignments.

Janik said the UFMO MCS supports VT-4’s training (a “simulator driven squadron”) and added, “This is where CAE and the MCS are critical, to provide the dynamics to allow for ready, relevant learning – being able to model those simulators to actually mimic what those students, after they are winged, will go to the fleet and start seeing.”

The wing commander’s observations were validated when this editor observed VT-4 students engaged in different unclassified scenarios in the MCS. While one student was evaluating for the first time a notional sonobuoy line “deployed” from a P-8, other junior officers were learning the intricacies of onboard sensors found on US Navy E-2Ds and other aircraft.

Ray Duquette, CAE USA’s president and general manager, emphasized CAE’s support of CTW-6 NFO training is another instance of the company’s much broader simulation and training support to the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) community.

Duquette noted the training bar for UFMO MCS-hosted training would be further raised if the Navy customer invests in technologies to support classified training scenarios as well as networking MCS work stations to other training devices and even operational platforms. There are no funded requirements to support these improvements.

In another instance of technology-enabled instruction, the wing’s T-45C Virtual Mission Training System (VMTS) allows prospective F/A-18D and other tac air NFOs the opportunity to “complete” air-to-ground scenarios (low altitude strike profiles, close air support attack profiles and others), air-to-air tasks and other fleet mission sets in the T-45C, then debrief their actions with instructors. The CTW-6 commander observed that when looking at the VMTS radar, “you forget you’re looking at something that is synthetic. But for the training here, this is phenomenal, to not be affected by maintenance or weather.”

More significant, VMTS is also one of CTW-6’s linkages to the evolving live, virtual, constructive (LVC) environment, which permits the command’s students to “train outside of the confines of a training range you are provided,” Janik said. “I can throw in threats at greater ranges and have more dynamic presentations for men and women that are airborne, and even share information between integrated widely dispersed platforms and simulators. It is all being investigated and in the works – we are not doing all of it here, but definitely, when people talk LVC, they know VT-86 is one of those places doing work in it, and utilizing this technology.”

Janik further emphasized that as students advance through their continua of training, more time is allocated for simulator-based scenarios and missions. “There are two reasons,” the CTW-6 commandeer offered. “With the advancement of workload on students, giving them more rehearsal and practice, and making sure they are ready in a simulator before they fly the airplane, is the right thing to do. And now with the T-45C VMTS and with VT-4, you have the capabilities in a simulator to replicate things you can’t always replicate in the air – it’s always easier to do it in a simulator.”

Low-Level COTS

What will be “new” in the command’s NFO training program in the next 12-18 months? Janik replied that, “while the students will not see any new, ‘big ticket items,’ we are having a lot of discussions on where and how to apply technologies that are out there – whether it is low-level COTS or others – and where can we get those into training and apply them. Some of that too, is also procuring things accurately by laws, as we have to.” Key command technology areas of informal interest for instructors, as well as students, range from virtual reality hardware (headsets) to study aids. 

Originally published in Issue 6, 2018 of MS&T Magazine.