Lt. Gen. Brian S. Robinson, Commander, AETC Meets with MS&T

28 November 2023

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Lt. Gen. Brian S. Robinson, Commander, AETC | Source/credit: USAF

This November 27, Marty Kauchak, MS&T editor completed a brief, but wide-ranging, interview with Lt. Gen. Brian S. Robinson, Commander, Air Education and Training. The content from the interview follows.

MS&T: General Robinson thanks for taking time to meet with MS&T. Starting at the overarching level, where is US Air Force learning (education and training) going in terms of its use of simulation and other learning technologies?

LtGen Robinson: That’s a great, lead-in question. From the perspective of what Air Education and Training Command does, we largely have the institutional focus. It’s the initial skills, pre-commissioning training, pre-accession training as well as professional military education perspective which gets into the leadership development aspect of force development. Where I think we’re going to go is a continued use of modeling and simulation – we’ve seen an uptick on that already even in the operational force with how they approach training as well.

AETC has seen simulation expand in to its UPT 2.5 program (above).

Source/credit: US Air Force/Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen.

Coming from Air Mobility Command in the aviation space, simulation has been a huge part on how we train our aviation force by virtue of leveraging off of what the airlines have done in similar type platforms. We’ve seen that now expand in Pilot Training Next and UPT [Undergraduate Pilot Training] 2.5 with the immersive training technologies – so your lower class devices down to individual, personalized, either VR/AR goggles or your content available on your personal mobile device or your official mobile device.

We’re now pivoting those concepts over to technical training in the ways we think can improve, at the same quality or better, but improve the delivery of the competencies that we have to deliver to our airmen in each of the disciplines that we have. We are now evaluating each one of those Air Force specialty code approaches and training pathways for applicability there.

We’ve seen Air University continue to iterate the Agile Learning Program very aggressively in the Global Professional Military Education (PME), for example. The goal there is to get the in-residence PME to be equal to the distance learning PME. The only thing you can’t make up on a one-for-one basis is your networking interaction at a school. But short of that the focus is on warfighting, the principles of war, joint planning – those perspectives. The delivery of those key aspects of the training is going to be equal to or on par.

MS&T: With these and other initiatives is AETC and the broader service at a “tipping point” in terms of a much wider use of technologies? If not, what’s your forecast on when we’ll see a much-enhanced use of learning technologies throughout USAF education and training?

LtGen R: I don’t think we’re at the tipping point yet. I think we are there on the aviation side, particularly pilot training. We’re not there on the technical training side. At the tactical squadrons I’ve gone to visit, wings like the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base which is heavily maintenance oriented, the cadre of instructors are very aggressive and very much embrace the technological approach. The decision factors in the curriculum development staff really get down to whether or not we think it’s sufficient enough. Some people have a difficult time making a leap from “touch labor” I’ll call it, to what you get out of the virtual reality/augmented reality approach. In the end it comes down to how much you can stimulate the cognitive portion, such as the procedures, and whether the “looks right, feels right” is sufficient.

MS&T: You’ve mentioned pilot training programs, but there’s also other activity – Pilot Training Transformation, the recent receipt of the first Boeing T-7A Red Hawk, and others. It appears there’s a lot of other activity in the broad Air Force pilot training enterprise.

LtGen R: We’re not receiving T-7s at least at AETC. One has been delivered to the test command. We are focused on getting the ground-based training devices this coming year on schedule, which again gets at how you can use technology in simulation. Those are not your class D simulator-type devices, but a lesser rating and still very capable. The Pilot Training Transformation is largely done and we’re continuing to refine that. The thing that is important in this space, is with Mohr’s Law and the approach you have here, is we’re not going to be in a place, and you shouldn’t be in a place, where that’s the solution for the next 3, 5, 7 and certainly not the next 10 years. We’re going to have to iterate through that.

And that’s the value of a conference like I/ITSEC – this shows us what is in the art-of-the-possible, what industry is doing in modeling, simulation and gaming, but also what the other services are doing in that space.

Take the synthetic training environments – we have some of those going on at a higher level inside the Air Force on the operational force side. Also, the Army is doing STE in their branch schools. That’s important and that is where we’re headed. That’s the reality that we’ll see in the next several years.

MS&T: And in an adjacent sector the Air Force is working through AFWERX to develop pilot training programs for its initial tranches of eVTOLs.

LtGen R: That is not what we’re doing. I am aware of those approaches. I think the main sponsors for those are AFSOC and Air Mobility Command. I know we have Detachment 24 that is working on a syllabus design. And to my knowledge there is no firm requirement in the Air Force for eVTOL.

MS&T: Comment on the Air Force’s success in recruiting pilots and other new accessions across the service.

LtGen R: We don’t’ have a problem recruiting for pilot training, for pilots specifically. We have more that want to get into training than we can take through in any year.

Recruiting overall is a challenge for the force as a whole. You’re probably tracking that we missed the mark this year by roughly 2,900 people of goal – just over 10%, I think it was 10.6%. What we’re doing there is looking at how to leverage the recruiting force more as a network and how to apply technology to enhance the recruiters, based on the foundation that every airman is a recruiter. That’s not in the purest sense of recruiting as a task or function but we have the opportunity to make a connection with a member of the civilian force – a young man or woman who is considering options for their first professional steps in life. An option to connect with their influencers that they value – their parents, uncles, scout leaders, teachers would be a couple of good examples. We’re structuring our outreach to those who organizations, to those groups in a way that is much more objective and deliberate to get them to have a conversation with an airman, to understand what life as an airman is like and can be like, and what the benefits and the things you gain and earn in this particular line of work could be and would be. We found out there’s a pretty big disconnect over time from the average civilian to the military member from that perspective.

And back to the technology piece. In an interaction like that in the Air Force’s Aim High application (app), if you and I were having a conversation and you said you were interested in joining the Air Force, I could actually refer you through that app myself to a recruiter – put you in as a “lead” for Air Force Recruiting Headquarters to reach out with an actual recruiter to see how sincere your interests are and to answer any other questions you have.

We’ll do another iteration of technology change with a new system of record. It’s about a three or four-year process to switch over to Air Force AFRISS 2.0. We’re working with Air Force Recruiting Service and the technology provider to mature that.

MS&T: You mentioned I/ITSEC earlier. Recognizing you do not establish all of your service’s education and training requirements, are there several shortfalls and gaps at the command you need the S&T industry’s help to focus on and provide solutions for?

LtGen R: There’s a lot we can learn from how industry takes a look at this. Any other aviation organization uses technology in the ways they do to train, we can learn from how they do that. We’ve also embraced wargaming much more robustly for PME courses from what we’ve seen here. We’re looking at can we take that from simply a static table top wargame to a virtual version, which would probably allow you to process the game at speed and tempo – necessary to complete with PRC in a conflict. If you want to slow down and have deliberate conversations about doctrine or tactics that are being considered or employed, you can come back and either pause the game or come back to the tabletop’s version. A specific tabletop game that is already in play in the PME course is Kingfisher Ace. That’s been robustly integrated into PME, all of the officer courses and we’re exploring some digital solutions as well that would inform at a different level.

MS&T: Considering your previous remarks, how will AETC learning differ in five years from today’s instruction?

LtGen R: We’ll see a continued, greater focus or preponderance of training that is delivered. It will be learner centric delivered to their point of need or desire to learn. No longer will you be anchored to the classroom or a platform instructor. If you have a spare 20 minutes in a training dorm or basic military training, you can pull up the lesson that you want to better understand or dig deeper on your own. That applies already in pilot training and is shifting over to tech training. In BMT, they’ve scaled every trainee that comes in gets a tablet that they get to use throughout their entire 7-1/2-week experience.

We’ll iterate quicker on training, so evolving the course materiel over the objectives.

We want to see a better simulation that gets to decision-making not just learning rote memorization tasks, particularly as you get into your tech schools, so your initial skills training are when you come back for advanced training and especially in the advanced PME space. If you are going to be on a joint task force commander’s staff in their -3, -5 or -2, how do you make decisions in that space?

And we’ll see a greater use of artificial intelligence. We already have that at 82nd Training Wing. As of January, one of the maintenance training squadrons has developed an artificial instructor through a chatGPT rendering, where it confines the source to all the Air Force instructions and tech orders – it bounds it and the student can ask whatever he or she wants. We’ve also seen AI in terms of language learning, in the courses at Monterrey, California that is enhancing how quickly learning difficult languages such as Mandarin and others, for your SIGINT platform personnel. That is taking root and giving them greater success.

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