ORLANDO, Fla .– The US Navy hopes to train more competent Airmen for less money, officials say, as they consider using simulators to speed up the base training process and then focus on flying in direct on high-end tactics that will help them win against an opponent like China.
Rear Adm. John Meier, the commanding officer of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said Nov. 30 at the annual inter-service / industry training, simulation and education conference that simulators from the classroom to those on the door- Aircraft deployed at sea could help keep training costs decline even as the naval aviation community seeks to become more skilled.
“We recognize that the cost of operating our business, the cost of training and developing a carrier air wing, is quite high. And the cost per flying hour is pretty staggering, the cost of maintaining our plane is staggering, and one of the areas I have a laser point on is how can we reduce some of those flying hours and further increase the simulation side? ”he said during a panel discussion with other Navy flag officers.
“I’m not talking about taking an ax for [live flight hours], but we need to be able to change that a bit. And if you think about the cost-per-hour delta between those two and the high-end tactics you can use, that makes perfect sense. “
Meier said new aircraft types / models / series, including the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, rely more on simulators in their training matrices and of preparation. But older aircraft, including the Navy’s F / A-18E-F Super Hornet, which still make up the bulk of the fighter fleet, remain reliant on live flight hours to achieve various training milestones and certification.
“The current balance of flights to simulation is now heavily skewed in flights for most aircraft,” Meier said. He said he wouldn’t want simulator hours to be more than a quarter of training time, but there is still plenty of room to move in that direction.
“I would be happy to move the needle for a flight, quite frankly. If we could take away one theft and tell about all of them [type/model/series] that we are no longer piloting this flight… and moving to a simulation event, that would be a step in the right direction, ”he said, adding that the savings would accumulate quickly despite the upfront costs and costs support for entrepreneurs.
Meier told Defense News after panel technology is advanced enough today that this change can be made without sacrificing the quality of training. In fact, he said, he would like to see much of the more basic – but still necessary – training transferred to simulators to free up live flight time and funding for practicing high-end tactics, key to a future conflict.
“We really allow our pilots, the fighter pilots in particular, but really the way the Air Wing is used, to focus more and more on high-end tactics and less on what I would call the blocking and tackling, the basic type trick. We want to get over that as quickly as possible and spend the vast majority of our training on the high end threat, ”he said in a brief interview.
Even during deployments, he said, the air wing can focus on these offensive tactics. In the past, four planes might have to fly in a training event: two to replicate an opposing force, which is less useful for these pilots, and two to rehearse actual US Navy tactics. Now, thanks to an “inject to live” ability that inserts contacts of simulated adversaries into the cockpit of a fighter jet, the Super Hornet fleet can conserve flight hours during deployments for real missions and for missions. flights that increase lethality – not those that support the training of other pilots by serving as an adversary.
During the panel, Meier used the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 11 as an example of how simulators can create a demonstrable advantage.
This squadron – which flies the two-seater F / A-18F from Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and serves in Carrier Air Wing One with the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman – was dominant during its recent training event. of the Air Wing Carrier Air Wing Fallon. .
Meier said that, compared to other attack fighter squadrons, the VFA-11 had a death rate 2.5 times higher than anyone else, meaning they were killing more enemy planes and being killed. less often during training events.
“What we found was that, plain and simple, the commander and the training officer, the leadership they had in training to fight and to win, really focused on using simulators whenever possible, ”said Meier, noting the time spent in the simulators was supervised by the training officer and designed to practice the most sophisticated tactics.
“It’s a bit of a cultural issue, but we’re also trying to instill it now as well,” he said.
Meier told Defense News that he and Vice Admiral Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the Naval Air Force and the Pacific Naval Air Force, annually review individual and field-level training and readiness matrices. squadron and are trying to insert more simulator training.
Meier also addressed another effort, called Naval aeronautical training Next, which seeks to modernize the way the Navy trains its new Airmen before they join fleet squadrons.
Rear Admiral Robert Westendorff, chief of naval air training, told the same panel that three pilot programs fall under this effort: Project Avenger, which began in September 2020 and aims to shorten the primary flight training schedule for the all-new Airmen in the T-6 Trainer; Project Hellcat, which trades some early training in attack fighter maneuvers in the T-45 trainer for time in the cheaper T-6 trainer; and Project Corsair, which aims to reduce the time spent in the T-45 before fighter pilots are ready to join a fleet squadron.
Westendorff said the Navy has advanced in training skills applicable to the Global War on Terrorism, “but that does not translate well in many ways into this close-to-peer threat that we will face in the future. ‘to come up”.
Naval Aviation Training Next uses simulator technology and a program that allows students to go at their own pace to create more competent pilots who can join the fleet faster, he said.
Meier, for his part, said this effort was “probably the most innovative thing I have seen in the training industry in a long time.”
Westendorff said several classes have now graduated from the Project Avenger course and that “we have already had students who completed primary flight training in a matter of weeks.”
In the second class of the flight program, the average student completed the primary flight training program 20% faster than the old curriculum would have allowed, he added.
“It is, in my mind, to produce a more competent aviator to win this next conflict,” he said. “As we all know, less time in training command, more time in the fleet learning this higher level ship, so we’re getting there. And I think we can save a few dollars as well.
The first class of the Hellcat project starts on December 6. The idea behind this effort is to take about 10 hours of early flight time for the attack pilots, where they learn very basic dynamic maneuver concepts, and do this training in the T-6 instead. of the T-45.
“I can give them about 10 hours in the T-6, which is less than a quarter of the cost of an hour’s flight in a T-45,” Westendorff said.
Students would then move on to Project Corsair, which covers the 42-week strike combat program in the T-45 trainer. The first class of this pilot program is expected to begin early next year, possibly in February, which means that in about a year, Westendorff expects to be able to say for sure whether Naval Aviation Training Next is producing better new pilots for less time and money.
“Right now, everything indicates that I have really passed the proof-of-concept phase of the Avenger project and I have data to indicate that it is a success. In about a year, a year and a half, I’ll have the data from the entire system from start to finish to make sure we’re on the right track and actually sending this higher-skilled aviator into the world. the fleet.
Megan Eckstein is the naval war reporter for Defense News. She has been covering military news since 2009, focusing on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, procurement programs, and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumnus.