When Vice Adm. David Buss, the U.S. Navy’s “Air Boss,” spoke at the Chief of Naval Air Training change of command ceremony in September, he talked about the importance of “transferability of training” from the training environment to the fleet.
“The skills we provide our student Naval Aviators and NFOs (Naval Flight Officers) should be directly applicable to those skills they’ll need in the fleet,” Buss said. “It doesn’t help to train someone to be successful in the training environment only to have the equipment, systems and processes they’ve learned be completely different from those used in the fleet.”
One new way the Naval Air Training Command is accomplishing this is the Virtual Mission Training System (VMTS) recently implemented at Training Air Wing 6 aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola.
The mission of Training Air Wing 6 is to produce the highest quality NFOs and international military flight officers in the world through a well-rounded curriculum of academics, simulator training and flight time. Training Squadron (VT) 86 is one of three squadrons in the wing, and they provide the advanced level of training for student NFOs to develop the skills they will need in the fleet.
Those skills include navigation, operating radar systems and communications. In the past, in order to teach these skills, the wing would require additional aircraft to serve as “red,” or enemy aircraft. This advanced training required the additional expenditure of fuel, required maintenance and a corresponding reduction in the aircraft service life. In some cases, the training was simply not feasible to execute in the training command, so the students waited until they flew in the more expensive F/A-18 platform to learn the skills.
But all this is changing with VMTS. The system is embedded in the T-45 aircraft and contains a processor and a data link. The processor works with the aircraft navigation system to provide a virtual radar presentation that corresponds to where the aircraft is actually flying. Through the data link, an instructor NFO at an Instructor Ground Station is able to monitor the student’s performance in the aircraft real-time and can control the scenario, inserting surface-to-air and air-to-air threats into the virtual situation.
The surface-to-air threats and enemy aircraft a student experiences via the radar display are virtual only, but the heavy communication environment, weather and G-loading they feel are completely real.
The VMTS syllabus is a significant update as well. It has been modeled on the Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) syllabi to develop the exact skill sets required by 21st century NFOs. The students train on radar systems similar to those they will operate in the fleet – in fact the radar hand controller is based on the one used in the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
After the students land, VMTS continues to improve the training through its detailed debriefing system. The system records the radar display as well as all of the flight performance characteristics, radio, and integrated communication systems. It then synchronizes between multiple aircraft and provides playback that allows for a detailed review of radar work, flight geometry, communications, and other fleet-relevant skills. The instructors now have the ability to gather the significant learning points from each flight, improving the quality of training by showing the students what they did well and what they need to improve.
The Navy’s aircraft are improving and adding more capabilities, but they require better-trained aircrews to make full use of these capabilities. The VMTS system and syllabus is a revolutionary advancement in training that will ensure NFOs have the skills to operate these aircraft and prepare them for the challenges they will face in the 21st century.
Press Release, May 1, 2014; Image: US Navy