By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (Jan. 17, 2014) -- Less money means fewer flying hours for training pilots and air crews. How can the Army maximize the value of those limited flying hours so Soldiers can get the most out of their time in a real aircraft?
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Randy Godfrey, chief warrant officer of the Aviation Branch, United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence, suggests the "week-long flight" as one approach to make those hours in the air have more benefit.
During the Association of the United States Army aviation symposium, Jan. 14, in Arlington, Va., Godfrey explained how the days before an actual flight and the days after could be structured to get the most out of three or four hours of actual flying.
"How do we maximize our flying hours? An example I have looked at is something called the week-long flight," Godfrey said. "So when you have a three- or four-hour flight, we can stretch that out and have it take approximately three to four days."
On Monday, he said, Soldiers go back to "company-level planning," something that atrophied somewhat in Iraq and Afghanistan because the operations tempo there pushed such planning up the chain of command.
"Let's go back to company-level training. On Monday we have fragmentary orders, a scenario that we develop based on our mission-essential task list for that company," he said. "We take that scenario, that FRAGO, and we break it apart into what's called our mission planning cells, where everybody in the company has a part in that where they develop and look at different things. At the end of the day, we bring those mission planning cells together, we develop our operations order, our mission briefs."
On Tuesday, the missions are actually briefed, he said. And then Soldiers rehearse those missions.
"We either rehearse them the old-style way on a sand table or a training board, or we use some of the newer technology we have or would like to see developed: the Tactical Terrain Visualization System, desktop type things where they can actually see those missions and fly them in a virtual world."
The next day, crews would go to simulators and practice. They might use the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, or the Longbow Crew Trainer for instance.
"Hopefully all those can tie in together, and we have incorporated those with our ground units," Godfrey said. He added that those missions should be practiced "over and over" to help Soldiers develop.
On Thursday, crews would actually suit up and get inside a real aircraft for a real flight -- limited as it may be.
"When we fly that mission, we've seen this mission for three days now, we've practiced it, we've briefed it," he said. "So it maximizes those three or four hours they may be out flying."
Finally, on the following day, he said, crews do their after-action review and debriefs.
"We capture the lessons learned to put into that scenario," he said. "So basically a three- or four-hour flight, we've taken a whole week, and we've seen this multiple times in maximizing the amount of flight hours."
Army aviation leaders at the conference said that virtual training in Army simulators is key to maintaining readiness when flying hours are being cut.
Brig. Gen. Michael D. Lundy, deputy commanding general, United States Army Combined Arms Center, said the Army's integrated training environment -- fielded now at five Army installations and eventually at 17 -- plays a part in that.
"It ties together a lot of our legacy training aids devices simulators and simulations, specifically for aviation's Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer and the non-rated crew member module, but also the close combat tactical trainer on the ground side, all of our constructive simulations, and our live capabilities that are out there -- home-station instrumentation systems, and MILES," he said.
Systems at Fort Hood, Fort Bliss, Fort Campbell, Fort Stewart and in Korea allow units at home station to "replicate very closely what our fidelity is out at the combat training centers with the instrumentation and the integration of these different enablers."
By 2022, he wants to move into something called the "Future Holistic Training Environment - Live Synthetic" to get "away from multiple environments, virtual, gaming, constructive, and go to one synthetic environment, make it lower overhead, and integrate the full operations process so a commander can holistically ... sit down and go through plan, prepare, execute and access. And do everything with respect to training in a common operating picture," he said.
With the Army's Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer -- a multi-user simulator for training helicopter crews -- efforts are underway to upgrade the systems to account for advances in current Army aviation assets. Lundy said AVCATT is the premier virtual trainer on the virtual side for the Army, but that the system has currency issues now in that it is not concurrent with the CH-47F model Chinook, the UH-60M Blackhawk or the AH-64 Block III.
They have a plan with a way ahead on upgrading the training capability of the AVCATT system to include CH-47F, and also with the UH-60M Chinook. Lundy said they are still working upgrades to bring it current with AH-64 Block III capabilities.
NEW EMPHASIS ON TRAINING
Lundy told attendees that changes to Army training doctrine are drawing attention to the role commanders play in keeping their Solders ready for combat.
"The big change for training doctrine was really re-emphasis the commander's role in training," he said.
Army doctrine has been rewritten to re-emphasize that, and also changed to make sure there is a closer alignment in training with how the Army fights.
Col. Robert T. Ault, commander, 4th Combat Aviation Brigade, said company commanders must take ownership of simulated training as well.
"Company leadership needs to learn to train in the simulated environment," Ault said. "The fidelity of the simulated environment is maintained at that level. They have to understand how to transition their force, their units, their Soldiers from flying live missions to now making the simulator -- not necessarily seem real -- but have fidelity."
And Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr., Aviation Branch command sergeant major, United States Army Aviation Center of Excellence, said there are changes for enlisted Soldiers as well. He said that after 10 years at war, noncommissioned officers know how to be trained -- but they might not know how to train others.
"We have to train that paradigm and get back to NCOs owning training," Thompson said. "We're working on a lot of initiatives to get there."
He also said there are changes being developed for enlisted aviation training. The concept is to move toward a "skills-based" program of instruction. Using an aircraft engine mechanic as an example, Thompson said the Army is looking to get away from Soldiers preforming 70-80 critical tasks and instead getting Soldiers to master skills and knowledge required for their MOS.
An enlisted engine mechanic does critical tasks on every turbine engine in the Army inventory, he said.
"Instead of that, we will spend several weeks mastering the skills that a turbine engine mechanic needs without even seeing an engine," he said. After that skills-based training and mastery of skills, he said, they might then go do critical tasks on various Army engines.
"It's not 80 critical tasks, it's a dozen, to validate those skills that were mastered upfront in the skills-based training program of instruction," Thomson said.
He also said an initiative for NCOs involves a partnership with Corpus Christi Army Depot to send NCOs there from units to train with the "artisans" and "really get that graduate-level maintenance training," Thomason said. "They can bring that back to their units."