Training Aircrew Officers for Mission Command

Geoff Slocombe / Victoria
In military aircraft it is the pilot’s job to keep safely to mission tracks then on to its planned destination, while the mission commander’s role is to navigate and fight the aircraft. In single seat combat aircraft these two roles are combined. Larger aircraft, including maritime combat helicopters, have a separate mission commander who “takes necessary directive action to achieve assigned mission goals by collecting, correlating, and coordinating data from networked multiple sensor devices and fire control systems; co-operating in the selection and delivery of weapons; conducting communications; and engaging in other tasks as necessary.”
With modern aircraft like the FA-18F Super Hornet and the B737-AEW&C Wedgetail joining legacy platforms in the RAAF and the growing number of networked Australian force elements – enabling sophisticated data fusion from multiple sensors, including from widely separated and different sources – the RAAF has created a new aircrew officer role. The former specialisations of Air Defence Officer, Navigator and Airborne Electronics Officer are combined into a new position called Air Combat Officer (ACO). This is in line with the USAF Combat Systems Officer, RNZAF Air Warfare Officer (AWO), Canada’s Aircraft Combat Systems Officer and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm’s Airborne Combat Systems Officer.
Under project AIR 5232 the ACO Training System (ACOTS) brings a cultural and technological change to RAAF training. In this they are being advised and supported by their own officers, the DMO, the DSTO, and Australian industry participants.
At the same time, the introduction of 24 new MH-60R naval combat helicopters, for anti-surface warfare (ASW) and anti-subsurface warfare (ASuW), has required the RAN’s Fleet Air Arm to seek more advanced training for its Maritime Aviation Warfare Officers (AvWOs), who assume helicopter mission command duties.
Training of ACOs and AvWOs is directed towards officers being able to perform high priority complex mental tasks while carrying out exact physical actions; to absorb new information and apply it under pressure accurately and swiftly. This needs to be done while all the time maintaining their own situational awareness in three dimensional space and time, including identification of the current and future positioning of other moving objects.
AIR 5232 Phase 1
Project AIR 5232 Phase 1 of the 2011 Defence Capability Plan is Defence’s project to acquire advanced training systems for its School of Air Warfare (SAW) at RAAF Base, East Sale, where ACOs and AvWO officers receive common core and then specialist training for their aircrew roles.
Given that there are already capabilities in place, the project is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, with existing systems updated or replaced as contracts expire or new network capabilities, aerial platforms and sensors come into service. Changes in doctrine, strategy and tactics of the ADF and coalition partners will similarly trigger updates.
To quote from the Defence website, industry has the opportunity to compete for “new ground and air synthetic training devices dealing with electronic warfare, radar, navigation, imaging, tactics and acoustics. These can include desk top trainers (DTT), part task trainers (PTT), mission trainers . . . flight management systems (FMS), computer based training (CBT) and computer aided instruction (CAI).”
The range of industry capability desired from prospective participants includes R&D; modelling and simulation; systems design and development; manufacture or software development; assembly and installation; testing and evaluation; education and training; designing, building and maintaining infrastructure; logistics support; and the ability to repair, maintain, and sustain the installed systems.
The $300m – $500m band project is still at pre-First Pass Approval stage, with market solicitation and the Year-of-Decision to be between now and the end of FY 2014, while initial operating capability is 3 to 5 years away.
Surprisingly, the DMO’s public version description makes no mention of advanced training for Army pilots who fly the ARH Tiger, MRH-90 and Chinook helicopters, yet they must have to make mission decisions based on similar sensor and network input.
RAAF ACO assignments after common course training
The 26 week common course at SAW has these major components – aviation fundamentals; missions systems management; mission command; fundamentals of air power; basic air campaign planning; and future air and space operating concepts.
ACOs then receive 14 weeks specialist training in one of three streams – air battle management (ABM) at RAAF Base Williamtown; maritime patrol and response (MPR) at SAW; air combat and tactical support (ACTS) at SAW. They then attend graduation ceremonies at SAW before moving on to operational conversion training relevant to, and then employment in, their speciality.
RNZAF AWOs also train at SAW for duties in P-3K2 Orion surveillance and C-130H Hercules combat air lift planes.
RAN AvWOs in MH-60R helicopters
The duration of the Navy Basic Observer Course (BOC) at SAW for AvWOs is 38 weeks. Subjects covered include Aerodynamics and Performance Navigation, Airmanship, Flight Safety & Emergency Procedures, Meteorology, Communications, Recognition, Radar, Weapons Systems, Electronic Combat, and Search & Rescue operations.
Primary missions for the MH-60R are ASW and ASuW. Secondary missions can include search and rescue (SAR), naval gunfire and support (NGFS), vertical replenishment (VERTREP), communications relay, logistics support and personnel transport.
The RNZN fly SH-2G Seasprite naval combat helicopters, having similar missions to the MH-60R, with Airborne Tactical Officers (TACCOs) training at SAW.
ACO Training System (ACOTS)
The ACOTS project is now under the direction of the DMO’s Training Aircraft Systems Program Office (TASPO) at RAAF Base, East Sale.
Work started in 2001 by the DSTO, RAAF and industry participants like the Defence Recognised Supplier, YTEK Pty Ltd, a professional services and software engineering company based in Melbourne. Under the umbrella of the RAAF Simulation Roadmap wide ranging concept explorations, and prototyping, to produce and support a Distributed Simulation and Training and Experimentation environment for individual and command team training were carried out. YTEK contributed significantly in this effort at DSTO, and worked closely with Human Factors specialists and RAAF end users to build modules of the ADGESIM® Suite, implemented from 2006 onwards at the Surveillance and Control Training Unit (SACTU) RAAF Base Williamtown. YTEK has been appointed by Defence as the world-wide distributor of the ADGESIM® Suite.
Richard Yanieri, managing director of YTEK, said “We know the ADGESIM® Suite is a proven solution which supports that part of the ACO curriculum that builds cognitive ability and team endeavour. It conveys the right ‘feel’ from the trainee’s point-of-view for ready, effective and enjoyable curriculum content uptake. It inspires team efforts, so that decisions and action can be taken with full confidence in fellow warfighters’ immediate reactions. Anecdotally, RAAF users of ADGESIM praise its ease of use and desirable features.”
A subset of this suite, known as AWSIM, became operational at SAW in 2009. According to a defence spokesperson “ADGESIM is now an integral part of Air Combat Officer Training.”
The Air Force has been taking a number of initiatives to update/improve the current ACOTS until delivery of AIR 5232. In 2010 the Australian Rapid Prototyping and Development Environment (RPDE) collaboration participants (see received a contract from the Air Force for part remediation of the existing training system and to contribute to the development, testing and evaluation of a prototype system for ACO sensor and network centric awareness training. The upgraded system was to provide “enhanced sensor simulation, integrated team training, and improved instructor scenario/library management”.
Cirrus Real Time Processing Systems (Cirrus RTPS), an Australian-owned SME, was awarded the AFM 1002 contract to develop prototype simulation software. This ACOTS solution simulates sensor, tactical picture collation and communication systems, to provide ab-initio training in these areas. It encompasses simulation of surface and air imaging radars, radar warning receivers, optic and infra-red sensors; simulated communications including link track interchange and tactical chat messaging; and a moving map display for situational awareness.
CO SAW, WGCDR Jason Lind, said this upgrade to the Air Navigation Trainer (ANT) and Synthetic Navigation Trainer (SNT) was developed, tested and introduced in just over two years. “It emulates a more modern ACO aircraft console and provides the ACO student more realistic mission training.”
“Having the graduates from 12 ACO and 13 ACO complete their training using ACOTS was a significant achievement for the school” WGCDR Lind said. “13 ACO in particular embraced ACOTS and achieved the first ever 100 per cent pass rate for an ACO course, a great achievement for the eight graduates.”

Further Industry Opportunities

In February 2012, Cirrus RTPS managing director, Peter Freed, announced that “We are very pleased to have been contracted to further evolve the Cirrus ACO-TS solution and to continue our excellent relationship with TASPO and SAW. In the last six months, the ACO-TS has proven itself in continual operational use, and it is very satisfying to see high technology indigenously developed by the Australian SME sector providing such benefit to the ADF.”

The initial work of YTEK and Cirrus RTPS was done before Requests for Information (RFI) and Requests for Tender (RFT) emerge through normal channels over the next year or so, for capabilities identified by training needs analysis during AIR 5232.

The training capability gains made over the last 10 years and the training technology that has resulted from that effort, as embodied and represented in ADGESIM, for example, has been significant and transformative. It would not be constructive to argue for wholesale replacement of this capability, in an educational and training effectiveness sense, let alone cost justification. This is for the reasons that relate, in part, to a large investments by Defence – through DSTO and the RAAF – in the application of Human Factors discipline, as well as long term consultation with end users in guiding the design of ADGESIM to acquire a ‘feel’ that encapsulates the precise demand of experienced air surveillance operators and air battle managers in order to stay current and sharp, whilst reducing the cost of training and maintaining operator currency.
As Defence dollars remain tight and if officer separation rates continue at present levels, training systems must become more comprehensive, relevant and effective, requiring fewer instructor and operator resources in a demanding RAAF training regime. AIR 5232 Phase 1 aims to achieve that.




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