AIR 5428 – SOME  DELAYS, BUT FOR A GOOD REASON

As the Royal Australian Air Force moves towards its plan of transforming itself into what it calls “the world’s first 5th-Generation Air Force”, the way the service, and indeed, the whole ADF trains its pilots and aircrew is also undergoing a transformation.

Gone will be the days where pilot trainees sit in classrooms, listening to lectures and seeing diagrams drawn on a whiteboard with a textbook in hand, going for written exams or tests, and then moving on to manipulating imaginary switches in a dark room before going on an aircraft and flying a number of hours on it before repeating the process on another, more advanced aircraft and eventually making their way to an operation squadron if they made the grade.

Instead they will soon be trained on a system that will leverage heavily on technology and based on computers and simulators that is expected to be both highly flexible and adaptable to future advances in technology, while flying a modern trainer aircraft that builds on the legacy of the Pilatus PC-9 now being operated by the RAAF.

Earlier this year APDR reported on Projects AIR 9000 Phase 7 Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) and AIR 5428 Phase 1 Pilot Training System (PTS), which, as their names suggest, would train up the ADF’s helicopter crews and pilots respectively. In early October APDR had the opportunity to speak to Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Leo Davies and Subject Matter Experts in more detail about the project and pick their brains on what would be in the pipeline for ADF pilots.

5428 Background (250)

The $1.2 billion PTS project will see Lockheed Martin Australia deliver 49 Pilatus PC-21 aircraft, seven Flight Simulators, a modern learning environment for students, updated courseware, along with support for an initial seven-year term together with partners Pilatus and Hawker Pacific. Basic Flying Training will be delivered from RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria with 22 aircraft and Advanced Flying Training continuing to be delivered from RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia with 20 more.

A substantial part of training will be done on the ground at the new Air Academy at East Sale, which has been built as part of a $200 million upgrade to the facilities there. The formation of the academy will see the relocation of BFTS, the Central Flying School (CFS), the Training Aircraft Systems Project Office (TASPO), and the companies that form Team 21 under the same roof. This will use laptops or Personal Learning Devices (PLD) as they are known, and trainees will also have access to a Cockpit Procedural Trainer (CPT) with a realistic, movable seat and surrounded by three very large screens that portray a virtual world picture, and a smaller screen below for the PC-21’s instrument panel.

A key feature of the PC-21, which is the next generation follow-on after the PC-7 and PC-9 trainers, is the embedded simulation and training suite, which provides cross-platform cockpit emulation, weapons simulation, stores management system, simulated radar and electronic warfare, a tactical situation display, and datalink functionality.

The tandem front-and-rear cockpit of the PC-21 features a high level of systems integration and can be ‘de-coupled’ between the student and instructor for the latter to exercise real-time manipulation of the student’s displays to create synthetic air-to-air radar targets, artificial non-safety critical system failures, and controlled data degradation to provide for realistic advanced military flight training.

Flights on the actual aircraft will be recorded by the on-board mission debriefing system, which takes data from a cartridge-based Removeable Memory Module that records flight parameters and allows trainees to debrief themselves with audio, video and avionics data, either by themselves or with their Qualified Flying Instructor.

Program update

The AIR 5428 PTS had its genesis in the days before the RAAF had even selected the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with the conversation at the time revolving primarily around trying to understand what the training continuum would look like beyond the days of the Classic Hornets. It also focused on how the next generation training system would train pilots on the diverse aircraft types operated by the ADF such as the KC-30A tanker-transport and P-8A Poseidon.

The conversation also evolved the kind of platforms needed, and whether it would continue to involve trainees starting on a “Cessna-type” aircraft before moving on to something akin to the PC-9 and then progressing from there. In addition, it also looked at how a modern training environment for our pilots would look like, for while the PC-9 was described by CAF as an aircraft that had good performance, reliability and a fantastic trainer, without the ability to simulate different operations and rehearse missions for trainees and “no way to modernise in that construct”, the opportunity presented itself to “change not just the aircraft but a whole new training system”.

This is the same issue air forces around the world are working on and is something CAF has seen from his visits to his global counterparts, with programs such as the U.S. Air Force’s T-X designed to develop a next-generation pilot training system for future military pilots to suit their respective needs.

The conclusion to that conversation was that the ADF needed a modern training system that includes simulations, mission rehearsal, an aircraft that is further along the developmental/performance path and in the words of CAF, “narrows the gap between getting your wings and type conversion” for future C-17, P-8, Super Hornets, F-35 pilots. He added that the resulting outcome of AIR 5428 Phase 1 is the delivery of “a fantastic aircraft with a pedigree that we understand, with a company that has delivered a quality product and a training system partner in Lockheed-Martin who now understand exactly what we want, what we have contracted for, and are delivering it”.

However, the program has not been without hiccups, for despite having been well ahead of schedule and a steady stream of aircraft deliveries from Pilatus in Switzerland, according to CAF about 18 months ago it became apparent that what the RAAF expected in a 5th-Generation training system and what was being delivered was a little “skewed”, particularly in some pieces of the courseware as well as the fidelity of the simulators. The latter was described as quite similar to that being used by the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s Flying Training Institute detachment at RAAF Base Pearce that also operates the PC-21, and as a result the RAAF asked for a “2018 version” of that with improved simulator fidelity.

As such, the program spent the last 12 months aligning this skew in expectations, and after discussions which saw both sides adjust their expectations Lockheed-Martin was able to provide that improved simulator fidelity and standards required. Air Commodore Glen Braz, commander of Air Force Training Group, told APDR that while the issues in themselves were not major, “but because it is a complex training system with multiple components that all have to fit together to make a complete picture” it was required to get all the parts working together.

It was then decided to take a collaborative approach to work through the issues instead of being “contractual”, and both CAF and AIRCDRE Braz lauded Lockheed-Martin for its efforts to work through the issues, with CAF noting that the company was to be congratulated for not shying away from “realising that they needed to bring some more resources and some more focus to this process” and working closely together with CASG and Air Force Training Group.

The ADF’s experience with HATS has also guided the stakeholders on how to work through the issues, with both programs developed in parallel and have a lot of similarities with each other and are in fact designed to be integrated with each other. Shane Fairweather, the Acting Group Business Manager at CASG, noted that HATS faced similar problems and was “in a worse position compared to AIR 5428 at the same point of time” but has nevertheless managed to turn the program around, overcoming an internal delay of almost 12 months to deliver the capability to the ADF on time.

With this in mind, AIRCDRE Braz is confident that the maturity of HATS is good news for the PTS and provides a great baseline to build the rest of AIR 5428 PTS. CAF also told APDR that he is comfortable with the status of the program, and despite renewed pressure on the timeline due to the aforementioned hiccups, it remains on budget and on schedule to run its first ab-initio pilot training course in January 2019. It had originally been hoped to run a small “beta-tester course” running a handful of pilots and instructors through the program in September and iron out potential wrinkles before the start of the full formal course, but this has not been possible although the training of QFIs and instructors is ongoing in preparation for January 2019’s first intake.

With the training arm taking up 42 of the 49 PC-21s on order, three of the remaining seven aircraft will serve with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit (ARDU) at RAAF Base Edinburgh while another four aircraft will go to 4 Sqn at RAAF Base Williamtown, replacing the PC-9 Forward Air Control (FAC) variants currently with A Flight of the unit and used to train ADF Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC).

However, CAF says that while the requirement to train JTAC remains, he also expects the paradigm of operating with a PC-9/PC-21 type of asset for JTAC training to change in 15 years’ time although with the synergies with how training is done now with PC-9, the PC-21 will take over the role. He also said that using the PC-21 and its associated systems will have the added bonus of adding elements to JTAC training, such as EW and increased situational awareness while the use of a deeper level of simulation in JTAC training for a more complete, sophisticated training environment until a clearer picture emerges of how the RAAF will carry out JTAC training moving forward.

Future of Hawk 127 and ACO/AWO training

When asked about how the ongoing evolution of the ADF’s pilot training system will affect the BAE Hawk 127 LIF, CAF said that there’s still a requirement for the Hawk as the RAAF moves beyond the Classic Hornet into the F-35. Upgrades, most notably under Project AIR 5438 Phase 1A Lead-In Fighter Capability Assurance Program, will provide new capabilities to the type and improve its ability to train fighter pilots on advanced types like the F-35 and the RAAF’s Super Hornets.

As such, CAF is confident that Defence has the luxury of time to assess the future direction of the RAAF’s lead-in fighter training program, with the Hawk now expected to be able to serve until the “back end of the 2020s” and therefore a decision will only need to be made in the early part of the next decade or in the mid-2020s. The options for the RAAF to consider are whether to further extend the Hawk’s life in the RAAF, to replace it or to do away with that capability altogether, and according to CAF will partly be guided by the upgradeability and flexibility of the PTS that is being introduced, as well as the road other nations take with regard to their own respective programs.

However, he cautioned that “we should not limit ourselves to a decision matrix in a 2018 mindset in 2024, when six years in aviation is a long time” and given advances in technology one of the possibilities could well be that fighter lead-in training in a future 5th-Generation context may not even require actual flying and instead be all done in a virtual environment.

He also touched on the use of 32 Sqn’s B300 King Airs for the primary purpose of training Air Combat Officers and Aviation Warfare Officers for the Air Force and Navy respectively. While the current training system for ACOs and AWOs was “generating a good product for what is a training system using a system from the last generation” and the King Air is still meeting current requirements, CAF noted that one of the main questions that will be posed during the conversation on what Mission Aircrew training will be in the future will be what the future battle management space that RAAF is going to operate in will look like.

This will be dealt with under AIR 5428 Phase 3, with CAF pointing out that with the ACO/AWO training, “one of the more persistent unknowns is the struggle to find what it is we want to train them to do” give the wide diversity in the mission sets and the skills required of the graduates, with AIRCDRE Braz pointed out that the backend of a P-8A Poseidon is very different from that of an E-7 Wedgetail which in turn leads to their crew having very different training needs from a Growler Electronic Warfare Officer.

AIRCDRE Braz added that despite the priority now being the bedding in of the PTS side of things, future opportunities are definitely being looked at, with opportunities certainly present in the Air Academy to come up with a new ACO/AWO training system that is able to cater for the various outputs.

In the meantime, Defence Minister Christopher Pyne announced in late September that Hawker Pacific has been named as the prime contractor to further develop the ADF’s ACO Training System, with Cirrus Real Time Processing Systems, which had originally developed a prototype ACO Training System based on their own simulation technology, contracted to deliver a “substantially upgraded version of the Air Combat Officer Training System” that came into operational service with the RAAF in 2011.

This system has been used both within the King Air training aircraft of No 32 Squadron and within ground-based training facilities at No 1 Flying Training School and has been upgraded in collaboration with Cirrus and instructors at 1 FTS, and the latest contract will “enable the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to train mission aircrew through to December 2024,” Minister Pyne said in his statement.

Going back to the AIR 5428 PTS, CAF is confident that the new system will induct more candidates, get them through the system faster and to higher standards by training them to a variety of simulated missions, improved situational awareness in addition to previous training requirements as the program matures. He sees the new PTS as being able to provide “a much better outcome faster”, with the additional advantage of being able to cater for different individual learning rates of students, where students can get additional time to interact with part task trainers, QFIs, debriefing a mission as required without being left behind, something which he called a “real win” as the ADF seeks to train its future pilots for a 5th-Generation future.

 

 

 

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