Modern weapon systems and complex platforms demand the increasing attention of their operators and maintainers. This, in turn, demands greater focus on training – particularly at a time when defence forces are being pressured to ‘do more with less’ and leverage optimal efficiency and cost-effectiveness from the platforms and systems they procure. At an approximate cost of US$36 million, the Australian Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) programme provides a great example of how that philosophy of optimisation can bear fruit.

An armed reconnaissance capability is new to the Australian Army. In the past, reconnaissance capabilities have been provided by the Bell 206B-1 Kiowa helicopter, which is unarmed – while aerial fire support was the role of the UH-1 Iroquois gunship. The Air 87 requirement sought to alter this state of affairs and combine the two roles into a single platform, resulting in increases in operational flexibility and efficiency as well as reducing the logistical and support footprint required for multiple aircraft types. The requirement resulted in selection of the Eurocopter Tiger rotorcraft, for which Australia placed an order for 22 aircraft in December 2001, with 18 of the airframes to be assembled in-country by Australian Aerospace, a subsidiary of Eurocopter. Designated the ARH and differing from the original aircraft in having upgraded MTR390 engines, a laser designator incorporated into the Strix sight and M299 ‘smart launchers,’ the first deliveries were made to Australia in late 2004.

From the very outset, a comprehensive integrated training solution was specified as part of the deliverable. The most obvious component of the training programme is the Full Flight and Mission Simulator (FFMS) developed by Thales. The FFMS, installed at the Australian Army Aviation Centre in Oakey, Queensland, represent state-of-the-art in terms of helicopter aircrew training systems, according to the company. Consisting of two fully enclosed simulator domes – one for the pilot and one for the Battle Captain – the FFMS provides a comprehensive simulation of all aspects of the ARH’s operating envelope and will be used extensively by Army Aviation as the primary element of the ARH training system. The two domes can be operated either coupled as one virtual rotorcraft or independently, depending on the training requirement. In addition to an FFMS at Oakey, Thales Australia has also delivered a Cockpit Procedures Trainer (CPT) to the same location, and a second CPT to Darwin.

The simulators have been in use at Oakey since early 2008 and have been the subject of very positive feedback from the Army regarding reliability and training benefit. Like any complex training system, the Australian Tiger ARH training system was not without its challenges, but they seem to have been overcome in short order through close collaboration between supplier and user. Major Ben Lawler is the Senior Instructor, Tactics Wing at the School of Army Aviation at Oakey and is a strong proponent of what has been achieved. “We were required to design a training system with integrated simulation, in parallel with the production of the simulators. This solution needed to optimise the balance between live and simulated training [and was] met using an iterative approach,” he said.

This process specified accreditation of the FMSS to Level 5 and of the CPT to Level 2 Flight training Device, which latter process was completed by October 2009. The FFMS was the first dual dome simulator in the world to achieve Level 5 accreditation, ensuring an hour’s simulator flight time is directly equivalent to one hour’s live flight training in the actual aircraft, according to Australian Aerospace. Prime contractor Australian Aerospace used principal sub-contractor Kellogg, Brown, Root (KBR) to create training management packages (TMP) based on early assumptions of what the simulators would be capable of and the TMP were then used as the basis for acceptance testing. “We revised the TMP based upon the testing outcomes. This revision is an ongoing process as we continue to learn about the operation of the aircraft and the utility of the simulators. Pleasingly, this process has been one of fine tuning, rather than rewriting,” Lawler said.

The day to day business of developing the integrated training solution was managed in a spirit of compromise, according to Lawler – one in which Thales was “very responsive.” In terms of simulator design, one of the most significant challenges was the simulation of the TopOwl Night Vision Devices (NVD). TopOwl was not suited to the ‘stimulated’ solution used in many other simulators. Instead, a ‘simulated’ solution was proposed by Thales. This involves a head tracking device to determine where the aircrew are looking, and then a separate image generator ‘draws’ the NVD image for the pilots, and projects it onto the TopOwl visor. Initially, there were significant issues with image latency in response to head movements, though this has now been reduced to a level that is acceptable to most aircrew. “As a result, we are now able to capitalise on some of the strengths of this solution, such as a field of view that is not limited by the size of the screen(s),” Lawler said. The image generator projects directly onto the aircrew visor, providing enhanced ‘lookdown’ capability for the pilot in an NVD scenario, no matter what is projected on the main screens, which has provided what Lawler describes as “unforeseen advantages.”

The integrated training solution adopts a tiered approach to the contract deliverables. In the order in which these tiers are incorporated into the training system, they start with Computer Aided Instruction – in the form of classroom lectures – which is then followed by Computer Based Training – scripted modules with a degree of interactivity that lends itself to self-paced learning. The CPT, which is then inserted into the programme, offers far greater capability than a similar device might be expected to in a more traditional programme and is followed by transition to the live aircraft and the FFMS. In practice, trainees bounce between training media, so that each training element is conducted using the best tool available, whilst ensuring a balance between theory, live and simulated flight. “It should be noted that we view the FFMS as providing a higher level of training than the live aircraft. Initially, this sounds counter-intuitive. However, when you consider the level of emergency training that can be conducted, the freedom with which laser and weapons can be fired, and the training scenarios that can be produced, it becomes clear that more realistic and more complex training can be conducted in the FFMS than in the live aircraft in peacetime,” Lawler said.

In terms of the ‘training mix’ between live and synthetic training, the current level runs at about 70% in favour of the simulator, according to Lawler, though this varies according to the training objectives. NVD training, for example, runs at greater than 80% of the course being undertaken in the synthetic environment.“Transition training – how to fly the aircraft – is well under way,” Lawler said, adding that training of ab initio personnel – graduates of the Helicopter Qualification Course rather than pilots who have already spent some time in an operational unit on another type – will commence in 2011. “At the moment we are using between half and two-thirds of the theoretical simulator capacity at Oakey and Darwin and the system design has provided us with great flexibility – it is really only our imagination that limits scenario generation,” he said.

With future growth capacity designed in from the outset, there is significant room for expansion in the use of the debrief station for the FFMS and CPT as well as for the video replay facility for the aircraft. Although the video replay system is getting limited use right now, “our crew resource management approach is helping us see just how much can be learned through an after-sortie review,” Lawler said. The lessons learned from the development and implementation of the Tiger ARH training programme will be of benefit in other Australian programmes, too, according to Lawler. Many of these lessons are directly applicable to the MRH90 Multi-Role Helicopter project, under which an FFMS will be acquired for Townsville and another for Oakey. “The ARH Training Systems Team has conducted a number of briefings and liaison visits with the MRH90 team. The same prime contractor, Australian Aerospace, is involved in the design of the Training System, and many of the personnel involved in the ARH project are involved in the MRH Training Systems Team. Whilst this project has different training challenges, it has already gained significant leverage from the lessons learnt during the ARH project,” Lawler added.

The ARH training system has been designed to impart a ‘huge level of information’ to trainee aircrew and to do so in a benign environment that allows for consolidation of functions and a rapid assimilation of information. “As an isolated example, the ability to use the CPT to practice manipulation of the buttons and switches to develop muscle memory, and to transition to the performance is sequences, is significant. To illustrate this point; the two Gunner Armament Grips have 18 switches or buttons between them, each of which performs 2 to 3 functions, depending on the mode selected. The key to learning the manipulation of these grips, and their integration with the rest of the aircraft systems is through repetition, in an environment where the effect of those selections is accurately represented. The CPTs and FFMS provide this effectively and efficiently,” Lawler said. Training is an investment that, correctly designed and developed, adds enormous value to and leverages the investment made in acquisition of new platforms and systems. The ARH Tiger training system stands as a significant example of ‘how to do the right thing,’ even for a relatively limited number of highly capable assets.

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