The digital transformation in naval aviation over the past ten years has prompted significant changes to the challenges of flying strike aircraft. In the planning for a strike during Operation Desert Storm, the key question was: how many strike aircraft would be required to destroy a target? Today, it is: how many targets can one aircraft and one pilot destroy on a given mission?
Technology in the newest generation of aircraft makes flying (stick and throttle skills) easier, but mission multitasking puts greater demands on a pilot's ability to absorb more information in a high-stress environment, correctly interpret that information, and make a decision-all in much shorter time. One requirement that has not yet been studied is how to train for the new information task loading and where to begin to hone the requisite skills in the training cycle. This professional note is an attempt to generate debate and recommend new directions in naval aviation training.
I recently completed an extremely rewarding tour as the executive officer (XO) and commanding officer (CO) of Training Squadron Seven (VT-7) during a period of numerous transitions in aircraft and training programs. In my first year as XO, the squadron phased out the TA-4J Skyhawk advanced jet syllabus. As VT-23, the T-45C Goshawk standup squadron, merged with VT-7, we introduced and matured the T-45C advanced jet syllabus. After I became CO, the squadron began training the first students in the T-45C TS (total system) syllabus. This four-year tour gave me a unique perspective on past and present training-and a vision for the T-45's future.
When the Navy retired the TA-4J Skyhawk at a fitting ceremony in 1999, there was warm praise for the TA-4J as a jet trainer-including accolades for the ingenious idea of using a combat aircraft to provide students with quality training before they advanced to the next level of training in the fleet replacement squadron. I remember thinking that the new T-45C and its glass F/A-18-looking cockpit would be the right way to give combat aircraft experience to the newest generation of student naval aviators. Since then, however, it has become apparent to me that, although the Goshawk may look like it has an F/A-18 Hornet cockpit, it does not have the avionics equipment to act like one. It falls short of providing the needed training in today's digital world.
The T-45C is a fine trainer and a vast improvement over the TA-4J. But to adequately measure its effectiveness, the Navy must keep in mind the digital transformation that has occurred in fleet aircraft the past 20 years and focus on current and-most important- future requirements. In 1980, the TA-4J program fed these communities: A-6 Intruder, F-14A Tomcat, S-3A Viking, F-4 Phantom, and A-4M. In 2010, the naval inventory will consist of the F/A-18 family (A through G) and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF); they will have monumental technological advances that will require a systems and information management learning objective.
In the past several years, the Naval Air Training Command (NATC) and fleet replacement squadrons conducted several reviews to assess the shortcomings of jet training and propose changes to improve students' skills prior to their advancement to replacement squadrons. A common theme from the strike community was that the students lacked the ability to fly in the tactical environment while managing the information (for example, radar) inside the cockpit. Replacement squadrons are required to teach a basic skill that should be acquired in the training command. In trying to tackle that problem, we realized that the T-45C digital cockpit is limited. It does well at honing instrument-flying skills with digital information, but does not provide an adequate weapon system with which to train.
The "signal of difficulty" (SOD) rate in fleet replacement squadrons underscores this point. The database consists of replacement pilots' performance in the past four years: the SOD rate per pilot per learning stage has been plotted. A flight instructor gives a SOD to a replacement pilot when he or she does not meet the established learning objective for that event, which leads to additional training, including trainer and flight time. The SOD data indicate that, although the T-45C is doing a fairly good job of preparing replacements for instrument and familiarization stages, the current state of training in the air-to-ground and air-to-air stages could be improved.
The solution is a relatively low-cost modification to the T-45C that adds a synthetic weapon system (SWS) to the aircraft. Current technology would enable us to modify the aircraft so it performs like a basic-level fleet aircraft. The new system should include synthetic radar, a synthetic weapon system that eliminates the need for blue bombs and introduces air-to-air weapon and smart munitions delivery, and a debriefing system that measures strike accuracy without the need for bombing ranges.
The synthetic radar would operate through a new radio with data link and a GPS receiver providing position and identification to a new display processor. The processor should be virtually the same as the JSF and F/A-18E/F display computer to replicate radar symbols (and save funds). All these improvements should aim at enabling training aircraft to act like fleet aircraft.
As a good example of the advantages offered by up-to-date technology, consider the improvements the T-45C and its digital cockpit brought to strike training. Using the heads-up display (HUD) with the velocity vector over the target and the HUD pitch ladder to fly the proper dive angle, the students' improvement is impressive. About 80% of students completing the weapons stage in the T-45C achieve a circular error probable of less than 75 feet on at least one flight; about 50% of them attain such accuracy on multiple flights.
I propose 2010 as the target date for availability of the SWS modification-which means it has to be in the Navy's fiscal year 2006 program objective memorandum. The reasons for this date are:
* The T-45C's display computer faces obsolescence and must be replaced soon.
* By 2010, the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System (JPATS)-with a digital cockpit more compatible with modern fleet cockpits-will be used widely in the primary phase of pilot training, thus increasing flight time by 20 hours and improving the skills of students prior to their entry into the jet pipeline.
The strike pipeline has the opportunity to reassess the syllabus and modify its curriculum to include information and systems management learning objectives. Table 1 suggests a course for 2010, in comparison to the current curriculum. Now that the NATC has oversight of all "street-to-fleet" training, including fleet replacement squadron syllabuses, it would be appropriate to conduct a major review of pilot training curricula.
The Goshawk is slated to be training student pilots through 2030. At the same time, the capabilities of fleet aircraft are becoming increasingly reliant on advanced information technology. The Navy must be able to train to systems and information management as a core competency at the basic level of aviation training.
My proposed modification to the T-45C, along with an updated syllabus tailored to mesh with current curricula in the fleet replacement squadrons, would reduce the burden on limited resources and provide more skilled student pilots to the replacement squadrons.
Commander Sherlock is the assistant air officer on the Kitty Hawk (CV-63).