December 02, 2013
Fresh out of flight school, airborne tactics officer Lt. j.g. fleet “Beave” Lawrence has never deployed with the U.S. Navy, but de-cloaking boats and ships in the Straits of Hormuz when he takes to sea for nine months with the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group next year should be a case of déjà vu.
Like other Sikorsky MH-60R “Romeo” helicopter pilots and sensor operators with the Jacksonville, Fla.-based Proud Warriors HSM-72 squadron, Lawrence, a left-seat pilot in the Romeo, is practicing for the upcoming mission using a mix of live and synthetic training. But it's in the synthetic environment of a CAE-built tactical operational flight trainer (TOFT) where the Romeo's crew of three gains a full-immersion mission experience in anti-submarine warfare or anti-surface warfare in the Persian Gulf.
That experience will become increasingly lifelike under the Navy's aviation simulation master plan for 2020, which calls for progressively boosting the fidelity of individual simulators among Navy aircraft as well as the connectivity between simulators located anywhere. Rather than eliminate live aircraft training, the simulator plan is designed to cautiously and progressively increase the amount of cost-saving virtual training while maintaining enough in-aircraft practice to ensure safety.
A key element in that simulation future is the TOFT model that allows crews and groups to practice together in real time within a common scenario. For the Romeo, the TOFT includes a cockpit module, called the operational flight trainer, networked to a separate weapons tactics trainer for the sensor operator, seated in the left-rear position in the helicopter. The combined simulator is controlled by a tactics instructor at a separate workstation. On Oct. 17 Aviation Week visited the Navy's Paul Nelson helicopter training facility in Jacksonville, one of two locations with MH-60R simulators for the Atlantic Fleet, to see how the synthetic training capabilities of the Romeo and the Northrop Grumman MQ-8 Fire Scout unmanned helicopter fit into the Navy's larger simulation master plan. Jacksonville is one of two Navy training centers for Fire Scout pilots and sensor operators.
The 2020 simulation master plan, which went into effect last year, is designed to give the Navy the “biggest bang for the buck” in terms of virtual training that can replace live training and readiness exercises.
According to the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO), the Navy as of 2012 was using simulators for 18-20% of Boeing F/A-18 Hornet training, 39% of Romeo training and 41% for Sikorsky MH-60 Sierra training. The Navy uses the Romeo primarily for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare missions, while the Sierra is used primarily for search and rescue, medevac, utility and vertical replenishment missions.
With upgraded MH-60 Romeo and Sierra, F/A-18E and F, and EA-18G TOFTs, however, the Navy estimates it will be able to boost the virtual training ratio to approximately 50% for the MH-60 fleet, and more than 30% for the F-18s by 2020. Capt. Craig Dorrans, program manager of PMA-205 at the Naval Air Systems Command says crews for the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, the replacement for the P-3, will probably be able to perform as much as 70% of their training in a TOFT. The P-8A is based on the Boeing 737-800, allowing the military to leverage commercial simulation capabilities already developed.