“Going after it” in this case means using the Romeo's dipping sonar as well as active and passive sonobuoys to find submarines. “If you have one MH-60R out there, it's pretty easy to detect a sub,” says Cmdr. Ross Mackenzie, head of the Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing Atlantic, based in Jacksonville. “If you have two, it's almost impossible not to detect a submarine. They can't hide.” Along with the sonar and sonobuoys, the Romeo's sensor package includes a Telephonics AN/APS-147 multi-mode radar with periscope detection and a Raytheon-built multi-spectral targeting system with fused day- and nighttime (near IR) forward-looking video. Romeo crews can send images or video of ships or other threats directly to their home ship via the Hawklink datalink, or to any military participant over the Link 16 network.
“A mission we would be commonly tasked with is to go out in front of a strike group and clear the ships that are on top of the water with the radar while clearing underneath the water with the dipping sonar,” says Lt. Tim “Heels” Boyce, the right-seat pilot and aircraft commander during the Proud Warriors simulation run. During the simulator session, Boyce and Lawrence were depending heavily on their sensor operator, Petty Officer 3rd class Jacob Brown, to find, track and identify targets in the Persian Gulf using the Romeo's simulated sensor suite. Boyce says “clearing” the waters might typically involve one or two Romeos identifying vessels on the surface and two Romeos identifying threats below the surface.
Weapons choices for anti-submarine or anti-surface warfare include Mark 46 or Mark 50 torpedoes, four Hellfire missiles mounted on extended pylons, an M240 machine gun or a Gau-21 50- cal. pylon-mounted machine gun that requires installation of deck plates on the right rear side of the cabin. East Coast crews practice dipping sonar operations and weapons delivery in the TOFT, but also do a live training with submarines at the Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center, southwest of Nassau, Bahamas.
Ground crews practice the care and feeding of the weapons systems in a weapons-load trainer at the base, and a Romeo avionics maintenance trainer provides the 14 avionics technicians in a Romeo squadron of 12-14 helicopters with hands-on experience in normal maintenance, which includes “crypto loads” for friend or foe identification, as well as identifying and fixing the types of failures they will see when deployed. The Navy is also planning to integrate the door-gunner simulators into the Romeo and Sierra TOFTs as part of a technology insertion starting next year.
Once the individual elements have the needed fidelity, the Navy will progressively link platforms together for scenario-based training. “We want to link as many as possible F-18s to F-18s so they can fly in a section, which is two simulators together, or a division, which is four simulators together, or even more,” says Dorrans. “We're looking to network F-18 simulators to E2-D Hawkeye simulators as well, for air wing type of training. Additionally we'd like to get to the point where we can link those entities into surface units as well, then conduct fleet-level training. That goes from end to end of the training spectrum—individual training to unit-level training to air wing to fleet-level training.”
Early versions of fleet synthetic training are already underway. The Romeo TOFT recently took part in a training event with 380 participants, including F-18 and E-2 simulators, and Navy ships linked together to simulate a tactical mission before the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier strike group shipped out in August. Ships and submarines must be docked to participate.
“The leap for us is light-years ahead of where it was not even five years ago,” says Mackenzie, the maritime strike wing commander. “To have ships pier-side in Rota, Spain, and aircraft simulators in Jacksonville and Hawaii, all combined to do the same simulated mission at the same time is pretty awesome.”
The Navy also plans to add live participants into a scenario, making it a so-called live, virtual and constructive (LVC) simulation. “The next step for us after we get all simulators updated and linked and networked is to bring in the live aspect of it,” says Dorrans. “That's where we'll put a pod on an aircraft, notionally an F-18, and then that aircraft will be networked into the simulation environment, with tracks that appear in the simulator also appearing on the radar of the F-18 that is flying the live sortie.”
Dorrans says the Navy today uses a “large number” of adversary aircraft to help fighter pilots maintain proficiency. “In the future, we hope that we can reduce the number of adversary aircraft by linking in LVC elements to have high-fidelity, valuable training but at a much lower cost than today.” He says the pods must be modified to encrypt the links before live aircraft can be used in a simulation, a task that is underway. “The earliest I would see LVC coming on line would be the 2020 timeframe,” he says.