Navy Shifts Gears on Air-Combat Training System

Article excerpt

Pentagon officials unhappy about the lack of progress in JTCTS program

The Defense Department directed the Navy and the Air Force six years ago to develop a joint training instrumentation system for combat aircraft. The project, called the Joint Tactical Combat Training System, failed to deliver an acceptable product, said Pentagon officials, so the program was canceled and the services are re-evaluating their options.

JTCTS was designed to make flight training more realistic. During exercises, missile-shaped pods that contain high-tech sensors are mounted under the aircraft wings, so they can record and calculate simulated firings of weapons and "kill" messages.

The data can be monitored in real time on ground- or ship-based stations, or can be recorded for after-action review. JTCTS was intended to provide a deployable training system that was nor dependent on dockside facilities, shore-based sites or fixed ranges.

The Navy originally sought this technology for tactical combat training, to replace older Top Gun-type ranges. The goal was to develop a range system that could be used at sea, where both the aircraft and the ships would be instrumented. A previous Navy-only program was cancelled in 1992. In 1995, the Defense Department mandated that the Navy pursue a joint effort with the Air Force, which was seeking a similar capability for its combat ranges.

Collectively, both services were expected to buy up to 1,800 pods. The system's prime contractor was Raytheon Company Naval and Maritime Systems.

Since last year, however, the Navy stopped funding JTCTS and the contract with Raytheon was not extended.

JTCTS program representatives at the Naval Air Systems Command, in Patuxent River, Md., said they could not comment at press time. A Raytheon spokesman said company officials were not available.

"The Navy decided to cut their losses," said Dick Dickson, program officer for range applications at the Naval Air Systems Command, in China Lake, Calif. But even though the JTCTS program was stalled, said Dickson, "the requirements are still there."

The problem with JTCTS, he said, is that "it was trying to do too much."

Some JTCTS prototypes were tested at sea last year and "achieved some success," said Dickson. But the system "had problems." One reason why the program was unsuccessful, he said, was that the Navy and the Air Force "added requirements that would have made the system too expensive to produce, under Raytheon's approach."

Dickson predicted that the Navy will end up buying "off-the-shelf" training pods to fill its needs in the absence of JTCTS. …