Magazine article National Defense

Army Pilots Fly Simulated Operations before Deployments

Magazine article National Defense

Army Pilots Fly Simulated Operations before Deployments

Article excerpt

Virtual MISSIONS

The U.S. Army's aviation branch is working to make a collective simulation exercise a staple of the pre-deployment package for pilots heading to Iraq and Afghanistan. Already, the aviation training exercise is mandatory for task forces assigned to the Balkans.

For about five years, the Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., has facilitated aviation-training exercises, known as ATX, to hone task forces' war fighting and peacekeeping skills prior to their deployments. The ultimate goal of an ATX is to identify weaknesses, said officials.

ATX "is one of the steps that allows them to bring their entire task force together to meet, and work out standard operating procedures and tactics at the brigade and battalion level," said Lt. Col. Christopher Shotts, ATX division chief. The virtual exercise is best done before pilots participate in their final mission rehearsal exercise at one of the combat training centers, Shotts added.

While pilots headed to Bosnia and Kosovo automatically go through the exercise, aviation units deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan have had the option to request exercises tailored for their missions. Hectic operational schedules, however, have not allowed many to take advantage of this option.

"Some units have such tight training plans and schedules that they can't fit it in," Shotts said. "We are working with FORSCOM [U.S. Army Forces Command] right now to get the same sort of paradigm set up for Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom," as the Army already has for its Balkan deployments.

So far, the center has conducted four exercises that are focused on three different regions in Iraq. Most recently, the 18th Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Bragg, N.C., completed the exercise before it deployed in November. Shorts' group has conducted only one exercise geared toward Afghanistan, 14 for Bosnia and 10 for Kosovo.

The center anticipates three additional Iraq-specific exercises and one Afghanistan-tailored exercise in fiscal year 2005, according to Col. Lee LeBlanc, the head of the one-year old directorate of simulations at Fort Rucker.

"We know that there are deployments that are going to occur, and we are anticipating their needs," he told National Defense. "It is part of business."

Based on need and the deployment schedule, the aviation center prepares exercises with one to three months' notice, Shotts said. "We do an initial planning conference, and three months out is ideal," he explained. "One month out is a very compressed cycle, but we have done that."

Once the task force arrives at Fort Rucker for training, the exercise runs for about 10 days-two to three days for warming up in simulators and conducting combined arms, live-fire type scenarios, and six days dedicated to operations that grow in intensity, said Shotts.

First off, pilots need to become familiar with the low-fidelity fully reconfigurable experimental devices, or FREDS, because these Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency-developed simulators "are not like any other aircraft anybody has flown before," Shotts said. It typically takes pilots some time to get used to them, he added. "The reconfigurable simulators can replicate, in a very generic sense, an attack, a scout, an assault or lift aircraft. The kind of aircraft you are is what your visual model looks like to the other aircraft."

The training time, however, may be shortened once Fort Rucker receives its reconfigurable, collective-training devices, or RCTDs, starting next year as part of the new Flight School XXI program (see related story). During the ATX, the center also makes use of the Army Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer-Aviation reconfigurable simulator (AVCATTA), a collective trainer that allows aircrews to train among themselves, and also with ground troops.

During the exercise, "we have full interaction between the ground and the aviation elements, in that we bring in infantry role players," said Shotts. …

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