Australia explores common pilot training system

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Australia's Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet acquisition is set to cause further changes to plans for the roll- out of new-generation pilot training systems for fixed and rotary wing aircraft types across all service arms over the coming decade.

Australia plans to initially conduct conversion training for Super Hornet pilots in the USA from 2009, but wants to develop a full in-country training capability as soon as possible. Defence minister Brendan Nelson says "the schedule for the development of the training system is still being devised".

That process will take place in parallel to the firming up of plans for the existing Australian Defence Force (ADF) Project Air 5428 new pilot training system requirement, which is in turn preparing for review by the Defence Capability Committee in August and initial government funding decisions in March 2008.

The Australian Department of Defence is also exploring a closer links between Air 5428 and the closely related Project Air 9000 Phase 7 combined army and navy helicopter aircrew training system (HATS) requirement. Detailed options studies of how the full spectrum of ADF pilot training requirements could be drawn into a common system based on a distributed campus model are currently under way with a top level report due in the coming weeks.

Air Cdre John Oddie, director general aerospace development in the Australian Defence Capability Executive, says emerging ADF fixed and rotary wing training requirements are characterised by growing complexity. "As we go forward the nature of the future environment we are operating in is increasingly one that relies on aircrew being able to draw effective and timely decisions from an increasingly well informed, but by extension also an increasingly ambiguous operating space.

"It is going to be really important as we go through our aircrew training systems that we are able to deliver training systems that are really effective at teaching people those decision skills as much as they are effective at teaching handling and aerodynamic skills."

A draft request for tender for the Air 7000 Phase 7 requirement is planned to be issued in mid-2007 ahead of formal competition beginning in the first quarter of 2008. Requests for information for Air 5428 were issued in May last year with a request for tender expected in the second quarter of 2008.

Oddie says the current linkage studies are based on a "programmatic view of the delivery of air training. At the moment we still sit right inside our two projects. Air 5428 is over here and Air 9000 Phase 7 is over there."

The distributed campus model would "sit across the top, breaching that technical and tactical space" between specific aircraft training requirements and the desire to maximise training environment commonality. The model envisages "delivering different effects at different campuses. Some of those effects are coherent across all campuses. Some of those effects are specific to the nature of training that occurs for those finishing students."

Maj Steve Gale, HATS co-ordination officer for Army Aviation in the Australian Defence Headquarters Capability Systems Division, says links between HATS and Air 5428 are further complicated by a need for more detailed decisions on the overall scope of the fixed-wing project - "[Air] 5428 hasn't totally defined where it is at and what capability it will provide the step-off point from that stage of training into the HATS domain is still to be totally and clearly defined. We will do that as the project progresses and as [Air 5428] progresses."

The objective for the two projects would be to "keep the progression of training going right throughout the continuum", he says.

For HATS, this approach would see all pilots progress through basic and primary levels of the Air 5428 system, with rotary students transitioning to a common basic HATS environment, followed by common advanced HATS training. Helicopter pilots would finally be streamed to meet requirements for specific platform classes, but some overlaps are still envisaged at that end of the system. Gale says there is also potential for the candidate screening selection process to be drawn into the project, with that activity currently outsourced to BAE Systems Australia.