LONDON — Preserving the remaining flying hours of aging military aircraft means substituting simulator training for live sorties, according to a civilian official at the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command.
For example, the E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) depended on airframes that were upwards of 30 years old, said Mark Williams, distributed mission program manager.
Because of the need to maximize those old aircrafts’ available flying hours for operational sorties, live training was dropping, he told an ITEC panel on meeting current and future operational needs.
His presentation, “Taking the Virtual Leap of Faith,” suggested that some aircrews had to more fully embrace virtual training. In 2010, he noted, the main AWACS operating base, Oklahoma’s Tinker AFB, conducted more simulator training than live training for the first time. Last year, Tinker crews were averaging 40 to 50 distributed mission system sorties a week.
Budget restrictions have also contributed to fewer live training missions by decreasing the number of aircraft available for E-3 crews to control on training sorties.
Williams also acknowledged that some older crews were less enthusiastic about training in simulators than their younger colleagues, “but they need to know that ‘good enough’ is better than nothing at all. ‘Good enough’ has changed a lot in recent years. Live, simulated and distributed mission training must go hand-in-hand.”
At the other end of the spectrum, he said, some of the most modern aircraft in the U.S. inventory would also require greater amounts of simulator-based training than their predecessors, but for different reasons.
Pilots on the fifth-generation F-22 Raptor fighter already undertake some 50 percent of their training on simulators because the scale of the threat needed to give them a decent workout — opposing aircraft, surface-to-air missiles and electronic countermeasures, for example — can no longer be put into the air for reasons of cost.
The U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command’s 2012 plans noted that there would be an emphasis on distributed training in the service “for the foreseeable future,” he said.