FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Fort Rucker is home to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and, naturally, a lot of helicopters. But as the Army rapidly moves forward on modernization plans, how does that impact training requirements?

Maj. Gen. William Gayler answered Defense News’ questions during an interview at the Alabama base in January.

When you consider future vertical lift and other modernization plans, what kind of training do you expect to filter to aviators, or are you not there yet?

There is thought to it. But as we look at future vertical lift, there is a desire, since they’re a clean-sheet design, to build in cockpit commonality. So why would I have to separately train individual aviators on three different types of aircraft when the interface to the crew should be identical, whether they’re flying an advanced attack reconnaissance aircraft or a long-range assault aircraft or a medium-lift aircraft? There are so many efficiencies gained if they fly exactly like one another. All you have to do is train and hone a mission, not the cockpit interface.

There’s a lot of talk about the potential of teaming manned aircraft with UAVs. How do you incorporate that into the training here?

So it’s more analog now, but again, as we progress into future vertical lift capabilities, that burden on the pilot to manage and fly multiple UASs should be reduced. We’re planning to build [systems] that leverage artificial intelligence, swarming capabilities, some semiautonomous, horizontal, vertical, separation-monitoring sensors that allow them to do it without us as the aviator assigning certain altitudes and air speeds — they just avoid by technology.

It’s a cultural shift.

It’s a total cultural shift. But we as leaders are required to do two things. We’re required to be competent — and lead competently — and we’re required to improve. Which means change. Not a lot of people lead and change easily. But we have to drive change. So we lead and change, [and] part of that change is looking at the world differently and how we will use technology, looking at what is within the realm of possible. And I would tell you, as with any new fielded piece of equipment, the best people that will figure out how to use it will be the first people we put it in their hands. A soldier is going to figure that out faster than a brilliant person designing it.

It will take them time just trying it out.

I’ll just let them play with it.

As you bring in aviators, are you seeking different skill sets than you were maybe seeking five years ago knowing that there’s an unmanned capability that’s going to be incorporated in the long term?

Yes, you are. But at the end of the day, we’re seeking folks from a pool that the majority of them have these skills already, whereas 10 years ago, you had to find the ones who had that skill. Now, most all of them do.

Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.