Army Aviation

AVCATT – Past, Present, and Future

Simulation & Training / By Ms. Christina Bell, CW5 Michael S. Kelley, and CW4 (Ret.) John Snow:
CW5 Kelley’s Observations 
Some say that since its initial fielding in 2001, the Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT) has garnered a negative reputation. I remember my first AVCATT experience and those memories are not positive. The helmets were heavy, limited in size, and had to be forced on my head. The visuals were not well aligned and to many people, it caused nausea from the word go. This created a rather uncomfortable first impression that stuck with me the majority of my career.

The Non-rated Crew Member Manned Module (NCM3) provides crew member simulation capability for utility and cargo helicopters./ PEO STRI COURTESY PHOTO

I did everything I could to avoid the AVCATT, aside from the previously mentioned issues, but mostly because of a misunderstanding of the intent this particular training capability brought to the table and partially due to the time not being applied to my flight career. It all seemed like an uncomfortable waste of time. If anyone would have told me “in 2013, you CW5 Michael Kelley are going to begin to advocate for AVCATT as a premier training capability,” frankly I would have made myself sick laughing. This all changed in 2013, when I found myself assigned to be part of an AVCATT government acceptance test on aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) integration. This caused me, of all people, to be subjected to 24 hours of AVCATT flying in a three day period. I went into the AVCATT that week dreading every minute, yet determined to keep an open mind. After all, it was ASE integration, threat signatures and behaviors modifications. This was squarely in my role as the Branch Aviation Mission Survivability Officer (AMSO) and I needed to dig in.

Over these three days, my assessment of the capabilities being presented was dramatically different from the memories I had clung to for more than a decade. The new “halo” design was far more comfortable than shoving the simulated helmet on my head was years ago. The new design allowed me to use my own flight helmet now and the adjustments on the eyepieces of the visual system allowed for better alignment. The visual databases displayed were nearly picture perfect to the actual terrain I was familiar with flying around. I remained a bit skeptical as the test began, focused on how well ASE was integrated.

ASE Integration

Integrating ASE with AVCATT required exacting accuracy. The displays, audio and pilot interfaces had to be the same as on the aircraft itself. Failure with integration would lead to training capability failure. We were also concerned with how the visual threat signatures were displayed within the digital graphics generation. Simulated threat systems had to mimic realistic threat system engagements, in order for the aircrew to build confidence with survivability tactics, techniques and procedures (TTP) and ASE employment. These are extremely important because pilots would instinctively select survivability TTPs based upon the visuals being displayed. It was also crucial to provide “credit” for the survivability systems capabilities in defeating engagement sequences.

This test event demonstrated to me how wrong we had been conducting this type of training throughout my career. It was during the radar warning receiver (RWR) testing where I was pitted against a radar threat system. For nearly 20 years in the cockpit I had been teaching this very sequence that requires two major steps: countermeasures dispensing and evasive maneuvers. With the newly integrated ASE, pushing the dispense button meant something that my brain had not rehearsed and frankly, was not well rehearsed. What I actually did that day was a repeat of 20 years of practice. I announced countermeasures over the intercom system (ICS) and initiated evasive maneuvers. The most valuable lesson that day was radar guided missiles do not monitor my ICS channels. We needed to change our training methods to performance based standards.

This is where I became surprisingly impressed with what the Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentatio (PEO STRI) had brought to the table. I began to envision aircrews flying against a variety of threats with active ASE and training to fight their aircraft in a simulated operational environment. This would replace call outs in the cockpit with actions, turning discussion into performance training resulting in vastly increased aircraft survivability potential through rehearsing and refining aviation actions on contact. Actions on contact training could be practiced in the simulated environment before introducing the complicated maneuvers to the actual aircraft.

Pilots have the option of wearing their own helmet or the new, lightweight “halo” design (pictured) while flying the AVCATT.

Non-rated Crew Member Training

Another recent addition to the AVCATT capability is the Non-rated Crew Member Manned Module (NCM3) providing the first crew member simulation capability for utility and cargo helicopter platforms. This creates a solution where entire aircrews are able to rehearse and refine actions on contact as a team; greatly increasing the aviation commander’s confidence their crews will perform actions on contact well together. Moving from a single aircraft to multi-ship formations is where the AVCATT begins to separate itself from all other simulation capabilities.

All aircrew should be concerned about formation break-up procedures due to enemy threat systems as these maneuvers require aircraft to maneuver as a team to be effective and not run into each other. Formations would need to regroup in order to continue the mission resulting in operational success for their commander and the ground maneuver forces. For this to occur at night, under night-vision goggle (NVG) conditions increases the environmental risk and needs to be rehearsed in the same manner it will be conducted in an operational environment. Add in the Army Regulation 95-1 allowance for AVCATT hours to be logged and applied to semi-annual minimum requirements and I am getting pretty darn convinced of the total package deal AVCATT has become.

What AVCATT Is Not

While some individual tasks can be trained, the primary training audiences are those involved in the command and control of aviation assets and their support for the conduct of aviation missions. The AVCATT was not designed to be an individual crewmember trainer, although there are many technical tasks that can be accomplished and practiced by the pilots. APU/Engine starts, emergency procedures training and 1000 series performance flight tasks are intentionally not replicated in the AVCATT. The Longbow Crew Trainer (LCT), Transportable Blackhawk Operator Simulator (TBOS) and Transportable Flight Proficiency Simulator (TFPS) were designed as the primary trainers for those tasks. AVCATT was designed as a collective trainer, reconfigurable to any one of five platform types, to train coordination between multiple platforms, the commander, and their staff.

What the AVCATT excels at is facilitating simple to complex mission environments that allow commanders to train, evaluate and after action review (AAR) their 2000 series ATM tasks, along with those mission essential task list (METL) tasks that every unit must perform.

The ability to plan, rehearse, execute and AAR team, platoon, company and battalion level missions, gives trainers and commanders a tool not available from any other training device. Having the ability to design missions that can integrate close air support, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), artillery, infantry, armor and air defense artillery gives the command a unique ability to assess their units’ tactical standard operating procedure validity and crew decision making skills. Air Mission Commander training is enhanced through the use of mission recording capabilities that allow crews and commanders to AAR every facet of training. Aircraft sensors, team movement, weapons engagements, digital and voice communications, along with ICS monitoring can be played back using the Exercise Analysis function during the AAR and then burned to DVD as a take home package for future reference and training.

With the introduction of the UH-72A Lakota and AH-64D 13.0 upgrades that have just been fielded in the 15.0 software baseline, along with one semi-automated force (OneSAF) improvements that include natural disaster relief (flooding and wild fires) mission capabilities, the AVCATT continues to provide more mission building options and training capabilities.

The future looks even brighter with the fielding of UH-60M, CH-47F, and AH-64E manned module configurations. These upgrades will provide the units with an invaluable tool that will prepare them for future missions for years to come. In addition, the PEO STRI and Aviation teams are working together to integrate the Universal Mission Simulator and the AVCATT for support of Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) training for both Army Aviator and UAS operator in the same exercise. PEO STRI is also working closely with the Aviation Gunnery Branch to add tools to the AVCATT which will enhance support to Table VII and X gunnery in the AVCATT, in accordance with the Combat Aviation Gunnery Manual. In addition, an effort is underway for upgraded helmet mounted displays (HMDs) which will take advantage of enhancements in technology since the last upgrade in 2007.

The Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT) configured for AH-64 simulation.

What It All Means

AVCATT is now situated as the premier aviation combined arms tactical trainer it was imagined to be years ago when it was introduced. The current configuration allows commanders to place their aircrew in complex training scenarios with all of the fog of war introduced. Placing the right personnel in the Battle Master Controller (BMC) as role players, S-3 staff serving as battle captains and S-2 staff acting as the opposing forces (OPFOR) commanders will create a dynamic training event which forces young aviation officers to develop the decision making skills required for air mission commanders (AMC) and battle captains for future conflicts. Aircrew will rehearse and refine tactics within these mission sets, in both pure and mixed aircraft formations during mission completion. Unit AMSOs are required to develop these tactical training scenarios for their commanders and provide guidance to pilots as they plan their missions.

Units will get out of AVCATT what they put in. If your unit personnel show up to AVCATT without a plan, they will get very little benefit and those aircrews will walk away feeling as though their time was wasted. Units should have the battalion staff plan mission execution as if this were a tasked combat mission and aircrew plan their routes and tactics in accordance with unit standing operating procedures. These personnel will depart the AVCATT with new found understanding of how effective their unit will be facing the enemy on some future battlefield.

Ms. Christina Bell is the AVCATT Project Director for the Program Execu-tive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation, in Orlando, FL; CW5 Michael S. Kelley is the Branch Aviation Mission Survivability Officer, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, Fort Rucker, AL; and CW4 (Ret.) John Snow is the AVCATT Master Trainer supporting the Warrior Training Alliance.