Fort Sill educators look at Air Force pilot training practices
October 10, 2013
FORT SILL, Okla. -- A group of Fort Sill commanders, education administrators and instructors visited Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 13 to see the procedures the 80th Flying Training Wing uses to train new pilots.
The 12 Army, Air Force and Marine officials were on an information gathering trip to see if some of the Air Force's best training practices can be applied at the Fires Center of Excellence as it integrates joint fires observer (JFO) training into its Field Artillery Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC).
"We did a lot of studying today, and we need to go back and apply some of those ideas against the training model that we're currently using to see if we can take advantage of the opportunities that we saw," said Col. JT Smith, director of the Joint and Combined Integration (JACI) Directorate. Smith's directorate has been tasked to implement the joint fires observer training into BOLC.
At Sheppard, instructors from the 80th FTW explained how the wing trains pilots in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program (ENJJPT) using T-6A Texan II and T-38C Talon aircraft. The ENJJPT is unique, as it is a NATO school hosted at a United States facility. The majority of the graduates, which include U.S. Airmen, go on to become fighter pilots.
In his briefing, Air Force Lt Col. T.J. Lowe, 80th FTW Scheduling chief, noted the wing's aircraft use Fort Sill airspace virtually every day, whether employing terminal guidance systems at Falcon Range or using the precision approach radar at Henry Post Army Airfield.
Although ENJJPT trains about 200 pilots a year through a 55-week program, while one FA BOLC class averages 120 Soldiers in an 18-week course, both programs similarly use small group instruction of roughly 15 students. The FA School conducts eight BOLC classes per year.
Col. Christopher Bentley, Field Artillery School commandant and chief of FA, has directed the refinement of the FA BOLC course to integrate JFO training into BOLC within one year, Smith said. The JACI Directorate plans to start the modified training by April 2014.
Joint fires observers are trained to request, control and adjust surface fires, such as artillery, mortars and naval gunfire; provide close air support target information to a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) or a Forward Airborne Controller (FAC); as well as talk directly to a pilot, if authorized by the JTAC.
Currently, JFO training is an additional two-week course for BOLC graduates.
Because of resources only 48 of BOLC graduates from one class go on to attend JFO training, said Wes Bryant, a JFO Program manager. "So we're looking at how we can integrate JFO training, and make every BOLC lieutenant a JFO graduate."
Air Force Lt. Col. Jason Wilson, 6th Combat Training Squadron, Detachment 1 commander at Fort Sill, is the Air Force adviser and liaison to Smith, as well as the commander of the Air Force instructors who work at the JFO School. He was an instructor at the 80th FTW, and he suggested that the Fort Sill trainers visit Sheppard Air Force Base.
"The officers who work with the FA BOLC course are being tasked to completely transform their syllabus and to completely change things that have been taught for decades about manual gunnery," Wilson said. "I wanted them to see and understand how the Air Force has solved many of the same types of problems with respect to transforming a syllabus."
This effort is a truly joint collaboration, noted Smith. All members in attendance saw value in adopting the best practices from NATO and the USAF that closely align with the Army Learning Model. As the ENJPPT flight leads have a 1-to-15 instructor to student ratio, and use unique resource management tools to make it happen, so soon will the BOLC classes start seeing similar training and resource tools.
The initiative to integrate the Army Learning Model, known as the Adult Learning Model in academia, within BOLC will allow the young officers to gain greater understanding of what is expected of them in today's Army, according to Smith.
During the tour in the "Nachos" Flight Room, Air Force Capt. Brian Leber, Assistant Flight commander, explained some of the products used to track students' training , including the digital Training Information Management System, or TIMS, and the analog Puck Board magnets with student names on a white board.
Lt. Col. Michael Todd, Joint Fires Observer Course chief, commented on how the wing follows a pilot's progress.
"They have a unique way of tracking a student's progress to see if he has met his prerequisites," Todd said. "Each flight lead over those 15 students really has the autonomy to plan training based on how his students are doing."
The 80th FTW instructors see what their students have completed and schedule subsequent training for the next two weeks, where the BOLC uses a blocked courselong process, Todd said.
"The briefing gave us an idea how to decentralize the scheduling process, and tailor it to that small group," he said.
Smith took note of the waterfall approach the Air Force used to schedule training.
"They have smaller class sizes that begin more frequently," Smith explained. "That's something that may help us manage our resources easier."
The 428th Field Artillery Brigade's 1st Battalion, 30th FA manages the FA BOLC and is responsible for the course curriculum. Marine Maj. Stephen Ford, 1-30th FA Officer Instruction Group chief, said that the tour showed him different training options.
"The Air Force support has been great, and it's really kind of opened our eyes and made us realize that there's a potential for some paradigm shifts in the way we currently do things," he said.
Ford said he and course managers will have to evaluate if those different training methodologies can be integrated into the BOLC construct considering the restrictions of space, number of instructors and fires support simulators available.