JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Aviation testers here are deep into testing the latest Army aviation planning software, known as the Aviation Mission Planning System, or AMPS.

The customer test is a collaborative team effort between the West Fort Hood, Texas-based Aviation Test Directorate of the U.S. Army Operational Test Command, the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord , Washington and Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and the Product Director Aviation Networks & Mission Planning office based at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

"An operational test with 16th CAB provides an opportunity for the new AMPS hardware and software to be independently evaluated for its system's effectiveness, suitability, and survivability," said Lt. Col. Richard Baylie, chief of the AVTD Fixed Wing/Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Division.

"Aviation leadership uses this evaluation to make an informed decision in regards to the readiness, to field this equipment and software to the force," Baylie continued. "Having a CAB to field and utilize the new equipment and software, while conducting their everyday mission planning and flights, gives the users one last opportunity to provide feedback prior to fielding the rest of the Army."

AVTD coordinated the multi-location test efforts, ensuring a successful operational test of the AMPS R7.7, to support a full material release decision.

One of the main purposes for the AMPS customer test was to confirm that the updates made to the system would not degrade system performance. Conducting an operational test gives the program office that spot-check needed prior to a fielding decision.

"Programmatically, the AMPS team is seeking to validate that the hardware and software decisions made, have met the needs of the user and provide a timely and accurate solution to the mission planning requirement for the field," said Mr. George Goodman, PD-ANMP-AMPS assistant product manager. "It's important to involve the users in the process of developing their mission planning tools."

Fielding of AMPS R7.7 provides the user with an all-new, ultra-ruggedized, Getac X500 laptop computer. The Getac comes with a 1Terabyte solid-state hard drive and Windows 10 operating system.

"The system provides the user with an improved processor, increased memory, and upgraded graphics processing unit," said Ms. Melinda Myer, PD-ANMP-AMPS technical lead. "This increased capability provides the framework for future capabilities including 3-D mission planning and enhanced rehearsal."

The AMPS product office performed market research for the hardware update to ensure growth capability over the next refresh cycle. The intent is to be proactive in anticipating the mission planning needs of the future.

"Many of our AMPS computers have been in service for over seven years and are in need of a hardware refresh," said Mr. Robert Bailey, TRADOC capabilities manager for the aviation battalions. "The new hardware solution provides a faster processor and greater computing power to run the computations needed for mission planning. The new software gets AMPS into Windows 10 OS compliance as well as adding several new planning tools."

Testing with an operational unit is vital to the system validation process, as it allows users to apply the system in an operational environment. This operational test has allowed a unique training opportunity for the aviators of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"The value of receiving the equipment months prior to the rest of the Army is allowing our crews to be trained and ready well before the official fielding," said Maj. Benjamin Saad, executive officer, 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"Being able to conduct this training at home station allows our crews to apply their newly learned skills to their airframes immediately. In most cases, this type of training would occur with temporary duty from home station to a remote site. With the training and testing occurring here at home station, the crews are able to apply their new knowledge immediately, greatly increasing the retention of this very perishable skill."

Data collected from the test unit becomes a crucial part of the program office way forward. It is USAOTC's mission to gather that data for future evaluation.

USAOTC will provide the test data collected, along with a report to the test evaluator. This will allow the evaluator to provide input to the materiel release authority.

"AMPS test and evaluation provides continual feedback for continuous improvement of the system," said Mr. Brian Whitbeck, Army Evaluation Command lead evaluator and test manager for AMPS.

Members of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade are also providing valuable user input for improvements and modification to AMPS. Information gathered during the operational test not only validates the AMPS, but also contributes new insight for training pilots on how to use AMPS for maximum effect.

"With this extra time, our crews will be able to give feedback and be on the cutting edge of TTPs with the new system," said Saad. "Having the PM team here has been a great experience. Their eagerness to assist in training our crews demonstrated a true commitment to making the system the best it can be and helped our personnel be on the cutting edge of mission planning."

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About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:

As the Army's only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer -- the American Soldier.

The Aviation Test Directorate at Fort Hood, Texas, plans and conducts operational tests and reports on manned and unmanned aviation-related equipment, including attack, reconnaissance, cargo and lift helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, tactical trainers, ground support equipment, and aviation countermeasure systems.