Soldiers from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Campbell, Ky., are volunteering their aviation gunnery experience in the Simulated Weapons Environment Testbed (SWeET) at Picatinny Arsenal from July through September as part of the Advanced Rotorcraft Armaments and Protection System-Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (ARAPS-FLRAA) program.
“We have door gunners coming in, operating a simulated M240 machine gun, and we're having them run through a handful of qualification type engagements to evaluate performance of the baseline door gun and different door gunner technologies, such as the augmented reality display showing things like beaten zone and target markers,” said Keith Koehler, mechanical engineer with Combat Capabilities Development Command Armaments Center.
Koehler is responsible for the command station, loading scenarios with weather conditions and target sets and displaying them on the screen.
“I'll load that simulation up for them and make sure everything's working properly while they're running through the engagements,” Koehler said. “We're evaluating things like how quickly they engage targets; how accurate are they; how long or how many rounds it takes to clear the target set.”
“This technology we’re presenting to them allows them to see where the rounds are going, where targets are located that they may be able to acquire the targets quicker, and to put rounds on target quicker without having to walk rounds,” he added.
This program began this year at Picatinny Arsenal.
“In terms of the simulator lab, that was developed in-house,” said Koehler. “What we do here is geared towards small arms science and technology. So it's built more for data capture and ensuring that the ballistic fly out models are a lot more scientifically derived."
Since the simulation room is an asset that was already on post, the ARAPS-FLRAA program reached out to ask whether the space could be adapted to suit its needs. The development of the space allowed them to create a representative door gun environment to collect data that is relevant to real world scenarios.
“This allows for costs and time savings versus getting airtime on an aircraft, as well as it's a little easier to put experimental technology in this room than actually out on an aircraft,” said Grant Dalton, Armaments Center, mechanical engineer and project officer for ARAPS-FLRAA.
Dalton said, “The purpose of this program is to evaluate new mount technologies for future long range assault aircraft. The testing here is investigating which capabilities are beneficial to add to that mount. The goal here is to evaluate, based on performance metrics, how we can improve the lethality and the effectiveness of aviators in the future. So we are putting more rounds on target and making their mission more effective and creating technology that allows the Soldiers to be more effective in their role.”
ARAPS-FLRAA worked with Army FORSCOM coordinating voluntary Soldier participation from the 101st CAB to provide end-user feedback on experimental systems and inform development paths.
One of these volunteers was Staff Sgt. Dale Jackson, a crew chief.
“It's a familiar weapons system to us, but the targeting system is new,” he said. “We’re here to give our feedback to the developers of the product and to let them know any fixes or our opinions on what they need to change or make better on their projects. As far as the simulator, I suggested that we increase the field of view from 25 to 40 degrees just to give us an increased ability to see without too much head movement.”
Sgt. Maj. Joseph Aird, Future Vertical Lift Operations Cross Functional Team, also visited the site.
He said, “Whenever there's a new modernization piece of equipment that relates to aviation, we take Soldiers from different aviation units and we bring them to be part of the test evaluation. It’s important to have Soldiers upfront in a modernization process before a piece of equipment is fully developed so they can give their feedback and recommendations, and we can collect data on how well they perform with this particular piece of equipment that drives future continued development or improvement of the system.”