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19th AF, AFWERX collaborate on “Learning Next” flying training initiatives

Staff Sgt. Justin O’Brien, 7th Special Operations Squadron special mission aviator, performs preflight checks on a CV-22 Osprey’s ramp-mounted weapon system, a .50-caliber GAU-21 heavy machine gun Mar. 7, 2017, on RAF Mildenhall, England. When assigned to the tail position of the aircraft, SMAs are responsible for operating the RMW, weight and balance, clearing the landing zone and alternate insertions and extraction methods, among other duties. (U.S. Air Force photo/Capt Chris Sullivan)

Staff Sgt. Justin O’Brien, 7th Special Operations Squadron special mission aviator, performs preflight checks on a CV-22 Osprey’s ramp-mounted weapon system, a .50-caliber GAU-21 heavy machine gun Mar. 7, 2017, on RAF Mildenhall, U.K. A rotary-wing training team comprised of subject matter experts from around Air Force, in collaboration with AFWERX, met in Las Vegas Jan. 14-18, 2019, to explore and potentially prototype training environments to enhance student and pilot production in an accelerated, cost efficient and learning-focused manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Capt. Chris Sullivan)

Students from the 337th Air Control Squadron monitor simulated battle space during an Undergraduate Air Battle Manager Course training exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. July 13, 2016. Individuals who graduate this course are trained and qualified for airborne command and control, air surveillance, electronic warfare, and airborne weapons capabilities in aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cody R. Miller/Released)

Students from the 337th Air Control Squadron monitor simulated battle space during an Undergraduate Air Battle Manager Course training exercise at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., July 13, 2016. An Air Force Battle Management training team comprised of subject matter experts from around Air Force, in collaboration with AFWERX, met in Las Vegas Jan. 14-18, 2019, to explore and potentially prototype training environments to enhance student and pilot production in an accelerated, cost efficient and learning-focused manner. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cody R. Miller)

LAS VEGAS (AFNS) -- Key stakeholders for three 19th Air Force flying training pipelines gathered at the Las Vegas AFWERX facility in January to identify key problem areas and determine executable solutions for the start of the command’s “Learning Next” initiatives.

The rotary-wing, battle management and remotely-piloted aircraft training pipelines were all examined, with the overarching goal of exploring and potentially prototyping training environments to enhance student and pilot production in an accelerated, cost efficient and learning-focused manner.

“In line with the National Defense Strategy, we must out-think, out-maneuver, and out-innovate our adversaries and this effort ties directly to what we are doing with these “Learning Next” initiatives,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th AF commander. “If there are ways to reimagine how instructors train and we develop our helicopter, (air battle management) and RPA students, we must start the dialogue and execute those changes.”

All three of the teams included subject matter experts from across the flying enterprise, including Headquarters, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air Combat Command and the National Guard Bureau.

An AFWERX facilitator led the teams throughout the week in defining problems and determining solutions by assisting all the stakeholders in outlining key assumptions, questioning what the teams thought they knew and creating tests that methodically arrive at workable solutions.

The Battle Management Next team identified the manning in their enlisted and officer side Air Force specialty codes as a major issue and looked at developing solutions that could be implemented not just in AETC, but across the combat air forces, to minimize obstacles in technical training, including how to leverage new technology, in an effort to streamline the training pipelines to complete quality training faster.

“We’re definitely in the “high demand, low density” arena when it comes to our manning, which is critically low,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Cox, 19th AF combat air forces formal training branch chief. “Battle management is in almost every facet of Air Force and Department of Defense operations, from the tactical up to strategic levels.”

For Rotary-Wing Next, the team spent the week identifying and addressing inefficiencies by revamping the training pipeline and implementing low-cost, rapidly attainable technology.

“We are willing to be bold and take risks, in order to produce aircrew faster, less expensively, and better,” said Maj. Trey Merrill, Rotary-Wing Next team lead.

By the end of the conference, the team had designed a new roadmap that includes the use of new technology and training concepts, including virtual and augmented reality for the undergraduate pipeline for both pilots and special mission aviators, as well as the graduate formal training units for the HH-60 Pave Hawk, CV-22 Osprey and the UH-1 Huey.

The RPA Next team focused on both the undergraduate pilot pipeline, as well as the formal training unit at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, with a goal of identifying problems and solutions in terms of student production from both a quality and quantity perspective, as well as how to integrate technology into the curriculum to enhance learning.

“By looking at certain resource movements, or when we introduce certain concepts in the syllabi, we found areas we can change that improve both the quality and the quantity of our graduates,” said Maj. Lucian, 19th AF combat air forces standardization and evaluations branch chief. “Looking critically at the course flow, we identified competencies that could be moved from the FTU to the undergraduate curriculum or vice-versa, such as mission-specific skills, in ways that make sense.”

The facilitation by AFWERX throughout the conference helped the teams focus on specific problems following an approach that emphasized the free flow of ideas throughout every step of the process of identifying the problems and how to solve them.

“The AFWERX team was great to work with and kept us on track,” said Master Sgt. Joseph Looney, 19th AF command weapons director. “Getting the opportunity to interact face-to-face with a group from across the enterprise for a week, build relationships, and use that momentum to develop solutions was very beneficial.”

According to their website, the core mission of AFWERX is to improve Air Force capabilities by connecting innovators, simplifying technology transfer and accelerating results by connecting diverse, innovative members from industry, academia and government; creating capabilities options and prototype opportunities for the Air Force; facilitating streamlined acquisition processes and fostering a culture of innovation in the Airmen.

(Editor’s Note: Some last names were withheld from the article due to operational security reasons.)

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