visual threat recognition and avoidance trainer, called VTRAT, is
gaining increasing use in the Air Force special operations community.
The Air Force Special Operations Command’s aircraft scanners
have the primary duty to identify anti-aircraft threats, direct
pilots and crews in the performance of evasive maneuvers.
To respond to the impossibility of carrying out this kind of training
live, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Brooks Air Force Base,
Texas, commissioned a company named Command Technologies to develop
a trainer. VTRAT was built in cooperation with the 19th Special
Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
Designed like a flight trainer, VTRAT creates views of ground threats—missiles
and anti-aircraft artillery—as they would be seen through
an aircraft window. Crewmembers are trained to recognize the threats
and to respond through action or communications. The system records
trainee performance and provides remedial exercises as needed.
VTRAT is an automated, interactive simulator and trains scanners
in the AC-130H/U, MC-130H/E/P, EC-130J and MH-53J weapons systems.
In addition, the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center is extending
the use of the avoidance trainer to teach forces how to respond
and operate quickly during anti-aircraft threat engagements.
Laboratory psychologists designed a training methodology based
on cognitive psychology, which suggests that the best way to automate
a response is repetition, while incrementally increasing the workload
and decreasing the response time, according to Air Force laboratory
Also, earlier training devices “were not high enough fidelity,
or really looked like the actual threat, so the only time a person
actually had a chance to use those instructions was when they were
in a real life-or-death situation,” said Michael Williams,
missions operations manager at Lockheed Martin Information Systems.
Lockheed Martin, under its aircrew training and rehearsal support
program with the Special Operations Command, now manages and maintains
all the service’s VTRAT sites. The Air Force currently has
two systems at Hurlburt Field, Fla.—the first one was fielded
almost four years ago. Another is at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Lockheed recently installed one in Harrisburg, Pa., and one in Mildenhall,
United Kingdom. Kadena Air Force Base in Japan is scheduled to receive
a system early this year, as is a site at Duke Field, Fla., Williams
told National Defense.
Because training in the simulator has proven successful for crews
who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force is trying to
propagate the training device, said Williams.
There also has been some discussion about installing a training
site at Fort Campbell, Ky., the home of the Army’s special
operations aviators, said Williams. Officials have not yet decided
whether to provide the trainer to conventional forces.
VTRAT takes the visual representation from all threats that pilots
may encounter, ranging from anti-aircraft artillery to various types
of missiles, and validates their look and sound, said Williams.
The image generator, threat system and aircraft host are the core
of the three-dimensional visual simulation. The aircraft host models,
for example, a C-130 transport or MH-53J helicopter, on a mission
flight path, changing altitude, airspeed and flight course. The
threat system models a variety of ground-to-air threats, including
anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles and radar threats.
The visual simulation displays realistic characteristics of anti-aircraft
weaponry, such as missile fly-out and anti-aircraft artillery rate-of-fire,
as seen from the scanner’s viewpoint in the aircraft. The
trainer also teaches recognition of several ground-to-ground threats.
“As the scanners see these threats and give their calls,
the system automatically goes to voice recognition and tells whether
they have given the right or wrong call,” said Williams. The
system then goes on to grade the trainees and diagnose weak areas.
“If they missed certain types of missiles, it will feed them
more of those,” he added.
The students training on VTRAT can see the environment on a high-resolution
67-inch display system, from the perspective of a certain duty position
on the aircraft. The students hear the instructional text through
a headset and interact with the trainer via a voice recognition
system. The trainer also provides the communication and flares countermeasures
controls that are available on actual aircraft, according to laboratory
VTRAT contains courses to train threat recognition and avoidance
for more than 30 duty positions across six Special Operations Command
weapon systems. Instructors may choose to deviate from automated
lessons and construct custom drills, or fire and discuss specific
threats, said officials.
Special operators returning from Afghanistan and Iraq testify to
the high value of the trainer, said Williams. “Crews would
come back having actually seen the various anti-aircraft artillery
and missiles and basically said that having been able to train on
VTRAT saved their lives,” he said. “They knew exactly
what they were seeing and they made the right call.”
Arinc Engineering Services, one of the subcontractors on the project,
is working to enhance the system and integrate lessons from recent
combat missions to reproduce actual field conditions. The trainer
can also be adapted to train crews of any aircraft, including private
jets and commercial airliners, the company said.