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Your ISR mission aircraft is only as good as your ISR Operator
(Training mission operators with a dwindling budget)
Now that you’ve spent $18 million for a fully equipped Beech 350 MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft), and $8 million for a full ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) equipped Twin EC135, or $4 million for a single engine A-
During the preparation of this article, it came as no surprise that the majority of ALE (Airborne Law Enforcement) and ISR operators admitted ‘some’ of the equipment knowledge imparted to them years ago during their (one-
Aside from this, for those who want and get ISR training funded an even bigger battle ensues: almost 100% of all ISR training has to happen with the actual equipment on real flying aircraft. This raises such ugly issues as: -
What we are not short on, is missed opportunities to detect targets, to track and identify them. We are our own worst enemy. We clamor for high MTBF equipment but think we don’t have to buy spares. We specify the most sophisticated equipment but think we don’t have to spend time/money on equally sophisticated operators.
Large operators of any type of aircraft, commercial as well as military, have solved their pilot training problem to a great extent thru the use of aircraft simulators. The forecasted pilot simulator market of $16 Billion by 2020 attests to that, as does the number and size of dedicated aircraft simulator companies. But it’ is extremely rare and very expensive to include in such simulators the rest of the mission crew tasks. The number of dedicated ISR simulator companies, whether it be radar, EOIR, EW (Electronic Warfare) or other mission equipment, is but a fraction of their aircraft simulator counterparts – both in number as well as in size. Consequently, ISR operators are left to study manuals, ask for advice from fellow operators, or resort to the standard excuses when the mission results are poor.
We are again our own worst enemy: when loss of life (our life...) is involved we want the best pilot training money can buy; when loss of target and mission efficiency is involved we think we can get by with the absolute minimum. The abundance of mandatory FAA pilot training requirements against practically non-
It does not have to be that way! We can train ISR operators effectively for greater mission success, and please the accounting folks by spending less money in the process. It is kudos all around – so why don’t we do it? And what, really, is an EOIR (Electro-
In the course of several discussions on this topic with the user community, we rarely encountered disagreement on the need for training. And very often the same reasons for lack of training were the same:
Yet most customers agreed that there was sufficient non-
Even champions of training within a user group lost their enthusiasm when confronted with this problem.
No Money (or budget constraints).
Yet a lot of money was available for a totally insufficient amount of in-
No Equipment (or limited access to equipment)
This was the most common reason given for the lack of hands-
So the Time/Money/Equipment problem is very real and difficult to address within the overall management structure. On the other hand, flying missions with half-
Since the Time factor needs a commitment from a dedicated champion within every organization, there is little technology can do to create such a person/commitment.
However, the Money/Equipment factors can today be more than adequately addressed by implementing new technologies: the tremendous costs of in-
Addressing Money/Equipment from the perspective of both aircraft and ISR equipment, we examined four types of aircraft and their average hourly operating cost. The type of aircraft that can be used for typical ISR missions vastly outnumbers the types of EOIR systems available. For the sake of simplicity we examined manned and unmanned, rotary and fixed-
We examined the typical hourly operating cost for several aircraft in those four categories. Our research in public literature and from actual operators revealed a large disparity of resulting hourly costs for identical or similar aircraft, depending on who produced the numbers and what result the originator wanted to achieve. Some costs from manufacturers were disputed by customers with higher values – in that case we used the average number. The costs shown are therefore representative only of what typical hourly operating costs can be and not of any specific aircraft. For manned and unmanned aircraft we included both the requirement of a pilot and a TFO (Tactical Flight Officer); for the simulator operation we included only the TFO.
The resulting cost graphs ($1,000, $3,000 and 7,000/hr) are shown against the simulator training hours. The cost range of an EOIR simulator is plotted as $60,000 to $200,000 based on market values – the cross-
Fig1: Hourly flying cost of small helicopters and fixed wing aircraft vs simulator cost
We examined also UAVs (fixed wing, rotary, airships and aerostats) with payload of 60Kg or more. The disparity between various sources on actual cost per hour of operation varied even more than with manned aircraft: the inclusion (or not…) of required support equipment and personnel in addition to the vehicle flying cost plus operator cost made for large differences in perceived totals. For a non-
It appears that the hourly operating cost ‘lies in the eye of the beholder’: we therefore decided to let the customer decide and provide typical hourly cost from helicopters up to medium-
We found that military aircraft operating cost vary between $15,000-
While most simulators do a good job mimicking the actual operation of the sensor, one important hardware component cannot be overlooked: the operator tool (hand controller, key grip, keyboard, etc.) must replicate the one used in-
What a simulator cannot do is simulate the stress associated with actual missions, when ‘flying fatigue’ sets in and the human eyes see but the brain fails to register. Still, a good simulator can provide a large degree of ‘situation awareness’ which is totally lacking with a real system operated in a class-
Specific sensor simulators (EOIR, radar, etc.) are needed to establish a cadre of well-
a. Most comprehensive and on-
b. The best instant tactical performance in-
c. Clean, sharp and mission-
d. An invaluable help in establishing ISR Operational Procedures.
The cost of a typical simulator is not prohibitive when viewed in the context of the other alternatives:
a. Training the TFOs using expensive flying hours (and using up warranty hours)
b. Training the TFO on the same sensor but using a less expensive (read different) training aircraft
The cost of the simulator should be dictated by its purpose, and should primarily focus on:
a. Total familiarization of the mission sensor with all the capabilities inherent in its specific configuration
Turret sensor/model variations of same brand
Turrets from different manufacturers
Construction of mission-
Inclusion of system-
d. Compactness and ruggedization for those instances where out-
f. Ability to randomly change certain mission parameters to avoid ‘trainee scenario memorization’
g. Ability to have multiple-
h. Ability for superiors to grade mission performance during later review
i. Ability to store individual operator preferences and test results for use during future training sessions
The selection of a simulator should not be dictated by the ‘bells and whistles’ that do not represent the TFOs’ flying experience:
There are two things your simulator choice will not simulate, your present annual cost of training your operators in the air, and the CO2 carbon foot print generated during your present in-
This article is a summary of the Simulator presentation given by the authors at the Airtec aerospace conference in Munich.
G.Davies is a seasoned satellite controller, microwave downlink and EOIR consultant who is a firm believer that only TFO training can make your equipment live up to its’ full potential.
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