Tradition and Change in ATC

Dec. 1, 1988

Air Training Command has al­ways been the domain of the prompt salute and poster-perfect military bearing. Each year, ATC must drill the customs, discipline, and heritage of the force into some 60,000 new airmen and officers. This command is justifiably known for dishing up tradition in generous portions.

At the same time, change is per­vasive. ATC constantly adjusts its training program to fit new weapon systems and evolving circum­stances in the operational com­mands. These days, however, ATC has more than adjustment on its mind. The most sweeping round of changes in thirty years is under way.

Next spring, the Air Force will choose a modified business jet as a trainer for transport and tanker pi­lots. In doing so, it will take a big step toward specialized undergrad­uate pilot training, which is sched­uled to begin in 1991. (See “Always Good—and Often Superb,” p. 46.) That will also be the first stage in a modernization plan under which ATC will eventually replace all of its major training aircraft.

Other changes are gathering mo­mentum, too. In a program called “Rivet Workforce,” ATC is revising more than 700 of its resident and field training courses to prepare maintenance people to work on spe­cific systems. In the past, it has largely been up to the gaining unit to tailor a newcomer’s general training to the equipment in use locally.

Another initiative, “four-level” training, promises to take more of the work load off operational com­mands by sending them specialists who arrive with several weeks of additional training behind them. (See “Apprentices With a Differ­ence,” p. 56.)

In a long list of career fields, com­puter-based instruction is catching on fast. ATC is optimistic about its applications for classroom use and says that it will also make upgrade training easier and more effective.

Even the support operation is in motion. ATC is about halfway through a transition to civilian and contract maintenance for the trainer fleet at its flying training wings. Eventually, maintenance will be done by military people only at Ran­dolph AFB, Tex., where the com­mand headquarters is located.

ATC’s new Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert C. Oaks, surveys the task ahead with conspicuous enthusi­asm. He pronounces the trainees eager and the instructors im­pressive. The new assignment, he says, “makes me feel ten years younger.”

The Dual Track

Of all the changes pending, none generates more interest—mixed with some apprehension—than the prospect of Specialized Undergrad­uate Pilot Training (SUPT). Since 1959, the Air Force has put all of its student pilots through the same course of instruction and sorted them out later. SUPT sends them on separate training tracks, one for those who will later fly tankers and transports, the other for those going to fighters and bombers.

Given a choice, most young pilots would prefer to fly fighters. The re­ality, General Oaks says, is that more than half of them will fly heavy aircraft throughout their careers. Under the new system, officers will be selected for specific categories of flying before they begin undergrad­uate pilot training.

SUPT, General Oaks says, “will give us better, more appropriately trained pilots—and, I think, more highly motivated pilots. From day one, they know what they’re going to be. If they don’t want to be that, they don’t have to sign up for it.

“Right now, a significant number of people are disappointed with what they get coming out of pilot training. The needs of the Air Force never match the desires of the pilot training class.”

General Oaks believes that there will be plenty of takers for the op­portunity to fly tankers and trans­ports and that pilots will be better satisfied with their subsequent as­signments if they know what to ex­pect from the beginning.

ATC forecasts that the distribu­tion of first assignments for new SUPT graduates will be as follows: bombers, eleven percent; fighters, 33.6 percent; tankers, twenty-three percent; transports, 32.4 percent.

The original plan was to train bomber pilots on the same track as tanker and transport pilots. About a year ago, however, the Air Force decided to restructure the tracks. The reason, General Oaks says, is that “the B-IB and bombers of the future will have flight envelopes and flight characteristics closer to those of a T-38 or its replacement than to those of the business jet tanker-transport aircraft.”

The command is still working on details of the process by which it will designate student pilots for the different training tacks, but says that it will use a combination of mental, psychological, and psycho-motor tests and candidate inter­views.

Replacing the Trainers

Since more than half of the stu­dent pilots in the 1990s will train in the new tanker-transport airplane, an additional advantage of SUN’ is that it takes much of the load off the overworked T-38 Talon fleet. Both of ATC’s main aircraft—the sub­sonic T-37 primary trainer and the supersonic T-38 now flown by all student pilots in the last phase of undergraduate training—date from the late 1950s and are approaching midlife crises.

The T-37 was to have been re­placed by the ill-fated T-46. After its rollout, though, the T-46 ran into development and budgetary prob­lems and the program was canceled. That left the Air Force with an equipment problem.

The T-37s, General Oaks says, “take a beating every day. It’s not just casual flying. They get multiple landings, multiple G applications, and multiple throttle applications.” The Tweet is wearing out.

Without a new primary trainer in reach, the Air Force must make the T-37 fleet last another ten years any­way and will do that with a struc­tural life-extension program. It ex­pects to award a contract in Febru­ary. The modifications will be ex­tensive and should give each T-37 at least 8,000 additional hours of ser­vice life.

Until recently, the Air Force seemed determined that the even­tual replacement for the T-37 would be a jet. Now, according to General Oaks, the objective is “to acquire an off-the-shelf trainer with the most current technology possible—but we have not designated a preference with respect to turboprop or jet.”

The primary trainer of the future will also eliminate such problems as lack of pressurization and inade­quate cooling, currently experi­enced with the T-37. “A fellow out at Williams [AFB, Ariz.,] the other day measured the temperature in the cockpit at 135 degrees as he sat there waiting to take off,” General Oaks says.

The T-38, which continued in pro­duction until 1972, is not quite so old as the T-37, but it has also seen hard use. The average T-38 in the fleet today has 15,500 hours of flying behind it. This exceeds the origi­nally programmed life expectancy of the T-38.

“We’re going to run out of T-38s if we don’t get some relief,” General Oaks says. Part of the relief will come from SUN’ when tanker and transport pilots begin training in the business jet. The plan is to buy 217 of these aircraft.

A more immediate source of relief is the “Pacer Classic” moderniza­tion program. It includes structural, engine, and avionics renovation. ATC says that this will keep the T-38s flying until 2010. By that time, the Air Force expects to have a T-38 replacement in hand.

Tech Training Initiatives

In this year’s authorization bill, Congress suggested that the Air Force consider switching its trainer-modernization plan around and buying the T-38 replacement first. Specifically, Congress said, the Air Force might tag onto the end of the production line for the British Aero­space-McDonnell Douglas T-45 Goshawk, which the Navy is buying as its intermediate and advanced trainer. After replacing the T-38 with this T-45 variant in the 1990s, the Air Force could then join the Navy in co-development of a prima­ry trainer to replace the T-37 and the Navy’s T-34C. The Air Force does not think much of the idea. The Sec­retary of Defense is to report to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees by February 15 on trainer acquisition plans for both services.

ATC is supporting an Air Force Logistics Command initiative, “Rivet Workforce,” to “reorganize maintenance skills into more gener­al categories and improve the ver­satility of flight-line folks,” General Oaks says. “We’re reworking 700 courses, changing them to match the new mix of skills needed by using commands.”

This program complements an­other initiative, “four-level” train­ing, which sends tech school gradu­ates to the field with an additional month of training. The idea is to enable them to be more useful to their units right away and to position them somewhere between appren­tices—skill level three, which had been standard for tech school grad­uates—and five-level journeymen.

ATC is still gathering and evaluat­ing data on how “four-level” gradu­ates perform on the job. General Oaks says that the final verdict isn’t in yet, “but it looks to me, from everything I can see, that we will go with ‘four-level’ training.”

The most widespread change in technical training is the increasing use of computer-based instruction (CBI). Last summer, the ATC news service proclaimed it “the wave of the future.” Earlier this year, an in­teractive video program developed to train radar specialists at Keesler AFB, Miss., won an award for excellence from the University of Ne­braska. ATC is examining both its courses and various technical appli­cations to see where it might benefit by adapting them for use in class­rooms. It has also begun training instructors and other people in CBI design and use.

One benefit of such technology is illustrated by a computerized pro­gram that Chanute AFB, Ill., hopes to employ in training weather spe­cialists. Students in this course have only seven days of weather opera­tion. What they have been able to observe in the past has been limited to whatever kind of weather nature provided during that period. The computerized system, able to simu­late a wider range of weather condi­tions, seems ideal in this instance.

ATC also points out that, once developed, computer-based in­struction is “exportable” to airmen who cannot come to the tech schools for training. Proficiency and upgrade training also becomes easier. Those who used CBI for the basic course will be familiar with the approach and format, so they can easily absorb follow-up training in building-block packages.

General Oaks says that computer-based instruction can reduce train­ing time by “letting the fast ones go faster,” but realizes that “we need to be careful that we don’t just train everybody to the minimum stan­dards.”

There is no intention to automate every course. “It wouldn’t make sense to use computers or an inter­active videodisc if a chalkboard will do,” says Maj. Tim Whitacre of ATC Plans and Requirements.

. . And Still More Changes

Military maintenance people will soon be a rare sight on ATC flight lines. Only the flagship base, Ran­dolph, has been excluded from the change. For the others, the only question is whether the function will be done by contractors or by civil servants.

Two years ago, the Air Staff di­rected ATC to examine the relative cost of various maintenance op­tions. As the studies progressed, the prospect of turning ATC aircraft maintenance over to contractors ran into some congressional opposi­tion, but an amendment that would have blocked such a change was dropped from this year’s Defense Authorization bill.

Three bases—Columbus AFB., Miss., Vance AFB, Okla., and Sheppard AFB, Tex.—have already gone contract. Comparison of costs at Laughlin AFB., Tex., Reese AFB, Tex., Williams AFB, Ariz., and Mather AFB, Calif., will be fin­ished by FY ’91.

To ensure that the changes it makes are the right ones, ATC is staying closer than ever to the oper­ating commands and talking with them regularly about their problems and needs. For an extra edge, it also participates with those commands in exercises.

Although ATC is not a combat command, it does have a role in war­time preparedness. In the event of conflict, ATC could quickly deploy about 9,000 people—medical, civil engineering, and security police personnel—to combat theaters.

Command planners are also building a capability to expand training if that became necessary for a mobilization. ATC forecasts that it could increase the output of its basic military training operation from 4,896 a month to more than 25,000 and the number of people coming out of its technical training centers from 10,675 a month to about 25,000. Simultaneously, it would be able to accept as many as 91,000 pretrained Reservists for “reblueing,” or if need be, retrain­ing.

There are a few ways to enter the Air Force without coming through ATC—but not many.

Front Door to the Force

With a handful of exceptions, most of the people serving in the Air Force today came in through the gates of Air Training Command. ATC operates not only the Air Force Recruiting Service but also AFROTC and the sprawling complex at Lackland AFB, Tex., where the Basic Military Training Center and Officer Training School are located. There are a few other ways to enter the Air Force, but not many.

The average Air Force recruiter signs up forty new people a year. (Average for the other services is twenty per recruiter.) Only thirty-two of every 100 serious appli­cants can meet the Air Force’s physical and mental standards. Those who make the grade are good. Last year, ninety-nine percent of the recruits were high school graduates.

Air Force Recruiting Service began this fiscal year with a goal of 55,000 recruits and was well along toward having that many lined up when radical reductions to the defense budget suddenly cut the number of new airmen USAF could afford to 40,000. The goal next year is expected to be 50,000. Recruiting Service reported in August that it already had 2,400 applicants booked and waiting.

The old days, when military presence was unwelcome on many college cam­puses, appear to be over. When the Air Force proposed closing some ROTC units as the requirements for new officers declined, a wave of public and congressional protest ensued. As a result, the closures have been postponed, and the Air Force has been told to reexamine the situation in 1990.

The current structure consists of 154 AFROTC units, capable of producing 3,500 line officers a year. The most effective goal, the Air Force believes, would be to stabilize AFROTC production at about 2,500 a year. That could be achieved by 115 or so units.

If, for any reason, the Air Force needs more officers to meet end-strength require­ments than it will get from AFROTC in a particular year, it can turn to Officer Training School, which is a more flexible, faster-reacting source. OTS output, which was up to 4,550 in FY ’80, graduated only 912 officers last year. It is projected to turn out 1,200 this year.

The most difficult recruiting problems are in the health professions. The shortage of nurses is national. Enrollment at nursing schools declined by twenty-one percent between 1983 and 1986 while job opportunities for nurses proliferated. Recruiting physicians is even tougher, in large part because doctors earn $40,000 to $60,000 more in civilian practice than they can in the military.