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Back to Basics for CSOs Running Long, Deep, Fast

Undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

Capt. Matthew Martinez, a flight commander in the 451st Flying Training Squadron and Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander, watch while a combat systems officer student receives a briefing from Jeffrey Calvert, a T-1A Jayhawk pilot at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Pensacola, Fla. Dec. 11, 2018. Doherty was visiting the 479th Flying Training Group to see how undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

Undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

Maj. Zachary Fisher, an instructor in the 451st Flying Training Squadron, demonstrates to Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force commander, the advantages of using desktop simulators to train combat systems officers at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Pensacola, Fla. Dec. 10, 2018. Doherty was visiting the 479th Flying Training Group to see how undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

Undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

Capt. Tyler Russon, a flight commander in the 455th Flying Training Squadron demonstrates to Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 19th Air Force Commander, the advantages of using tablets in cockpits to train combat systems officers at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Pensacola, Fla. Dec. 10, 2018. Doherty was visiting the 479th Flying Training Group to see how undergraduate CSO training is changing to adapt to the more demanding training environment.

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Rapid technological advancements and a shift back to great power competition has created a higher demand for well-trained warfighters. The undergraduate combat systems officer schoolhouse at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Pensacola, Fla. is changing to meet that demand.  

“We’re still going to have somebody who has been exposed to the fundamental skillsets,” said Col. Charles McElvaine, 479th Flying Training Group commander at NAS Pensacola. Since 2009, the 479th has provided undergraduate weapons systems officer, navigator, sensor operator, and electronic warfare officer training under the title “CSO,” pronounced “sizzo.”

“The fundamentals are not what they used to be,” said McElvaine. “CSO graduates will be expected to know more about their specific skillsets and be prepared to fly, fight, and win at a higher level than before.”

The new training plan is based on a mix of historic and new training methods combined with today’s high-tech advancements in training simulation. It represents the collective effort of experts in the 479th with inputs from warfighters in squadrons that operate any one of 14 different aircraft that CSOs fly in air-to-ground attack, air-to-air attack, transportation, refueling, and information operations.

For three years the 479th has followed one standard training program with CSOs entering the schoolhouse without a specialty. Annually nearly 275 students received 195 days of common training that included academics, experience on a desktop simulator, and aircrew training aboard a T-6A Texan II and a T-1A Jayhawk. Next, the UCT cadre designated each student’s track. Finally, students got 21 days of specific training in one of the four specialties. Overall, by the end of the program, each graduate was exposed to all aspects of CSO duties.

UCT leaders said that 21 days of specific specialty training wasn’t enough to meet flying training unit and warfighter needs.

“We’re going to a syllabus that exposes students to each of the primary CSO skillsets through simulators before they begin flying, and then we are going to begin selecting their individual tracks at the 85th training day instead of the 195th. Our new syllabus will “track” students earlier, which will allow us to provide gaining formal training units with a more highly qualified aviator for their weapons system.  We will simultaneously increase the quality of our graduates and reduce the graduate-level training burden on the operational units,” said McElvaine.

The school rearranged training in order to identify students with the best aptitude for typical CSO missions. To do that, they inserted portions of formerly advanced phases of training into the primary phase using simulators. Cadre are now evaluating each student's potential to function as a WSO, sensor operator, navigator, or EWO before assignment in one of four new specialized advanced tracks.

The change yielded 85 days of fundamental training with exposure to core CSO skillsets and then up to 143 specialized training days more for WSOs, 88 more days for navigators and sensor operators, and 91 more days for EWOs. The increased specialized training reset the baseline for what CSOs believe are the fundamentals needed to be ready to fight. Air warfare concepts that were formerly introduced much later in a CSO’s career are now considered basic tactical knowledge, and are taught at the schoolhouse.  

“Improving simulators, providing labs with virtual reality capability, and better access to robust instruction like Secret Internet Protocol Router access for our EWO students is integral to making our newest aircrew fit to fight sooner,” said Capt. Emily Elmore, 479th Operations Support Squadron’s chief of academics and simulation support.

After track selection, EWOs for example, are spending less time practicing navigations skillsets and more time on EWO tasks like threat signal identification, electronic attack, and self-protection using equipment that emulates realistic threats. More than 60% of the new EWO track syllabus is taught in a classified environment where students focus on contemporary threat information and tactics. The integration phase and capstone planning exercise exposes students to joint and inter-service EW concepts to complete training.

In addition to more specialized tracks, UCT instructors have been working hand in hand with civilian experts to design tailorable and reconfigurable aircrew training devices and sensor suites. This allows instructors to use off the shelf equipment and modify it real-time to reflect more realistic training.   

All the changes allow each student to get relevant crew position training with a seasoned instructor for his or her track while not wasting valuable training resources on a skillset they are not expected to use in their future aircraft. Each track is tailored to the skillsets needed in today’s complex warfighting environment.

Overall the changes will produce as many as 400 CSOs a year.

“Last year Gen. Patrick Doherty, the 19th Air Force commander, made it clear that our student load would increase without an increase in instructors or aircraft assets,” said Elmore.

Air Force leaders said that the emphasis on realism and specialization is vital. Adversaries have evolved and may have the capacity in the future to strip aircrews of the technology CSOs rely on.

“Our graduates need to know how to do it the old school way,” said Maj. Gen. Patrick Doherty, the commander of 19th Air Force. “We have to have some really good basic skills to fall back on.”

Doherty visited the 479th Dec. 10 – 11, 2018 and he met and observed students and UCT instructors in action.

“Providing senior leadership further insight to where the program has been, where we are, and where we are going demonstrates the positive direction student training is heading,” said Capt. Timothy Rak, an instructor with the 451st Flying Training Squadron.

Rak accompanied Doherty on a training mission with two CSO students and a pilot in a T-1A Dec. 11, 2018. The change opens up more time for Rak and other instructors to train more students during the year.

Under the new syllabus EWO, Navigator, and SO students begin graduating in mid-August, 2019 and the first WSOs graduate in October, 2019.

You’ve got to run long, run deep, and run fast,” said Doherty.