WASHINGTON --- The Army Aviation Branch is in the process of overhauling its entire training program, said Command Sgt. Maj. Greg M. Chambers.
Chambers, who is the command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, said the center is now working on development of a new maintenance training program for both rated and non-rated crew members.
The center is also examining the advanced individual training programs of instruction to determine if it is teaching relevant tasks, he said, providing a hypothetical: "If a hydraulic pump on a helicopter never breaks, why are we teaching that task?"
Besides that, the center is mining information from all the combat aviation brigades to determine what are the most frequent and critical aviation maintenance actions.
Once that analysis is complete, those tasks will be incorporated into programs of instruction at both AIT and follow-on professional military education courses, he said, speaking earlier this month at an Association of the United States Army-sponsored forum on aviation.
Besides an institutional focus on improved aviation training, commands must also do their part to improve Soldier proficiency in aviation maintenance, Chambers said.
"Operational units need to concentrate on protecting aviation maintenance training time," he said.
In practical terms, he said, commands must ensure Soldiers are training daily on aircraft maintenance, rather than performing unrelated ancillary duties, such as installation security.
"Every time we do not allow our Soldiers to practice their craft, it pushes the issue down the road," he said.
A WAKE-UP CALL
Recently, about 1,500 enlisted Aviation Branch Soldiers were administered a test consisting of general aviation questions, Chambers said. The "dismal" results of that test proved to be a wake-up call to the Aviation Center of Excellence, and indicated a need to examine what is being taught to Soldiers.
"The Black Hawk helicopter has over 20,000 tasks that can be taught on it from an institutional perspective," Chambers said.
Yet, at AIT for Aviation Branch Soldiers, only 101 of those tasks are taught, he said. At the leader course for aviation Soldiers, about 35 critical tasks are taught. And altogether, only 92 tasks are taught during the training required to be certified at skill levels one, two and three.
Altogether, the Army is teaching aviation Soldiers just a little over one percent of the tasks that could be taught to maintain the Black Hawk helicopter.
In addition to a possible need to teach a wider array of individual tasks on maintaining a particular aircraft, Chambers said, the Army must also develop in Soldiers a better understanding of how individual systems aboard those aircraft work together to get those systems in the air.
"We're decent at troubleshooting a helicopter, removing and installing parts and components on a helicopter, but we need to improve our ability to understand how [a] system operates and how [a] system interacts with the airframe, whether it's the electrical system with the hydraulics, [or] the hydraulics with the flight controls," he said.
Also, over the last 17 years, the Army has gotten into a "deployment mentality" where contractor support has been relied upon too heavily, Chambers said.
During that timeframe, he said, the maintenance skills of Soldiers eroded, even as those of contractors increased. He said it's difficult to estimate just how much that erosion of skill has cost the Army.
"It's hard to put a price on proficiency," he said. "We can put a price on a flying hour or what it costs to train a pilot in flight school or push a kid through AIT. But we cannot put a price on what it takes to maintain proficiency once they leave the institution. Cutting training budgets doesn't help, but I know one factual thing: it costs a lot more to re-train someone than to keep them proficient."
Brig. Gen. Dave Francis, commander, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, agreed that training proficiency and the "human dimension" of warfare will take on an increasingly important role as Soldiers will be called upon to execute dispersed, semi-independent, cross-domain operations with multiple mission sets.
Junior Soldiers, who make up the bulk of the Army's Aviation Branch, will be key to making that a success and providing the maneuver commander more options, while generating simultaneous dilemmas to the enemy, he added.