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B-1 simulator training system support consolidates

DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The Training System Support Center is located in the 28th Bomb Squadron building, and while the name may seem self-explanatory, there is much more to training support than most people realize. When visiting the TSSC, one is likely to see engineers hard at work, but what is notably absent is anyone wearing a military uniform. This is because the TSSC is comprised of contracted civilian employees who are all here to support B-1 aircrew training through software and hardware upgrades and maintenance of the B-1 simulators.

Although most people are unaware of the TSSC, there are numerous facts about this unit that make it interesting and unique. For example, the TSSC here, in addition to B-1 simulator software and hardware development, develops the visual and radar sensor databases for F-15E and B-2 aircraft simulators.

The Dyess TSSC organizationally falls under Detachment 4, which is part of the 29th Training System Squadron at the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. All TSSC employees work for the primary contractor, Rockwell Collins Simulation & Training Solutions, LLC.

“We have a Weapons System Trainer, Cockpit Procedures Trainer and a Mission Trainer at our Rockwell Collins plant in Sterling, Va. that’s where the contractor will develop the next software drop for the simulator,” said Lt. Col. Jason Xiques, Detachment 4 commander. “We’ll go up there as Detachment 4, which is in charge of testing those simulator software drops, and we’ll test it, certify it and bring it down here and put it on all the WSTs, CPTs and MTs. That’s what we do as Detachment 4, we’re in charge of all the acquisition and testing of B-1 simulator software.”

The Rockwell Collins engineers receive their tasking from the detachment. Tasking for upgrades are based on aircrew write-ups and new software and hardware implementation.

“Our primary task is sustainment of the simulator equipment and maintaining the aircrew and maintenance trainers concurrent with the aircraft. Occasionally, we are tasked to incorporate enhancements into the training devices to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of available training capability,” said Frank McKnight, Rockwell Collins deputy program manager.

The Rockwell Collins engineers keep the simulator software and hardware current with what’s in the actual aircraft. When an aircraft modification is made, the same change must be made in the simulators.

“Our charter is to keep the trainers concurrent with aircraft configurations and we have been very successful in doing that,” said Doug Houser, contract oversight manager. “In fact, the trainers are actually ahead of the airplane because we were able to put the latest software release that is coming out of Boeing and going onto the aircraft on the trainers already, and crews are training on it right now.”

If a pilot couldn’t learn a new instrument or system in the simulator, they would have to fly sorties to gain proficiency, which is much more costly than learning in the simulator.

“We’re saving the Air Force significant funds since we were able to release the latest software drop two months prior to the aircraft upgrade taking place,” said Colonel Xiques. “B-1 aircrews in squadrons at Dyess and Ellsworth are now able to train in the simulator first and get a basic understanding of the new software which allows them to go out and fly the aircraft and do other training instead of having to learn the new software in the aircraft.”

The TSSC engineers ensure timely upgrades to the simulators, of which, Dyess has 10. They include the weapons system trainers, the cockpit procedures trainers, simulated maintenance training systems, avionics and armament maintenance training systems and the mission trainers. The Dyess trainers are valued at more than $740 million.

In addition to the aircrew simulators, the TSSC also ensures the maintenance training systems are kept current with aircraft system’s software and hardware. Maintenance technicians use the mission trainers to learn trouble-shooting procedures and new software and hardware processes, similar to the way aircrew learn new operating procedures in their simulators.

There are times when an upgrade to the maintenance systems software or hardware may mirror an aircrew’s system upgrade; and, in the past, these upgrades would have been worked independently on the operator and maintenance sides of the engineering arena, even though the changes were nearly identical.

“A good example is when an upgrade was made to the maintenance trainer display system and was not changed on the cockpit procedures trainer until much later, even though they both have very similar systems,” Mr. McKnight said.

It was because of these redundancies in the aircrew and maintenance training system upgrades that ACC Program Management proposed combining engineering efforts nearly two years ago.

So why is this a significant time for our TSSC? The answer ... a consolidation of the maintenance and operator training systems engineering, administration and overall structure, which will streamline how they do business, ultimately saving the Air Force a lot of money.

“Right now the support organizations at Dyess and Ellsworth perform essentially the same tasks such as site management, network administration, configuration management, master library maintenance and other administrative functions,” Mr. McKnight said. “All of the engineering processes are identical and the application of those processes differs only with respect to the specific training device being modified, whether it is an aircrew simulator or a maintenance trainer.”

“The TSSC Consolidation will eliminate the redundancies and streamline the support functions. Combining site operations and key engineering staff from Ellsworth with the engineering staff here will reduce the overall manning requirements from 47 personnel to 36 resulting in significant cost savings to the Air Force over the life of the contract,” he continued. “The synergy gained will improve TSSC efficiency and productivity and will provide the total B-1 community with more effective, concurrent training capability through the coincident releases of aircrew simulator and maintenance trainer upgrades and enhancements.”

This consolidation will be even more important in the future since more aircrew training will take place in simulators.

“Eventually, we’ll reduce flying time and replace it with simulator time,” said Colonel Xiques. “The goal for bomber training is to eventually have a large portion of the training sorties conducted in the simulator, which will save huge amounts of money.”

With the new emphasis on simulator training, the capabilities of the simulators are also being upgraded.

“Sims here are being upgraded with distributed mission operations, where we can integrate a B-1 WST here with F-16 simulators at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska or in South Korea, or with the Airborne Warning and Control system aircraft at Tinker AFB, Okla. Basically anywhere, we will be able to mission plan together and fly a sortie in our respective simulators at the same time,” Colonel Xiques.