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Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic

ATG Norfolk Opens Air Intercept Controller Lab

by MC2(SW/AW) Wyatt L. Anthony, CNSL Public Affairs
29 March 2021

Operations Specialist 2nd Class Oliver Surovell participates in an exercise in the new Air Intercept Controller (AIC) training lab at Afloat Training Group Norfolk. Along with training AICs, the lab will also open training events to shipboard anti-air warfare coordinators (AAWC) to promote AIC/AAWC integration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Milham/RELEASED)
SLIDESHOW | 4 images | AIC Lab Opening at ATG Norfolk Operations Specialist 2nd Class Oliver Surovell participates in an exercise in the new Air Intercept Controller (AIC) training lab at Afloat Training Group Norfolk. Along with training AICs, the lab will also open training events to shipboard anti-air warfare coordinators (AAWC) to promote AIC/AAWC integration. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob Milham/RELEASED)
As a part of a pilot-training program, Afloat Training Group (ATG) Norfolk opened a new Air Intercept Controller (AIC) Lab March 29, to provide Sailors additional, advanced training opportunities.
 
The new lab is the only one of its kind in the Navy and is meant to support Navy AICs and anti-air warfare coordinators (AAWC) by offering more opportunities to become more proficient. It can also improve communication with Combat Information Centers (CIC) watchstanders
through the use of the lab’s unique Advanced Simulated Combat Operations Trainer (ASCOT).
 
“This is a tremendous opportunity for AICs to increase their knowledge level and confidence,” said Capt. Mary Hays, ATG Norfolk commanding officer. “It’s also a great way to build a solid air team in CIC and polish warfighting skills.”
 
“Our AICs have the responsibility of controlling our fighter aircraft in an air-to-air environment,” added Senior Chief Operations Specialist Adam Siler, ATG Norfolk’s AIC supervisor. “If our aircraft are going out to intercept, identify or shoot down an enemy aircraft, our AICs are the ones on the radar scope talking the pilots through it.”
 
The new lab is a result of Siler realizing that there had to be a better way and additional opportunities for AICs to meet monthly training requirements. After seeing similar trainers being used by the Air Force, Siler found a solution to the Navy’s problem in ASCOT training systems.

“As it stood, the resources for meeting this requirement weren’t there,” said Siler. “It created an impossible task that left our controllers in a perpetual state of trying to rebuild their skills back to a point of proficiency.”
 
“That’s where I got the idea to have a lab right here on the waterfront, where a controller could spend two hours and complete all of their training events for the month. It decreases the burden on the ships, gives the controllers the actual ability to do what they want to do, and improves not only the quantity of the training but also the quality.”
 
In a real-world scenario, tracking and intercepting an aircraft event takes place in a fast-paced environment involving aircraft that can travel at speeds of more than 1,100 miles per hour, and requires the controllers to be well-trained, well-versed, and capable of making spur-of-the-moment decisions.
 
“To be able to do their job effectively, there is an abbreviated language that controllers are trained to speak to make their transmissions as quick, clear, and short as possible,” said Siler. “Aside from the language, the controllers have to be up to speed on tactics, threats, and aircraft capabilities, which requires a lot of practice. This isn’t the type of thing where someone can stop and think, it has to be something that they intuitively know, and they have to be able to see what’s developing and react in real-time.”
 
Current Navy training requirements mandates that AICs control three events per month. Each event requires the Sailor to abandon other shipboard duties for an entire day, something that can put a lot of burden on commands. According to Siler, this results in a lot of commands across the fleet not being capable to meet that training requirement. This new lab will provide relief for this problematic issue that effects mission readiness.
 
Additionally, the vast majority of Naval AIC training consists of scripted scenarios, with pre-determined outcomes. ATG’s new lab will provide AICs unscripted, simulated experience that will further challenge Sailors to hone and test their skills.
 
“The actions that aircraft take, and the ultimate outcome of the scenario, are very dependent on what the AIC does right or wrong, and the instructions that they give the aircraft or don’t give it are going to have real world effects,” said Siler. “That type of fluidity isn’t currently built into any training system that the Navy has or has ever had.”
 
With a price tag of $160,000 for a six-month lease, the new lab features voice-controlled, artificial intelligence abilities, contains a database of air, surface, subsurface and ground entities along with their speed, weapons systems, and maneuverability. All of this empowers instructors to build scenarios that allow them to dynamically control aircraft and test AIC competences through the use of ever-evolving situations and simulated threats.

“This lab allows controllers to see what they are or are not doing well and the effects that they can actually have on mission outcomes,” said Siler. “It’s provides the controllers a chance to break out of the habit of going through the motions of a scripted training, and actually see the implications of what they are doing, both good and bad.”
 
Along with training AICs, the lab will also open training events to shipboard AAWCs to promote AIC/AAWC integration.
 
“On the ship, these two must work together as a team and constantly communicate with each other, but they don’t often train together,” said Siler.  The quality of this type of training, is that it gives the [AAWCs] the chance to come down here and train as well.”
 
In Norfolk alone, there are 139 AICs who need to complete three training events every month. This new lab and its pilot program can support up to 80 controllers qualifying monthly. The first students will conduct their training this week.  The hope is that the lab will prove itself successful and support expanding these advanced training opportunities here and in other fleet concentration areas as well.


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