NAVIGATION is both an art and a science and, like both disciplines, must develop to meet changing environments and scenarios This is particularly true of military air navigation.
In June 1982 the first RAF Tornado unit, IX Squadron at Honington, was formed and since that date the Tornado, with its two-man crew of pilot and navigator, has gradually replaced the Vulcan. Jaguar and Buccaneer in the overland role and the Lightning and Phantom in the Air Defence role. The Tornado is now one of the most potent and capable aircraft in NATO, being operated by the RAF, the German Air Force and Navy and the Italian Air Force, and is likely to remain in service at least for the next two decades.
There have been suggestions recently that the term navigator should give way to the American-styled Weapon System Operator (WSO) as this more accurately reflects the tasks of. for example, the Tornado back-seater. Others have conjured up such terms as Fightergator1 What then is the job of the navigator in the RAF of the 1990s?
As one would expect with a modern aircraft, the Tornado is packed with computerised sensors for both navigation and weapons delivery Such systems have a high degree of in built redundancy as well as excellent reliability However, the back-seater can no longer be a navigator exclusively; rather, he takes on the mantle of a systems operator with responsibility not only for navigation but also for weapons selection, targeting, electronic warfare and mission management. The computers are there to help him with these tasks by integrating the workload of each individual task into a manageable whole.
From that point on it is a crew environment, pilot and navigator working together, each with his specific set of mission tasks, taking in information from the aircraft systems and outside references in order to achieve a successful mission. This is no less true for the Phantom and Buccaneer as these aircraft have received updated avionics systems to equip them for the early 1990s
Whilst it is true that the majority of navigators leaving training are employed in the fast-jet world, there are a significant number of other roles requiring such skills. Navigators are employed on all multi-engine operational aircraft including the Nimrod (Maritime Patrol). Hercules (Transport and Tactical Support), VC10 and TriStar (Transport and Air-to-Air Refuelling) and Shackleton (Airborne Early Warning — soon to be replaced by the E-3 Sentry) Added to this are a number of other tasks such as helicopters (Search and Rescue and Army Tactical Support), and a number of other aircraft types.
Navigator roles in these areas are many and varied Although it is true to say that in many instances he is employed in a far more traditional role, it is no less true that operational developments are leading to these roles becoming similar to those in the fast-jet world, with the navigator becoming a systems operator and mission manager.
How then will the RAF navigator be trained in the 1990s?
All RAF navigators are trained at the Air Navigation School (ANS) of 6 Flying Training School at Finningley in South Yorkshire, which has been the home of navigator training since 1970. Over the years the course has been revised many times to reflect the changing requirements of the front-line. The major part of the ANS task is the training of ab initio students, culminating in the award of the navigator brevet.
By the end of 1992 a new structure for navigator training will be in place. The new course will be split into two phases, Basic and Advanced, each of which will be further divided into teaching modules based on a particular aircraft type and training role. The emphasis in the Basic Phase will be on the development of airmanship and the two-seat environment, with an initial module using the Bulldog.
First three weeks will be spent on academics, of a flying related nature, so that the student navigator will receive full benefit from the very first sortie. The module is designed to develop general airmanship and air awareness, and the side-by-side seating of the Bulldog is ideal for this purpose. During this nine-week period the student will fly 15 hours, starting with the basics, such as operating in the local area around the airfield, effects of flying controls and navigation, and leading up to a series of navigation sorties at low-level to land at other airfields, putting the theory of how to get from A to B into practice.
Having acquired the basic principles the student will then get the chance to apply them in a more realistic environment. The Tucano is the Jet Provost replacement and will be used in the part of the course to introduce the student to low-level at a slightly higher speed (210/240kts), with more advanced techniques and with the more appropriate tandem seating arrangement.
The Tucano is an excellent aircraft for this role, albeit lacking a little in speed performance, with good all round visibility from the rear cockpit and a general fast-jet ‘feel’ to the aircraft.
During some 10 weeks the student will fly 30 hours and will be taught the essential elements of visual low-level navigation and targeting -using eyeball and stopwatch! Each sortie will be tailored to introduce new elements building up to complex sorties involving weather avoidance, fuel-critical planning, tactical re-routing and emergencies.
Name of the game is flexibility — assessing the situation and making a firm decision as to how to achieve the aim, be that to put bombs on a target or drop supplies. This element of visual navigation and timing can never be replaced by systems as it is the basis for all low level operations — the ultimate fall-back when the computers give up!
Most modern aircraft are equipped with computer navigation and flight displays which are designed to reduce the overall sortie workload and enable the crew to monitor the mission. The Dominie, a long-serving trainer at the ANS, is being extensively modified to provide a platform for this style of training.
During this module period the student will fly 30 hours in the Dominie. This will not only introduce the computer element but also the use of radar, the two being taught together as an integrated system.
In line with front-line aircraft the primary technique is a ‘fix the kit’ approach whereby the aircraft computer is used for sortie information. The trick is keeping the computer accurate so that you can rely on the information it is giving. To do this the navigator must ‘fix’ the computer’s position in the real world, using either radar, a visual fix or a ground beacon. Radar is a window on the real world in that no matter where you, or the computer, thinks you are, the radar will show you where you really are!
There are two distinct parts to the Dominie flying, the first half at medium/high level and the second down at low level. The medium/high work, backed by extensive use of the ground-based simulator, teaches how to use, integrate and manage the full range of our systems . . . then its down to low level.
A typical sortie consists of a transit at medium level to a low-level route, where the student puts into practise all the aspects of low-level navigation covered earlier in training, but this time flown using a navigation system rather than eyeball and stopwatch. The aircraft is flown at 500 feet above ground level and the navigator uses radar and computer to fly the route and to carry out a simulated attack on a specific target — all done without looking out of the window, thus simulating the night/bad weather situation!
End of this module is also the end of the Basic Phase and the streaming decision now takes place. Three elements are taken into consideration: the RAF requirements for fast-jet and multi-engine navigators (the ratio currently averages 80:20); the assessment of student potential demonstrated during the Basic Phase, and the student’s own preference for future employment. Students are streamed to either the fast-jet stream, for Air Defence or Strike/Attack training, or to the multi-engine stream.
Students streamed to the multi-engine path stay with the Dominie for a 36 hour course which covers all aspects of navigation techniques appropriate to the current range of multi-engine aircraft types. This includes such aspects as astro and limited aids navigation, in addition to the full range of systems management techniques. It is as important for the multi-engine navigator to be a systems and mission manager as it is for his fast-jet counterpart.
An additional period is given over to ‘Role Orientation Training’ where students cover topics related specifically to individual aircraft roles. Award of the Navigator brevet is followed by posting to an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU).
For the fast-jet candidates it’s a move to the Hawk, with 16 hours in this superb training aircraft. The first half of this time is spent at low-level on Strike/Attack sorties, the same techniques and procedures as in the Tucano but now at 420kts, a more operational speed.
Having come to grips with how it all works as a singleton, the student is taken through the same procedures as lead or No 2 of a pair of aircraft.
The latter part of the module is taken up with the Air Defence assessment element, a combination of computer exercises, simulator work (including use of the Air Combat Simulator at RAF Coningsby) and airborne exercises. At the end of this it is streaming time once more.
Air Defence students stay with the Hawk for a final 19 hour spell of AD related exercises, including many hours spent on the various simulators. This module is designed to give them a grasp of the essentials of Air Defence operations, from pure intercept techniques to total mission management. Award of the Navigator brevet is followed by posting to one of the Air Defence OCUs.
The Strike/Attack student has two final phases of training. First, back to the Dominie for another 21 hours of low-level operations, which continue the trend of sorties flown in the Systems Management Module — advanced radar handling plus a variety of targeting techniques.
To develop flexibility, extra workload is introduced … on time, settled into low-level and simulated engine fire is then called which means going to a nearby airfield! The practise diversion over, the job is now to get to the target on time — but of course you are now running late and fuel is getting short.
A bit further on and the weather gets worse so you have to divert from planned route for a while . . . and still the target has be to hit on time. And so it goes on. There are no prizes for missing the target or getting there late. All the time the aim is to develop flexibility, so that whatever the situation, the student can absorb information from a wide range of sources and arrive at a decision which will lead to the achievement of the aim of the mission.
Final 10 weeks are spent back on the Hawk with a further 19 hours of low-level sorties, the majority of which are pairs formation exercises to develop the student’s tactical awareness and formation handling, culminating in rapid planning targeting missions — with another Hawk tasked as a bad guy! Award of the Navigator brevet leads to posting to an OCU.
For Tornado Strike/Attack navigators this means a move to the RAF’s unique base, the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore. Here the student navigator crews up with a student pilot, in the case of RAF navigators this usually means an Italian or German pilot. TTTE is designed to convert the crew to the aircraft and there is plenty to occupy the navigator as he tries to sort out the bewildering array of buttons and lights which stare at him from the grey panelling!
Then comes the shock — it all works, so turn it off and see how you get on without it. Gone is the computer, which does all the hard work, and all the automatic targeting; it’s back to map, stopwatch and an ‘iron sight’ just like on a Tucano.
Why bother? The answer is that you cannot turn back just because the nav kit waves goodbye, you still have to get to the target on time, and complete the mission. It’s all part of the RAF’s flexible approach; train a ’button pusher’ and that is what you will get — someone who can only push buttons.
Next course is even tougher. Having learnt how to operate the aircraft, the students now learn how to fight the aircraft in its operational role. This is the task of the Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit (TWCU) at RAF Honington. The course is designed to introduce the crew to the weapons capabilities of their aircraft and develop tactical awareness.
A mixture of singleton and pairs sorties are flown and most include a session of live bombing, with practise bombs, on one of the weapons ranges. At the end of this course comes a posting to an operational squadron.
Made it at last. . .well, no, not yet. There is still a six month work-up to combat-ready status on the squadron. However, in due course, the squadron commander declares you Combat Ready. Three years’ hard work but now you are in the front-line!
In the ever-changing world of military aircraft operations, the training units must themselves change to meet new needs. The Air Navigation School has responded to the needs of the 1990s, and the demands of modern high-tech aircraft and systems, with a redesigned course to provide a navigator who is a weapons and systems mission manager, but who also can revert to basics and complete the mission should his sophisticated systems fail.