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Synthetic Battalion Lab Demonstrates Benefits of US Army's MFOQA Program

An OH-58D Kiowa warrior helicopter from the IS Army Aviation Warfighting Center, Fort Rucker.
by Staff Writers
Fort Rucker AL (SPX) Sep 01, 2006
A developmental exercise conducted in a synthetic battalion environment at the U.S. Army Aviation Warfighting Center in Fort Rucker, Ala., has demonstrated the potential benefits of the U.S. Army's military flight operations quality assurance (MFOQA) program, and will help define how the technology will be developed and used in the field.

Like other branches of the military, the Army's MFOQA program emerged from a Department of Defense directive to significantly reduce aircraft mishaps. The program is designed to increase the safety of military flight operations by converting crew and aircraft performance data into meaningful and actionable information that can be used to improve decision-making capabilities, particularly in regard to identifying and addressing problems or risk areas prior to a mishap.

The purpose of the developmental exercise, which took place May 15-31, 2006, was to capture user information requirements for the MFOQA program to ensure safer and more efficient battalion operations, as well as enhance warfighting capabilities by providing near real-time situational awareness of unit capabilities and available resources.

The exercise involved a thorough demonstration of the MFOQA program's maintenance, operations, safety and training capabilities to a battalion staff using a simulated environment and data. Seasoned aviation personnel who, after participating in virtual scenarios typical of an aviation battalion, were challenged with the task of better managing the information they were given, including the flow of information within the battalion.

Their recorded observations-more than 660 of them-have been synthesized into 65 prioritized operational requirements and processes for the MFOQA program, along with the initial capabilities needed to field them.

Westar Aerospace and Defense Group, Inc., which was contracted by Army Aviation to develop the concept and initial phases of its MFOQA program, designed and built the synthetic battalion laboratory in less than six months, after spending a year working with Army Aviation to define the program's direction and scope.

In the lab were workstations equipped with information tools and data analysis capabilities for each of the battalion's principle players, such as the battalion's commander, standardization officer, maintenance officer, flight operations officer, aviation safety and quality control officers, master gunner, etc. Some of the active duty support personnel had been recently deployed in combat. Also present were Westar support personnel as subject matter experts and other government officials.

Data from onboard recording devices, as well as from a variety of other data systems, such as Pilot Night Vision, Unit Level Logistics Systems-Aviation (Enhanced), Aviation Mission Planning System, and other associated battalion operations, were captured, processed, and disseminated to MFOQA lab team members through a "battalion portal," an information web site on each player's desktop.

During the 12-working-day exercise, the battalion portal provided the team with a single place to go to find all the information it needed to visualize, analyze and define MFOQA capabilities that will be useful to an operational unit.

"This is where and when the magic happened-army leaders, government officials and active-duty soldiers interacting with subject matter experts to identify user requirements and document initial battalion-level capabilities. What they saw on the portal stimulated their thinking," said Westar Sr. VP Bill Braddy.

According to Braddy, the portal gave the players information they had never seen before in single location. The portal also gave active duty members access to flight analyses and flight visualization software from SimAuthor, Inc., a Westar subsidiary. The software enables replay of actual flights of either single or multiple aircraft missions to support the after-action review process.

Said Dottie Holmes, Program Manager of Westar's MFOQA services and subject matter expert, "The MFOQA Developmental Exercise was highly successful in identifying and capturing the battalion-level user information requirements the Army needed. It pointed out the merit of 'connecting the dots' in current stove-piped data systems, to support the military decision-making process and to mitigate risk.

The Army's MFOQA team can build on the developmental exercise's results to define a holistic set of requirements for exploiting the data capabilities embedded in Army aircraft and generated by Army flight operations."

In addition to designing and operating the synthetic battalion laboratory, Westar provided program management and technical support, and produced the final technical report of findings and recommendations for the Director of Combat Developments, United States Army Warfighting Center.

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