JACKSONVILLE NAS—Officially opened in March, the approximately $48 million, 165,000 square-foot P-8A Integrated Training Center (ITC) is ready to transition air crew to the next-generation P-8A Poseidon from the older P-3 Orion aircraft as well as sailors new to the fleet, officers said.

Of the six active duty P-3 squadrons in Patrol Wing ll here, one is in transition to the P-8A and the Navy plans to transition one every six months so that in three years, everyone will be in the P-8, said Capt. Mark Stevens, commanding officer of VP 30, the Fleet Replacement Squadron and the largest squadron in the Navy.

Training offers challenge and an opportunity to influences changes for the future, he told visiting reporters.  

The transition to the Boeing [BA] P-8A Poseidon from the Lockheed Martin [LMT] P-3 Orion will be done using the Operational Flight Trainer (OFT), the weapons tactics trainer (WTT) and part task trainers (PTT).

The P-8 is a derivative of the 737-800 that Boeing is producing for the U.S. Navy. The sea service plans to buy 117 P-8As to replace its fleet of P-3C aircraft. Boeing also is on contract to provide eight P-8I aircraft for India to replace its Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft.

In the North High Bay there are two OFT trainers. Each is a full motion, full visual trainer for the flight deck crew, using the same equipment as the actual aircraft. For visiting media, looking out cockpit windows, the OFT was on approach to Jacksonville, about six miles out, said Cmdr. Andy Miller with the Fleet Integration Team. 

The WTT, in a realistic representation of the internal fuselage, leverages actual aircraft mission crew equipment and consoles. Though located in different areas of the building, the two trainers are electronically coupled, and can create fully integrated flight and mission crew training. At some point in the indeterminate future, the systems will be able to hook into other simulations or training systems out of the building.     

The PTT works on initial skills development, and refreshes perishable skills. The simulator focuses training on an isolated subsystem or skill.

In keeping with the “crawl, walk, run” training, trainees begin with classroom style table top trainers to learn the new systems. Training begins with things such as “buttonology,” or how the buttons work, where they are on displays and what they do. Also, trainees learn the different modes and screens on the displays.

Then it’s on to the OFT or WTT, depending on the job.

While the P-8 conducts anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, it also can conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. The new jet has an expanded flight envelope, has mostly digital displays and network capability. It carries a crew of nine.

Stevens said there is more information and data to learn. Though the tactics are much the same, trainees learn to manipulate the systems.

For example, the plane is networked with the battle group, and the crew can chat live, something not available on the P-3. Additionally, every crew station can be configured for the different jobs–acoustic, electronic warfare, for instance, depending on the crew members’ log in.

The OFT can coordinate with the WTT, said Lt. Cmdr. John Currie with the Fleet Integration Team. In the OFT, he said, the cockpit was upgraded to match the new P-8A, and an instructor controller station can make life exciting for the trainees.

Currie and others on the FIT are specially chosen from the fleet after a deployment for the job.

At the WTT, instructor Lt. Ryan Baldwin said the instructor/operator stations can interact with students, role play, monitor what’s going on and set adversaries and friends in the scenarios.

As pilots and crew start getting used to the full-envelope capabilities of the P-8A, they’re working through the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs), Baldwin said. P-3 TTPs are used as the baseline.

“We’re all old dogs so we’re learning new tricks,” he said of the P-3 crews learning the new aircraft.

The basics are the same, he said. Crew resource management is something trainees are learning. For example, not leaning over to talk to someone at another station, but using the internal communication system.

Importantly, with a larger information flow, learning “what’s important now,” is crucial, Baldwin said.

Essentially, the new building with its energy saving equipment and training devices is reversing the usual training paradigm, where 70 percent of training was in the air. Now it will be 70 percent on the ground, which will result in pretty “significant” savings on the aircraft and in flying hours, Stevens said.

The P-8 training system is a Boeing Training Systems and Government Services product, part of Boeing’s Global Services and Support business unit.

The training program will run concurrently with the life of the aircraft, current training contracts now run through 2015. A total of eight training systems and courseware will be delivered by 2014. The system also is intended for international P-8 customers.

Boeing is the lead integrator, and provides the Training System Support center, hardware, software, instructor operator stations, network and infrastructure. CAE [CAE] provides the OFT hardware and Safety Training Systems supplies the WTT hardware.

In time, Stevens said, other offices will move into the new building, such as the planning office and the weapons school. There’s room to move several officers into the ITC.

For the new P-8A Poseidon crews, VP 30, the “Pro’s Nest,” will make sure that there’s enough fidelity to provide combat ready training for the crews of the next-generation multimission aircraft.