AC-130J crew study consultation may create $25M savings

Credit: 1st Special Operations Wing Publ

Credit: 1st Special Operations Wing Publ

Air Force Institute of Technology

Faculty from the Air Force Institute of Technology’s School of Systems and Logistics consulted on a study on the feasibility of reducing the AC-130J Gunship aircrew from nine to seven.

Currently, a nine-person crew operates the aircraft, including two pilots, one combat systems officer, one weapon system operator, one sensor operator and four special mission aviators. Air Force leaders were interested in knowing if the crew could be reduced to six, similar to the size of the AC-130W Stinger II aircrew, to conserve personnel and funding.

Stacie Taylor, course director and test and evaluation team lead within AFIT’s School of Systems and Logistics, consulted on the study with representatives from the Air Force Special Operations Command and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Using her expertise in design of experiments, Taylor developed a test plan that optimized data collection while minimizing the number of crews and sorties.

“The big thing we needed to know was if we can reduce the crew size, what’s going to happen to the situational awareness and workload of the people who were left in the six-man crew,” said Taylor. “They’re not going to want to change the crew complement unless we can show that it maintains the same effectiveness and safety levels.”

The team started with a baseline study to assess the current workload and situational awareness on the nine-person crew during various phases of the mission including pre-flight and en-route actions, pre- and post-strike operations, and return flight tasks.

Credit: Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan

Credit: Master Sgt. Kelly Goonan

“All of the positions had subject matter experts who were able to rate the actions with some measure of effectiveness in order to quantify whether the crew is doing a good job or not,” said Taylor.

At AFSOC direction, the follow-on study looked at a seven-person crew, cutting a sensor operator and a gunner from the crew complement. The first step was to split functions with the remaining crewmembers, find combat systems operators that are cross-qualified to accomplish the sensor operator’s tasks, and analyze the crew responsibility matrix changes against the baseline study results to determine mission impact.

“We went through the same task evaluation scenarios in terms of the data collection we had run the time before because we wanted to make sure that we weren’t introducing some new variability in there. The scenarios were set up with the experts to cover tasks that occur at least 90% of the time regardless of the mission,” Taylor said.

She added, “Once we went to the seven-man crew, there were some things that ended up being safety of flight issues and they had to stop the scenario, which of course then gave us a data point that said that task is impossible to do.”

While the study revealed that the current aircraft configuration does not support a seven-member crew, a reduction of crew members could yield potential savings in the vicinity of $25 million. Reducing the crew size would require personnel training, configuration changes to the platform to use equipment more efficiently and modifications to crew communications to ensure the crew hears applicable messages for their responsibilities.

Currently the program is working on several aircraft modifications that are a result of crew feedback to address the tasks with unacceptable workload and situational awareness levels found in the previous study.

The studies completed by the team helped guide the discussion with the crew and has informed AFSOC prioritization of aircraft modifications to those that will have the greatest anticipated impact to workload reduction and move toward the 6-person crew objective. A follow-on study will continue the analysis to determine if the crew size can be further reduced to six to meet the original goal of the request.

Taylor, a statistician with 30 years of experience consulting on test design and analysis for the Department of Defense, found this to be an intense study.

“It is the single-largest workload and situational awareness study, or in other words, human systems study that the Air Force has ever done in terms of the volume of data collected,” said Taylor.

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