One of the top priorities of Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, the newly minted head of Air Education and Training Command, will be expanding the Air Force’s experiment with virtual reality training.
So far, the Air Force has had success with Pilot Training Next, which uses VR, biometrics and artificial intelligence to better teach aspiring pilots how to fly.
Webb is eyeing similar technologies, under the name Learning Next, to improve other forms of technical training. This could include teaching airmen how to maintain aircraft, fly remotely piloted aircraft or perform other technical tasks.
These programs allow students’ education to proceed more at their own pace, since they are based on competency and are not tied to a timetable, Wright said. A student who already has the fundamentals down can skip the basics and go right to what he or she needs to learn.
AETC is now in the process of broadening Pilot Training Next, which has been a demonstration, to the next phase of wider experimentation, Webb said. He and Maj. Gen. Craig Wills, commander of the 19th Air Force, are working on plans to expand Pilot Training Next.
By next summer, Webb wants to have set up Pilot Training Next elements at several squadrons, though it wouldn’t be across all undergraduate pilot training bases. A few classes after that, Webb expects, Pilot Training Next will be expanded to all UPT bases.
The Pilot Training Next expansion will likely be done methodically, at one base first, Webb said, though he would not say which base AETC is looking at. “What has happened in our last couple of years with Pilot Training Next has been an explosion, out of the box, of innovation,” Webb said.
“Make no mistake, the Air Force wants this inculcated as fast as we can go,” he said.
AETC is already in the “nascent stages” of testing VR and other technology-enhanced training for maintenance and other technical training as part of Learning Next, Webb said. Maintenance Next is a particular priority and is happening on an experimental basis at Kelly Field at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas, he said, and using VR for RPA training is also proceeding.
As the VR pilot training shows, such programs can accelerate in a hurry, he said.
Webb also wants to cultivate an “environment of excellence, professionalism, ethics and character development” during his time at AETC.
Webb, who was previously commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, pointed to the ethical clouds that have fallen over parts of the special operations community in recent years. For example, the Navy relieved the entire senior leadership team of SEAL Team 7 earlier this month over what it described as leadership failures that resulted in a breakdown of good order and discipline while deployed.
AFSOC took a hard look at itself, Webb said, to make sure it doesn’t allow similar lapses to fester.
“For a leader, you can never … talk about core values enough,” Webb said. “If I had to look myself in the mirror from my last command, I can tell you my team knew our mission and vision of priorities backwards and forwards.”
But while airmen at AFSOC understood Air Force core values, he acknowledged he didn’t always articulate those values in his everyday “walk-around, talk-around” encounters. That can create problems if leaders assume airmen already know about the core values, he said.
When a unit starts to feel the pressure from high operations tempos and a lack of resources, Webb said, that “get-’er-done” mentality can lead to bad decisions if airmen don’t have a firm foundation of the Air Force core values.
“If you don’t have a firm foundation, you can go to a dark place with that … ‘find a way to yes’ mentality,” Webb said. “We’ve got to always talk about professionalism and ethics, and also always talk about our core values. That will be a capstone” of his time at AETC.
Webb said he plans to continue with AETC’s recent improvements in how special warfare airmen are recruited and trained, which included standing up the new Special Warfare Training Wing and the special warfare-focused 330th Recruiting Squadron. More work needs to be done to “normalize” and fine-tune those units, and more firmly fold them into AETC’s everyday culture, he said.
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Defense News. He previously reported for Military.com, covering the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare. Before that, he covered U.S. Air Force leadership, personnel and operations for Air Force Times.