2022_AVT_ICON_WHITE_TRANSPARENT

Level the Playing Field: Army Aviation Weapons Systems Training and the Apache Gunnery Trainer

By COL Kevin Vizzarri (Ret.), LTC Tony Attales (Ret.), and CW5 Troy DeGolyer (Ret.)

Who is the best?

That question has existed as long as people have been alive—the best hunter, the best fighter, the best archer, the best knight. In the military, the question becomes, “Who is the most proficient in their weapons system?” Who is the “Top Gun?” Ever since the 1986 movie “Top Gun,” status has become a sought-after title in many military units. However, the unspoken truth of the matter outside the Apache community is not commonly known. Top Gun status in AH-64 units never really determines who truly is the best of the best. It does separate the good from the average, but there is a “gamesmanship factor.” The one who controls your chance of getting the best shooting aircraft is the production control officer managing bank time and assigning the tail numbers for the next day.

Members of the North Carolina Army National Guard using the Apache Gunnery Trainer (AGT)® in March 2023. All photos in this article are credited to the authors.

Members of the North Carolina Army National Guard using the Apache Gunnery Trainer (AGT)® in March 2023. All photos in this article are credited to the authors.

Fort Novosel Industry Day, 2019.

Fort Novosel Industry Day, 2019.

The simple fact is that some aircraft shoot better than others. Atmospheric conditions or weather conditions from one day to the next are also a differentiating factor affecting results. For example, Crew 1 could be in an aircraft that just got out of phase and has all the weapons systems bore-sighted near perfect, and weather conditions are clear blue and 22. Most likely, their score will be much better than Crew 2, who flew on a cold, windy, European winter night where the temperature didn’t change and in an aircraft that is limping into phase. Is Crew 1 better than Crew 2? Not necessarily; however, one way that Army aviators can answer this question is to conduct gunnery competitions on the AGT where targets, weather conditions, aircraft bore-sighting, and range constraints are no longer dissimilar. The gunnery competitors will shoot under the same environmental conditions and aircraft systems.

Commander of the Aviation Brigade at Land Forces Brisbane, October 2022.

Commander of the Aviation Brigade at Land Forces Brisbane, October 2022.

Australia Army Aviation members familiarize themselves with the AGT in Oakey, Australia, October 2022.

Australia Army Aviation members familiarize themselves with the AGT in Oakey, Australia, October 2022.

What is the AGT?

What is the Apache Gunnery Trainer (AGT)©, why are Army Apache units becoming interested in it, and how can it be used to further training excellence for the Army?

Applied Visual Technology (AVT) Simulation, Inc.,[1] developed the AGT by refining its knowledge in Army Aviation projects for Program Executive Office Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation and Fort Novosel’s Air Cavalry Leaders course. Additionally, the New Equipment Training Team (NETT) is using the AGT in lieu of the Longbow Crew Trainer (LCT), saving 4 hours of the Aircraft Qualification course.

The AGT is a small, portable, linkable, point-of-need part task trainer that focuses specifically on front-seat Apache gunnery tasks in accordance with Training Circular 3-04.3, “Helicopter Gunnery,” and the AH-64 series Aircrew Training Manual (ATM).[2] It accurately assess the proficiency levels of line and staff pilots and to conduct refresher and remedial training. Retired Army Command Chief Warrant Officer DeGolyer relays that, “the AGT is an instructor pilot’s dream device to show the student/pilot—not just drawing it on a whiteboard.” The AGT comes with a 100 square nautical miles database with urban, rural, forest, and maritime terrain and an engagement editor tool that allows master gunners to develop multiple custom gunnery scenarios. At 50 pounds and man-portable within a Pelican™ Air transport case, Army aviators can use the AGT in the field when the weather has them socked in for the night, take it to the range scoring room to practice the engagements aviators are struggling with, and take it on deployment and be ready to destroy the enemy successfully when the time comes.

AGT Capabilities

Ten engagements make up a table that is scored and consolidated in an overall top 20 scores, so aviators see they rack and stack amongst their peers. A scored “Switchology” trainer tests speed in identifying the correct switch on the Target Acquisition and Designation Sight (TADS) Electronic Display and Control (TEDAC) grips and display unit, which is the most perishable skill. Interactive Multimedia Instruction (IMI) courseware walks the aviation gunner step-by-step through certain ATM tasks by following a virtual checklist that the AH-64E aircraft, V6 NETT uses in its aircraft qualification course and differences-only training. Manned-unmanned teaming, Air-Air-Ground, and the tactical data link network, Link 16, are some of the complex tasks that can be trained using the IMI software. New munitions like the Joint-Air-To-Ground Missile, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System, and more advanced Spike non line-of-sight missile systems can be more than just a familiarity fire but allow the user to become proficient on the AGT safely from the hangar before wasting resources and range time.

As the enemy threat continues to transition from the counterinsurgency (COIN) battlefield of soft targets to a more large-scale combat operation against conventional targets, gunnery skills must be second nature. Years of operations in the COIN environment have eroded Apache gunnery skills, use of the fire control radar, and weapons systems (other than the 30 mm).

The AGT allows the repetitions to increase lethality without overhead costs to materiel, maintenance, range time, safety concerns, or personnel in the field at the forward arming and refueling point. Army Apache gunners can conduct focused and self-generated gunnery from their company/troop classroom instead of waiting for that 1-hour LCT period once a week.

Vizzarri, a retired Army Aviation Officer, shares that the demand for the AGT is “overwhelming, and I can see why. If I had the AGT available to my unit, I know I would have been a better front seater in combat. You are limited to your imagination on the potential this device: from ‘shoot or don’t shoot’ scenarios to vehicle identification to basic gunnery training skills.”

A NETT instructor testing the Apache Gunnery Trainer (AGT)® at a 2022 trade show.

A NETT instructor testing the Apache Gunnery Trainer (AGT)® at a 2022 trade show.

Conclusion

The Apache is “the best gunship in the world,” so if you’re an Apache gunner who wants to strive for excellence in weapons systems training, AGTs are now on order or physically located at the Fort Novosel Aviation Learning Center,[3] Hanchey Army Airfield flight line, as part of NETT fielding, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Utah Army National Guard, and soon the 101st CAB. As of July 2023, AGTs are also available via the General Services Administration, or GSA, Advantage catalog.[4]

Footnotes:

  • [1] https://www.avtsim.com
  • [2] More information regarding the document, “Helicopter Gunnery,” is available from: https://armypubs.army.mil
  • with a common access card. The point of contact for the AH-64 series Aircrew Training Manual (ATM) is available at [email protected]
  • [3] According to Rebecca Kammerer, Chief of the Aviation Technical Library and Aviation Learning Center, Fort Novosel, Alabama, the Aviation Learning Center (Bldg. 9204, Ruf Avenue) has 2 AGTs provided from PM Apache. To access the trainers, please visit Aviation Learning Center front desk personnel (R. Kammerer, personal communication, July 13, 2023).
  • [4] https://www.gsaadvantage.gov/

Biographies:

As former active duty attack battalion commanders, Observer Controller/Trainers, and AH-64 Standardization Officer/Master Gunner, the authors have trained Apache pilots for a combined 80 years from the original AH-64A Apache through the current AH-64E.

Kevin Vizzarri is the AVT Senior Vice President of Business Development who claims this the “hardest easiest” thing he has ever done—getting the AGTs to the field. He is AH-64 rated and served in command positions in aviation units from platoon to brigade level mainly then Ft Hood, TX and Illesheim, GE with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tony Attales is the AGT Program Manager. He is AH-64 rated and is a former attack battalion commander who served at Fort Cavazos, Texas; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia; and Katterbach, Germany with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

Troy DeGolyer is AVT’s subject matter expert who is a former AH-64 Standardization Instructor Pilot/ Master Gunner from company to brigade level. He served at Fort Hood, Fort Novosel, Hunter Army Airfield, Hanau, Germany, and Camp Eagle, South Korea with also multiple deployments.


with a common access card. The point of contact for the AH-64 series Aircrew Training Manual (ATM) is available at [email protected]