As the Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) Program continues to unfold, Vanguard once again had the opportunity to speak with Col Saunders about the FAcT program and to get a better understanding of this complex and extensive industry-managed program for the future of the RCAF.

Col Saunders started his career with the Canadian Forces in March 1990. Over the span of his somewhat atypical and discontinuous career, Col Saunders has enjoyed operational postings flying and instructing on his beloved Sea King Helicopters at 443 (MH) Sqn in Pat Bay, British Columbia; 423 (MH) Sqn, and 12 Wing Operations in Shearwater, Nova Scotia; culminating in Command of 406 (M) OTS where he had the somewhat ignominious distinction of being at the helm for the cessation of all Sea King training. Throughout this period, he has served in HMCS Annapolis, HMCS Iroquois, HMCS Fredericton, HMCS Toronto and was deployed throughout the Middle East.  

His staff postings to date include two stints in the Career Management shop, the last being a two-year sojourn as DMilC4. He was responsible for guiding, managing and, at times, cajoling some 300 high-maintenance LCols and overseeing the management of almost 10,000 other members of the RCAF. He also spent three years on a self-imposed educational posting to the Chief of Programme office where he learned the corporate side of the Department of National Defence. Some of his work included analysing financial risk to the Departmental Investment Plan and taking a lead in drafting the next iteration of this document for governmental consideration.  

By combining the Air Combat Systems Officers (ACSO), Airborne Electronic Sensor Operators (AES Ops), and pilot training programs under one program known as FAcT, Canada is setting about to undertake one of the most extensive industry-managed programs globally. This, of course, will come with challenges. How do you plan to handle these challenges to meet the needs and goals of FAcT? 

Certainly, FAcT is a complicated endeavor and it is indeed foundational to the future of the RCAF. It will also, as you note, be fraught with challenges; no different than any other large and complex acquired service program. To mitigate this, we have put together a truly remarkable team of professionals working for both my Program Manager and my Program Director along with equally experienced procurement and contracting professionals from ADM Mat and PSPC who are working diligently in conjunction with our qualified suppliers to ensure we foresee and mitigate as many of these as possible.  

We, in DAST, also benefit from being the Directorate responsible for the legacy programs. This provides us with a keen insight in terms of programmatic observations and eventually lessons learned as we look to continue that which is working so well for us and amend that which in retrospect we would not like to see repeated.

Lastly, I have to speak to our relationship with our Qualified Suppliers who have been fully engaged in working with us to collaboratively develop our RFP and whose vast experience is paying huge dividends in terms of avoiding issues experienced in programs elsewhere around the world.

Output is one of the main goals of this program, how do you plan on transitioning from the current contractors to the contractor that will be awarded the FAcT contract without losing production output?

I have often said that the center of gravity for the RCAF in this program is continuity of training.  I won’t, in this instance offer any platitudes. Transition will be challenging regardless the eventual winner of this competition. We have already met with each qualified supplier, have delved in detail into their transition plans and have made more than a few plans of our own.  Key to any transition, however, is the establishment of an Operational Implementation Working Group consisting of all the key stakeholders in the FAcT enterprise including, eventually, both the incumbent and the FAcT contractors whose sole mission is the development and implementation of a Master Implementation Plan. Though it is early days yet, the FAcT transition team has already started this work with much more to come over the next few years.

Is the current NFTC contract going to be extended to allow for a likely delay in the Contract Award (late 22/early 23)? If extended, will the current Hawk and Harvard fleets be able to continue to sustain production/flying rates to the end of the extended contract, or will they need investments?

Within the context of FAcT, I will only discuss the Harvard fleet as the Hawk fleet is used exclusively for Fighter Lead in Training (FLIT) and will eventually be replaced by a new program (Future FLIT).  As you are aware, the FAcT Integrated Program Team (IPT) has been occupied with industry engagement as we collectively work toward the release of a Request for Proposal (RFP); the first major milestone leading to the fielding of the new Aircrew Training Capability for the RCAF. Throughout this engagement period, several things have become clear:

IS2010-4014-01 12 May 2010 15 Wing Moose Jaw CT-155 Hawk aircraft on 15 Wing Moose Jaw tarmac. The CT-155 Hawk was selected for the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program because of its similarities to frontline fighter aircraft. Student pilots graduate from the CT-156 Harvard II to this highly advanced jet trainer. 2 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (2 CFFTS) is the 15 Wing Unit tasked with providing basic flying training. 2 CFFTS trains over 150 NATO pilots every year through the NFTC program. Photo: Master Corporal Pierre Thériault, Canadian Forces Combat Camera © 2010 DND-MDN Canada

Industry requires more detailed information in order to correctly prepare their bids. As you might imagine, the preparation of a bid for a program as complex as FAcT is not a trivial undertaking and requires incredible investment by industry in terms of personnel, time and money. To ensure that all qualified suppliers have a clear understanding of the FAcT requirements, it has been necessary to take the additional time to respond to queries as well as to meet in the form of workshops. Additionally, FAcT is taking a collaborative RFP development approach with industry that, though requiring additional time up front, will reduce challenges in terms of bid preparation and bid evaluation.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, we have full confidence in our aircraft and the associated mitigating measures to ensure continuity of pilot training throughout.

As training evolves with the advancement of technology. Are there plans in place to allow for new technology to be incorporated into the FAcT program over its contract period? Is the contractor responsible to keep abreast and add new training technologies into the program or will that be treated separately?

Indeed, fundamental to FAcT is the ability to inject technological advances where and as they make sense. We know that over the coming 25 years the pace of technological acceleration will continue unabated. The last thing we would seek to do is to lock ourselves into a system based on the best of what can be offered today without the ability to improve, augment and/or amend as time goes on.  

One of the objectives of FAcT is to stream pilots between rotary and fixed-wing earlier in the process, rather than waiting until the end of Phase II. How do you plan on doing this? 

FAcT focuses on the end state in terms of production; that is to say, winged pilots who are prepared to continue training at the Operational Training Units whether Rotary Wing, Multi Engine or Jet. Along the training continuum from day one until graduation there is training that is common to all streams and training that is unique to the various streams. The FAcT goal is, indeed, to stream the Rotary Wing students from fixed at the earliest opportunity. Under the current construct, this occurs at the end of Phase II training in Moose Jaw. Under FAcT, this streaming will occur at or near the completion of Basic Flight Training. This said, my team is anxious to see what tools the winning bidder brings to the table to aid us in ensuring we have correctly selected the folks for the Rotary Wing Stream. If this can be done earlier than the completion of Basic Flight Training, I am open to the concept.

Simulation focused training is becoming more of a norm these days. What percentage of the training will include simulation-based training as compared to live training?

To provide a strict percentage at this juncture would be contrary to the spirit of FAcT wherein we seek to advise industry of our requirements in terms of training output and look to them to provide solutions. We fully anticipate that every training solution proposed will involve a mix of simulation and live flight and we are cognizant of the benchmarked flight hours to generate a winged Pilot, ACSOP or AES Op from both our existing training systems and those of our allies.