Air Force Capt. Courtney Vidt had already spent more than a week in a classroom studying the nuances of aircraft physics, radar theory, and the numerous dangers posed to military transport aircraft like hers.
Now, the C-17 pilot was presented with a new challenge: Craft a mission plan for a mock exercise that would achieve the mission objective and get herself and her crew back home safely.
“We fly in a lot of areas where threats can reach out and touch us, and this course helps us be aware of what tools and tactics we have to prevent them from doing that,” Vidt said, “whether it’s flying around it, flying over it, flying under it, or other methods — so they can’t touch us.”
Vidt was one of about a dozen pilots and aircrew from multiple branches of the U.S. military who in March 2019 descended on Rosecrans Air National Guard Base, located about 60 miles north of Kansas City. They came for an advanced training course designed for the mobility air force — service members who fly the large military aircraft that carry people and supplies.
The course was taught at the Advanced Airlift Tactics Training Center (AATTC), which provides the highest level of training in defensive maneuvers, countermeasures, and tactics for mobility forces with the ultimate goal of keeping them safe while flying through potentially hostile skies.
But it’s not just military instructors in uniforms teaching those courses. Working alongside them is a team of experts from the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), which for decades has partnered with mobility forces to develop technology to counter the threats that confront the military’s transport aircraft.
The GTRI team plays a pivotal role at the training center, helping students understand the science behind threats such as heat-seeking and radar-guided missiles as well as providing foundational knowledge of onboard aircraft systems and the measures used to defeat the threats.
“The goal of these courses is to save lives in the combat environment,” said Bobby Oates, a senior research scientist and GTRI’s site lead for the program at Rosecrans. “GTRI’s role here is to provide subject matter expertise. We’re all prior military aviators, and all of us have been on some sort of C-130 platform. That gives us a unique understanding of the needs of the mobility air force.”
GTRI’s expertise is a key part of the instruction in all of the seven courses provided at the training center, as well as in the development of new tactics and maneuvers.
The team helps craft coursework and serves as a direct link between the training center and GTRI’s research, quickly turning new technical findings about threats or aircraft systems into new course material. Each team member specializes in specific subjects, staying in contact with on-campus researchers involved in those areas of study.
“Two members of our team are focused intensely on the infrared spectrum,” Oates said. “They are fully engaged in the current and emerging infrared threats, such as heat-seeking missiles, and they’re involved with the development of tactics to defeat those threats, whether through maneuvers or implementation of defensive systems and expendables such as flares. We also have two team members very involved in the radar side of the house. They are experts on radar threat technology and the employment of measures to defeat those threats.”
The training center has its origins in the early 1980s, when a Missouri Air National Guard unit flying C-130s at Rosecrans began conducting training to improve pilots’ ability to respond to threats encountered in combat. The school was formally established in 1983, initially focused on teaching pilots and aircrews defensive maneuvers and how to respond to threats while flying.
Those skills come in handy for pilots of the quad-turboprop engine C-130, which, because of its versatility and ability to land and take off in a variety of terrain, is one of the primary airframes the military uses to perform air drops and move cargo within hostile territory. The larger quad-jet engine C-17 provides a similar capability over longer distances.