Story by PO3 Alana Langdon on 08/05/2019A ship, a submarine and a mine are all playing hide and seek.
A Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) cuts her path through the ocean, humming quietly. She's powered by diesel propulsion combined with gas turbine engines and armored in sleek steel. Foamy swells leap up and slap her sides. She responds to the oceans power in a gentle, port-to-starboard sway and never slows her pace. All-aboard take part in the balancing act. Sailors rock in rhythm as they work and man watches intently.
A submarine creeps 500 hundred feet below, cloaked within darkness, unperturbed by the aggressive swells. The mine rests, waiting for a disturbance.
Warships of today and our future, are cities of technology designed to hunt, hide, defend and fight. Their presence projects power throughout the seas. Just the thought of what a ship could do is often enough to keep peace in the forefront of warmongering minds.
The United States Navy understands that winning at war requires a Fleet of well-trained, capable Sailors. To keep in stride with increasingly complex war technology, the Navy continues to evolve its training and education to include digitally interactive, virtual reality training for LCS Sailors at its newly constructed Littoral Combat Ship Training Facility (LTF) on Naval Station Mayport, Florida, managed and operated by Center for Surface Combat Systems (CSCS) Detachment Mayport.
"Virtual reality training at our school house is a vital tool that gives Sailors the ability to gain equal skills through constant practice," said Fire Controlman 1st Class Michel Lavanture, Surface Warfare Mission Package instructor at LTF, from Hummelstown, Pennsylvania. "They are able to run through a high volume of scenarios in port and at sea that would not be possible due to the budgetary restraints of getting an actual ship underway."
LTF courses specialize in teaching navigation, surface warfare, air warfare, electronic warfare and intelligence. Mayport's LTF concept began in 2016, currently offers 21 courses, and is on track to graduate about 1,800 Sailors in 2019 through its two programs: Train-to-Qualify (T2Q) and Train-to-Certify (T2C).
"The LTF mission is to train Sailors in the operation and maintenance of combat systems on ships, in order to achieve maritime superiority," said LTF Director, John Zuzich, a retired Navy captain who specialized in surface warfare education.
By 2025, LTF expects to offer 58 courses, employ nearly 120 educators and graduate seven to eight-thousand Sailors annually.
"For T2Q, we take Sailors new to the program and teach them in a watch-team environment, how to stand their roles as watch-standers on an LCS underway," said Zuzich. "We basically go through Sailors' Personal Qualification Standards (PQS) with them. LTF teaches Sailors how to do their job in a team environment. They know who to get information to and from. They understand what reports they need to make, to make them effective."
Each Sailor's course requirements through T2Q are determined by his or her job and underway watch stations.
When a Sailor completes his or her PQS and T2Q standards at LTF, the Sailor returns to his or her crew. Only a crewmember's commanding officer (CO) has authorization to endorse the Sailor as qualified. Once a CO has a fully qualified crew that meets underway watch requirements, the CO and crew will return to LTF and complete T2Q and T2C as a team.
Crewmembers will take their stations in the bridge as Officer of the Deck (OOD), Junior OOD and Readiness Control Officer. Port and starboard lookouts stand the bridgewings alongside .50-caliber machine guns, whose virtual bullets can be seen on an encompassing, digitally interactive 180-degree screen. Mission Control Center watch standers are hunkered in a cold room, focusing intently on assigned monitors governing RADAR, weapon systems and intelligence technology. Engineers prepare to fire up the ship's power.
"It's like visiting your new home, before you get there," said Engineman 1st Class Christian Alston, USS Indianapolis (LCS 17), Blue Crew, from Miami, Florida, attending the T2C, Crew Certification course.
Together crews must navigate from harbor, track and evade enemy contacts, win at battle and form up with allies for Fleet movements.
"Virtual reality and running scenarios are very helpful for learning," said Alston. "You get to put your hands on the equipment. You can get help from instructors while you're training. Qualifying is a challenge and the level of knowledge we have to have is different from legacy ships. Our crews are smaller."
LCS Sailors spend three to six months training to qualify. Executive officers and COs receive three to 11 months of schooling before they can T2C with their crew. Upon completion of the T2C, Crew Certification course, LCSRON holds sole authority to certify crews in various mission operations.
"What's great about this program is Sailors training Sailors," said Zuzich. "It allows them to learn in a safe and fiscally responsible environment. The end cost of our program is fairly significant, but it's a fraction of what it would cost to build one of these ships."