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Training Airmen For Tomorrow’s Fight
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Tallon Bratton
June 26, 2024

The 58th Training Readiness Squadron has built the first-ever aerial gunnery live fire training facility at Kirtland Air Force Base New Mexico with its ribbon cutting ceremony and first live fire on May 22, 2024. This state of the art aircrew training device is designed to revolutionize the training of aircrew members using modernized HH-60G and HH-60W aerial gunnery weapon systems.

May 22, 2024 - Attendees of the 58 Training Squadron training facility ribbon cutting operate the new aerial gunnery live fire ground weapons system trainer at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Similar to the HH60-W helicopter, the ground weapons system trainer includes gunner’s seats, armored flooring, an intercommunication system, and gunners window. The ground weapon system trainer reduces student re-fly rates by 20%, saving the Air Force approximately $1.7 million annually in-flight hours. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photos by Airman 1st Class Tallon Bratton.)
May 22, 2024 - Attendees of the 58 Training Squadron training facility ribbon cutting operate the new aerial gunnery live fire ground weapons system trainer at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. Similar to the HH60-W helicopter, the ground weapons system trainer includes gunner’s seats, armored flooring, an intercommunication system, and gunners window. The ground weapon system trainer reduces student re-fly rates by 20%, saving the Air Force approximately $1.7 million annually in-flight hours. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Air Force photos by Airman 1st Class Tallon Bratton.)

The new training facility, developed in collaboration with BeaverFit USA, Gulfstream Steel, and Dragonfly Energy, incorporates a stand-alone, green energy solution. This innovative design features a full replica of aircraft electrical systems, enabling comprehensive live fire weapons training. The project aims to modernize training methods, replacing a costly and outdated "legacy" training device.

“The Ground Weapon System Trainer, however, provides a permanent and modernized infrastructure, along with a replicated HH-60W interior of the crew stations manned by the Special Mission Aviators”, stated Master Sgt. Garrett M. Clark 58 TRS Program Manager, “The GWST reduces student re-fly rates by 20%, saving the Air Force approximately $1.7 million annually in flight hours”. These savings come from reduced aircraft fuel consumption, maintenance man-hours, and other sortie generation expenses.

“The device operates entirely from renewable energy that is provided by a solar panel array. The solar energy is stored and converted into electricity by a Dragonfly Energy battery bank. The device is operable year-round, day and night, providing a zero-carbon footprint, and is completely self-sustaining.” Said Clark.

Operating entirely on renewable energy, the $615,000 facility uses a combination of solar panels and battery storage. The facility accurately replicates the interior of the HH-60W Jolly Green II, allowing SMAs to train with crew-served weapons such as the GAU-21 and GAU-18 .50 caliber machine guns and the GAU-2 7.62 minigun. Trainees can engage in live firing on a range with targets, practice general operations, troubleshoot malfunctions and execute emergency procedures.

The 58th Special Operations Wing will utilize this air training device to graduate SMAs with the essential skills needed for personnel recovery operations. This includes rescuing downed airmen and friendly forces in conflict zones worldwide, further enhancing the lethality and readiness of Combat Search and Rescue aircrew forces.

“CSAR has been deployed across the globe continuously for two plus decades throughout the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Europe. As we position ourselves for near-peer adversaries and large-scale conflicts, CSAR is a vital piece for Operational Plans.” Stated Clark, “Where Airpower goes, Rescue goes, and our fighter and bomber crews want to know that if they become an Isolated Personnel, that we are coming for them. These things we do…that others may live”.

This initiative not only modernizes USAF training methods but also aligns with the great power competition objectives, ensuring that the Air Combat Command remains at the forefront of global military capabilities. It continues the proud legacy of the Jolly Green and USAF Rescue.

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