• Faces of the Force

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    Project manager’s team takes flight


    By Tara Clements


    FOTF Editor’s Note: With a long legacy of service in his family, Tachias may bleed Army green, but what fuels this leader’s motivation is knowing that the “great group of professionals” he works with are there to accomplish the mission with professionalism and excellence. When I interviewed Col. Tachias, one thing was evident: his sincere passion and appreciation for his team of professionals and the work they do every day to support the warfighter. With more than 24 years of active-duty service to the nation, Tachias hasn’t had a bad day. He views any challenge he’s faced with as an opportunity to succeed, keeping in mind that what he does is in support of the Soldier in the middle of a war zone who relies on superior aviation support to do his or her job.

    As the project manager for the U.S. Army’s fixed-wing aircraft fleet, Tachias is responsible for managing a 20-25 year lifecycle process that includes a litany of responsibilities and support for hundreds of aircraft. To some, that level of responsibility may be daunting, but to Tachias, it’s an opportunity to excel.

    FOTF: What do you do in the Army? Why is it important?

    TACHIAS: As the project manager for the Army’s fixed wing fleet, I supervise a team of outstanding individuals who provide centralized management of all Army manned fixed-wing aircraft worldwide. The fixed wing team provides life-cycle planning of the fleet, including design, development, qualification, testing, production, sustainment, distribution and logistical support. We’ve been able to grow tremendously from about 70 to 191 people in two years, but there’s a lot of mission that goes along with that—it’s well needed.

    “…every day I go into work knowing that we will overcome any challenges because I have America’s most professional and dedicated government employees and contractors on my team.”

    The Fixed Wing Project Office was stood up in October of 2011. The revelation I had working with the team the past year and a half is how significant an impact that decision was to Army aviation. Our office has gone from managing 256 aircraft at the establishment of the office, to currently supporting more than 382 aircraft comprising 11 missions, 40 different designs, and 73 series. It’s our responsibility to manage the life cycle of this entire fleet and, on average; we look at it over about a 20- to 25-year life span, depending on the aircraft and policy. Maintenance is a priority. We currently have inventory that’s 40 years old and we have a number of aircraft that are aging. At about the 15- to 17-year mark, we start to look at the [procurement] process because it takes time…often years to work through the requirements and funding issues.

    Tachias is pictured just one of the 382 aircraft in the fixed-wing fleet—a Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System (MARSS). MARSS aircraft perform intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions and have directly supported operations in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo provided by the Fixed Wing Project Office.

    FOTF: What has your experience been like so far? What has surprised you the most?

    TACHIAS: I have the best job in the Army! I have great job satisfaction because my team is able to positively influence a process, and I get to see the results make a difference in the lives of our warfighters. In January, members of my team and I traveled to Afghanistan to interact with the Soldiers in the field. We received a lot of positive feedback from the commanders on how my office’s support has improved their readiness and safety. From their perspective, what’s really improved is our responsiveness in meeting the warfighter’s needs now and in the future, and to have aircraft ready for any type of mission—including airworthiness, maintenance, etc.

    From a surprise standpoint, it’s better said that there are a lot of significant challenges we’ve uncovered within the fleet—from an airworthiness and maintenance standpoint. We’ve issued over 200 airworthiness releases in the last year and there’s a lot of work that goes on to make that happen. But, everyday I go into work knowing that we will overcome any challenges because I have America’s most professional and dedicated government employees and contractors on my team.

    FOTF Editor’s Note: ‘airworthiness’ is defined as an aircraft’s suitability for safe flight.

    FOTF: Is there any particular event or instance that really stands out to you that demonstrates the positive impact you’ve had on the warfighter?

    TACHIAS: It really boils down to our mission to support our Soldiers. One particular [aircraft] system has discovered more than 160 IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in just over a year, which means that once we find one, we’re able to have it removed which in turn means that our Soldiers are in a safer environment—essentially, it saves Soldiers’ lives. And it takes a lot of teamwork to do that.

    FOTF: From your perspective, how have things changed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade?

    TACHIAS: I think our [aviation] mission really hasn’t changed—we’re there to support our Soldiers. When I deployed to Iraq in 2004, I served as the Theater Aviation Support Manager primarily to support our Soldiers. I think that we’re trying to lean a little more forward to anticipate the needs our Soldiers may have, and we’ve seen a larger need for Army aviation to ensure we support those Soldiers on the ground.

    Tachias speaks with more than 130 industry partners representing 77 aviation-related companies at Industry Day held on June 12, 2012. Industry day provides an opportunity for government and defense members alike to interact in an open forum and discuss the goals and objectives of the project office. Photo by Tracey Ayers.

    FOTF: What was your worst day as the PM?

    TACHIAS: I can’t say I’ve had a worst day—but I look at things a little bit differently. We’re here to solve problems and I see those problems as an opportunity to succeed. With all of the issues that have come before this office, I can’t say I’ve had a bad day because I have a dedicated, professional team of experts behind me who are capable of working through any issue.

    FOTF: What do you do in any spare time you have?

    TACHIAS: [Chuckles at the word ‘spare’]. I spend it with my family. When I’m not here or on a deployment, spending time with my wife and two athletic teenage sons is a priority. In fact, we’re running a triathlon together in August.

    FOTF: Why did you join the Army? What is your greatest satisfaction in being part of the Army?

    TACHIAS: I am a third generation Soldier. My grandfather served in World War I. My father, a career Soldier, fought in the Korean War and served two tours in Vietnam. He retired after 22 years of service. As a young boy growing up on Army posts and running behind PT [physical training] formations just for fun, I knew being a Soldier was my destiny. I volunteered to serve because my parents instilled in me a great sense of patriotism and the philosophy of service to our nation. My older brother, Michael, who is stationed at Fort Bliss right now, inspired me as well by paving the path to become an Army officer.

    My greatest satisfaction as a Soldier has been to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my brothers and sisters in arms, and with the greatest civilian patriots, as we work together to accomplish the Army’s mission while impacting democracy and freedom worldwide.

    Link: Program Executive Office Aviation, Fixed Wing Project Office.
    Related Story: http://www.theredstonerocket.com/news/article_54116f4a-de5f-11e2-b836-0019bb2963f4.html

    • “Faces of the Force” is an online feature highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce. Produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication Division, and working closely with public affairs officers, Soldiers and Civilians currently serving in a variety of AL&T disciplines are featured every other week. For more information, or to nominate someone, please contact 703-805-1006.

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  • Army aviation advancing strategies for degraded visual environment

    (courtesy photo)

    Kris Osborn


    WASHINGTON – Army acquisition officials are pursuing an effort to identify solutions able to help aircraft crews navigate through a Degraded Visual Environment (DVE), a circumstance wherein weather, obscurants or obstacles thwart the ability of a crew to see properly or accurately know where they are in relation to surrounding terrain, service officials explained.

    Army officials view potential DVE solutions through what could be called a three-pronged approach; solutions include improving the existing flight controls systems and handling characteristics to assist the pilot in managing workload when vision or situational awareness is challenged or obscured, examinations of “queuing” technologies able to give pilots needed information to make decisions regarding the aircraft, and various sensors able to help aircraft crews see through obscurants.

    “One of the key efforts from Program Executive Office Aviation (PEO AVN) is to make sure we take a holistic approach within DOD, so that we fully understand all of the ongoing efforts that are contributors toward a DVE solution,” said Mike Herbst, Assistant PEO, Engineering and Technology,

    The Army’s strategy for approaching DVE emerged, in part, from the services participation in an Office of the Secretary of Defense-led Helicopter Survivability Task Force which launched a rotorcraft survivability study in 2009, Herbst explained.

    “One of the results of this effort,” Herbst added, “was that the individual services were asked to conduct their own studies to see where and how helicopter mishaps occurred.”

    “The Army brought Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) together and assembled a working group to dig into accident circumstances. Many turned out to be DVE-related, and this has helped shape the Army’s resolve in addressing this problem,” Herbst explained.

    “This working group included experts from the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence and the Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Ala., and the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala., as well as program safety officers across the service,” Herbst said.

    Sensor Solutions
    “Various technological capabilities and “sensor” solutions are a critical component to the Army’s DVE strategy. The approach is to create a common set of technical standards so that different sensing solutions can more quickly and easily be integrated within a common architectural backbone,” said George O’Boyle, Aviation Network & Missions Planning DVE Project Lead, Aviation Systems Project Office.

    “With any type of future capability, we want to use commonality to leverage software solutions in a modular fashion,” said O’Boyle.

    In fact, the overall effort to build hardware and software to a specific set of common Internet Protocol (IP) standards is a large part of what Program Executive Office Aviation calls Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE), explained Col. Anthony Potts, former Project Manager, Aviation Systems and current Director, Plans, Programs and Resources, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology.

    According to Potts, the FACE effort involves a collaborative effort between government and industry to identify an established set of technical standards so that new software and hardware can seamlessly connect with existing systems on aviation platforms.

    The FACE effort has already resulted in substantial savings; it is a key portion of the Army’s Common Operating Environment (COE) approach, a method of identifying and implementing a common set of IP standards as a way to better facilitate integration of emerging capabilities, quicken the developmental cycle and lower costs wherever possible, Potts stated.

    “The common set of standards for FACE has to do with the process by which software is built and documented. Previously we had to do a lot of code re-writing for every platform because each one had a different operating system,” Potts said.

    As a result, the Army’s DVE sensor plan is to establish a common software architecture that is “sensor agnostic,” meaning it will be engineered with a “plug-and-play” capability to accommodate a wide range of sensor applications. This plan will create an open architecture backbone able to keep pace with rapid technological change and quickly integrate new solutions as they emerge, Potts added.

    In response to an U.S. Central Command Operational Needs Statement issued in 2011, the Army is acquiring a limited number of sensors. These sensors are designed to help crews navigate through “brown-out” or DVE-type circumstances. The Helicopter Autonomous Landing System (HALS) sensors use 94 Gigahertz millimeter wave radar technology to provide helicopter crews with an ability to see through obscurants, O’Boyle explained.

    “The millimeter wave radar technology provides a known penetrating capability,” O’Boyle said.

    Over the longer term, however, HALS and other millimeter wave radar technologies will be evaluated by Army developers alongside a wide range of other sensing capabilities. Some of these capabilities may include Forward Looking Infrared technologies as well as Laser Detection and Ranging sensors which use applications to “paint” or provide a detailed picture of a given landing area.

    “Our concept is to move forward with a sensor integration program, depending upon resources and technology. The first phase of the DVE sensor program will be to study all these alternatives once a Materiel Development Decision is completed. We will then turn to the Project Manager to develop solutions. We’ve got technology in the pipeline to execute a program like this,” Herbst explained.

    Various “queuing” technologies can also help helicopter pilots by providing air crews with key navigational information designed to greatly assist efforts to address DVE conditions.

    “For instance, Program Manager Air Warrior, with Program Executive Office Soldier, is currently developing a Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) technology able to provide air crews with a 3D symbology,” said O’Boyle and Herbst.

    “This symbology, which provides aircrews with information from inertial navigation and GPS sensors, is designed to assist pilots in flying the aircraft to the ground,” O’Boyle said.

    “This helmet mounted display is an upgrade to the current heads up display system. The current system is a single monochrome display fixed to the helmet, whereas the new one has a color display so the pilot will get a clearer picture and be able to see the symbology much better,” said Fred Reed, DVE SME from the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center.

    “Also, drawing from inertial navigation as well as information from a Digital Terrain Elevation Database which contains maps of most of the earth’s surface, pilots using this new helmet mounted display are able to see where they are in relation to the ground and surrounding terrain,” O’Boyle said.

    Overall, the Army’s approach to DVE is oriented toward leveraging the best available sensor technologies while simultaneously engineering a technical environment wherein next-generation capabilities can easily be integrated at lower costs. At the same time, the approach is multi-pronged, meaning it will emphasize sensor technology solutions alongside advanced flight controls, and key advances in “queuing” technologies.

    In total, this integrated approach is, quite naturally, aimed at increasing air-crew safety and survivability while also hoping to help provide them every conceivable tactical and operational advantage, service officials emphasized.

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