When Milskil founder and CEO John Lonergan first floated the idea of civil instructors joining the ADF’s elite Hornet operational training team in 2002, he saw it as a win-win all round.
Philip Smart | Adelaide
Lonergan’s model would see ex-military instructors becoming part of the ground school and simulator training force, offering a fulfilling civil occupation while retaining their experience within the RAAF system.
The air force training world would gain a highly experienced, focused team free of the interruptions of deployments and other day to day military service. Former RAAF Macchi, Mirage and Hornet pilot and instructor Lonergan and many of his colleagues, whose core skills centred on an aircraft as a weapon rather than as transport, would pass on their valuable experience rather than watch it atrophy in the ‘straight and level’ world of airline flying.
Breaking new ground
But while Defence was used to having civilian teams working alongside uniformed personnel in less critical or sensitive areas, doing so in high-end operational training, at the proverbial ‘tip of the spear’, was another matter. That was new ground.
“The quality of training that is given to the ADF warfighters is the key discriminator in their ability to project combat capability.”
“At that stage no one was providing that sort of service back to Defence in terms of the high end operational training,” Lonergan said. “It was not so much seeing the logic; it was breaking down the mental barrier of letting civilians who had been in the military back inside that training space.”
Lonergan and the newly formed Milskil gained their chance in early 2003. A shortage of Hornet instructors gave Defence the impetus to contract Milskil personnel for simulator and ground school instruction on the F/A-18 Classic Hornet at 2OCU (Operational Conversion Unit) at Williamtown. As a proof-of-concept exercise, it was ideal.
“The trial proved that just because we’d taken our uniforms off, it didn’t mean we’d lost the experience,” Lonergan said. “Nor did it mean that we could no longer continue to learn and improve.”
That opened the door for Milskil, albeit as a steadily increasing trickle rather than a flood. The Williamtown trial helped Defence determine how a contracted training capability might work. Milskil won the resulting competitive tender to provide such services in 2006 and has since become an embedded element of Hornet, Super Hornet and now EA-18G Growler training. It has also expanded into fields such as Air Battle Management, synthetic training and capability management. The firm has gone from proof of concept to being a trusted member of the Defence operations community.
“Critically, a defence force’s capability, its ability to be the best, depends on much more than just purchasing the best platforms or most advanced equipment,” Lonergan said. “The key enabler on these platforms is good operational training and that’s where Milskil comes in.”
“We are largely seen as another operations unit in Defence. We’ve got authority on the simulator and ground school training and we actually do the training design. And then we work in the high-end spaces beyond operational conversions to post graduate training and activities like preparation for deployments such as the Middle East. We’re heavily involved in all that now. So the barriers are gone.”
The right people
The Milskil of today is a cadre of around 50 specialists from Australia, the US and Canada. Backgrounds are necessarily varied, often dependent on the upcoming needs of the ADF. Recent work has focused on delivering the next project; both front seat and back seat training for the EA-18G Growler.
“We will be delivering the training on Growler in Australia; all of their synthetic and ground school training once they think the aeroplane’s ready. We’ve already recruited Growler instructor pilots and Growler electronic warfare instructors from the States. The people we’ve got coming for Growler are some of the most highly experienced guys in the US Navy.”
The ideal candidate has deep experience and technical knowledge and many have combat experience. But they must also share the Milskil conviction that what they do is more than business – it’s a practical contribution to national defence.
“There is an innate understanding within Milskil that the quality of training that is given to the ADF warfighters is the key discriminator in their ability to project combat capability. Every one of the people that work for us is driven by this understanding and will go to the ‘Nth’ degree to make sure that whatever training they’re delivering is the best. If there’s a student having an issue they’ll just keep chipping away until they can achieve the best outcome. No one looks at their watch and says it’s five o’clock, I’m out of here.”
Milskil’s capability focus places it in a unique position as a provider of high-end operational training. “We pretty much have a niche right at the tip of the spear,” Lonergan said “No one else sits here with us unless they’re in uniform. And it’s the hardest place to work and we excel here.”
Looking to the future
Although past experience has centred on the Hornet series, the company has branched in to other fields and is looking to the future. “There’s plenty of work for us to focus on that sits up in those operational capabilities, whether they’re fighters, surveillance, reconnaissance, maritime aircraft. It’s all the same concept of working with the people that actually take these platforms in to combat.
“It’s definitely our desire to work with the F-35A, so we’re waiting, along with everyone else, to see just what’s actually going to happen with the JSF program in terms of timing. We do some work with ACOs (Air Combat Officers) when they’re on Hawk. And we’re positioning ourselves to support P-8A for example.
“We’ve got a lot of E-7A capability in the company and we provide training to Air Battle Managers in their courses. We also have some training that we do for JTACs and we’ve also been heavily involved in the development of the RAAF’s LVC (Live, Virtual and Constructive) capability that’s recently begun to be realised as part of the Joint Air Warfare Battle Lab.”
Lonergan believes the Milskil/ADF relationship has proven a win-win for both sides, delivering quality training, retaining critical experience within the ADF and freeing uniformed personnel to concentrate on operational duties while the Milskil instructors focus on delivering and continuously improving their high-quality training. He believes that overall the concept has provided value for money, proving the old adage: “The cheapest way to gain experience is to use someone else’s.”
This article first appeared in the December - January 2017 issue of ADM.