News Release, NAVAIR Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.--A group of scientists and engineers at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River recently had a unique opportunity to participate in an innovative, two-week training course designed to help them better understand how warfighters use the systems they develop and test.

Developed in conjunction with NAVAIR’s College of Test & Evaluation, the course was an abbreviated version of the Tactical Engineer Development Program (TEDP). TEDP is a multimedia syllabus, developed by the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in China Lake, California, educates engineers and scientists on the operational context of the modern air warfare environment. The course introduces Naval and fleet operations, provides an overview of current challenges to national security, and provides hands-on experience with electronic and airborne warfare systems.

The full course, which runs for approximately 166 classroom hours spread over a six-month period every April to September, is taught by a combination of Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) faculty, active-duty military instructors from the Navy and Air Force, and NAWCWD subject matter experts. The program also offers an abbreviated 12-day “short course” version that runs over a six-week period.

Desirée Smith-Lopez, the Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office IFC-4 Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation, was the driving force behind bringing the two-week “super-short course” version of the program to NAS Patuxent River. Smith-Lopez, a graduate of the 2019 TEDP cohort and the first person outside of NAWCWD to complete the program, believed it had a lot to offer NAWCAD’s engineers and scientists as well.

“I flew back and forth [between NAS Patuxent River and NAS China Lake, where the course is taught] every other week and attended all the lectures,” said Smith-Lopez. “I saw the benefits of the program and wanted to bring it back to NAS Patuxent River. Leadership here saw the benefits too, so I worked with Ian Anderson, the director of TEDP, to figure out how we could create an even shorter version of the short course that could serve as a demonstration of what TEDP is.”

Anderson, who traveled to NAS Patuxent River to teach the two-week super-short course, said the purpose of the program is to help the engineers and scientists who develop aircraft and systems to learn to “speak operator.” To help his students grasp the difference in perspectives between the people who develop aircraft and systems and the warfighters who use them, Anderson finds it helpful to use a familiar analogy: smartphones.

“If a young engineer decided to go work for a company that makes the hardware or the software for a smartphone, they know the operating environment for that device because they live in that environment every day,” Anderson said. “But Naval Aviation, by necessity and by nature, is cloistered and esoteric. You can’t expect that same young engineer to have a nuanced understanding of that particular environment.”

“A lot of us in the country today have never even met someone in the military,” said Anderson, a former Naval Flight Officer who also served operationally with Marine Corps, Air Force and Army units. “This is an opportunity to give people a foundational understanding of the warfighter’s environment — the things that concern them, and the things that drive the way we do business so that we can make a better product quickly the first time.”

Students who took the intensive super-short course, which spanned 10 eight-hour sessions, said they gained valuable insights and looked forward to applying them when they returned to work.

“I’ve never been on a carrier and I’ve never even flown in one of these aircraft, so when I was instructed to design testing that would support the warfighter, I didn’t have an appreciation for what the warfighter was going through. This made it difficult to design a test that allowed me to say this system was effective and suitable for them to use in battle,” said Tiffenie Butterfield, an integrated flight test engineer on the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye program at Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20. “I’ve realized in order to grade deficiencies accurately, I need to communicate with my air vehicle operators and my Naval Flying Officers and say, ‘This is what I’m concerned about. Is that the same issue that you see, or am I reading too far into this?'”

“Learning about the missions helps us to design and test systems better,” agreed Nick Bartlett, an air vehicle test and evaluation branch head with VX-23. “I learned how to answer the kinds of ‘So what?’ questions that a lot of younger engineers ask, which will help them tie their work back to the fleet and hopefully help get better products out there faster.”

“It’s about giving a perspective and a common language,” explained Donald Cox, VX-23’s integrated flight test engineer. “Operators speak ‘operator’ and engineers speak ‘engineer,’ and this class helps us learn how to speak a little bit of both. It gives you the ability to have a conversation on a level you may not have realized you weren’t having before.”

TEDP’s full and short courses are open to participants in NAVAIR’s Engineer Scientist Development Program (ESDP), journeyman level scientists, engineers, and operations analysts, and those who are interested in learning about maritime air/ground operations. Candidates must be government employees or contractors who have permission to participate in government training. U.S. citizenship and a minimum Secret clearance are required.

“The long-term goal is to bring the short course here to NAS Patuxent River,” Smith-Lopez said. “And then we would like to build our own long course that best fits the needs of NAS Patuxent River and things that are unique to NAWCAD.”

“Our motto is that we’re here to support the warfighter, but it’s hard to design something that’s going to be used in an environment that you know nothing about,” Smith-Lopez added. “To really support the warfighter, engineers and scientists need to understand how the warfighters actually think, speak, and use the systems that we develop for them.”

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...