Commander Rock Etz, Commander NAWCTSD

Commander Rock Etz, Commander NAWCTSD


Captain Erik “Rock” Etz


Naval Air Warfare Center, Training Systems Division



Captain Erik “Rock” Etz was commissioned through the Naval ROTC program in 1990 upon earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University. He was designated a naval aviator in 1993 and joined the Marauders of VFA-82 in August 1994, flying the F/A-18C Hornet. During this tour, he completed one Mediterranean deployment on USS America, flying missions in support of United Nations Operations Deliberate Force, Deny Flight, and Decisive Edge in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Operation Southern Watch in Iraq.

Etz graduated from the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, Class 113, in June 1998. At Naval Strike Aircraft Test Squadron, Patuxent River, Md., he flew test missions in all areas of flight test for F/A-18A-F and T-45A/C aircraft and was assigned as Project Officer for the F/A-18E/F Third Sea Trials, leading a government and contractor team responsible for shipboard Super Hornet lateral asymmetry and degraded flight control launch and recovery testing, and ACLS certification.


Etz returned to the fleet in December 2000 as senior landing signal officer and safety officer on the staff of commander, Carrier Air Wing Nine. Following the events of September 11th, 2001, he deployed onboard USS Stennis to the North Arabian Sea for seven months. Under his guidance, CVW-9 amassed over 10,000 arrested landings during combat operations. Captain Etz also executed F/A-18C combat missions in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Remaining in Carrier Air Wing Nine, He was assigned to the VFA-147 Argonauts for his department head tour in July 2002, during which he served as operations officer and maintenance officer. Etz completed an 8-month Western Pacific deployment aboard the USS Vinson in 2003, supporting operations in the region of the Korean peninsula.

Etz returned to NAS Patuxent River in June 2004, upon assignment to the Salty Dogs of VX-23. As the ship suitability department head, he was responsible for oversight of the safe and efficient flight test of all tactical aircraft in the regimes of shipboard launch and recovery. He flew F/A-18A-F and T-45A/C aircraft on multiple test programs. Etz joined VFA-113 in December 2006 as the executive officer, again flying the F/A-18C Hornet, and in early 2007, the Stingers executed a short-notice surge deployment to the western Pacific with Carrier Air Wing Fourteen onboard USS Reagan. In May 2008, He assumed command of VFA-113, and led the Stingers in combat operations from the USS Reagan, supporting coalition forces in Afghanistan on two deployments in 2008 and 2009.

From September 2009 through October 2011, Etz was assigned as the deputy lead for the F-35 Mission Systems Integrated Product Team with the Joint Strike Fighter Program Office. His dispersed team developed the sensor and software systems that provide the warfighting capabilities of all F-35 variants. Executing a third test pilot tour, Etz returned to NAS Patuxent River in October 2011 as the director, test & evaluation of F-35 naval variants at VX-23. In this role, he served as the senior military lead for the F-35 Integrated Test Force, charged with developmental flight test of the STOVL and CV variants of the F-35, and he flew F/A-18 aircraft in support roles. In June 2014, Etz assumed the duties as executive officer of NAWCTSD, Orlando, Fla. Etz has logged over 3,500 flight hours in over 35 types of aircraft, including over 2,950 F/A-18 hours and over 840 carrier landings on 14 different aircraft carriers.

His decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, two Meritorious Service Medals, three Air Medals (Strike/Flight), three Navy Commendation Medals, the Navy Achievement Medal, and various unit and service awards.


Q: How much of your budget is procurement, R&D or O&M? Does your FY17 request fund you to levels that allow you to fulfill your mission obligations or will you have to look at program structure and timing to be able to fit everything in during the budget cycle? Any examples you can give of specific programs or system acquisition?


A: Fortunately, NAWCTSD is a Navy working capital fund (NWCF) activity, which means each of our projects is funded by the requesting project sponsor. At this time all of our projects are fully funded and we fully expect to meet our mission obligations.

For those who may not know, the NWCF resembles a corporate finance model where our Navy “customers” send us funded orders, and we provide our products and services in return. However, unlike commercial businesses, NAWCTSD strives to break even rather than make a profit.


Q: You recently assumed command at NAWCTS D. What has been your commander’s guidance and what do you see as your driving initiatives?


A: Improving the way we operate as a team to more effectively serve the fleet is my driving priority.

Following the lead of NAVAIR, we will continue to align our resources to

improve our effectiveness, and actively pursue opportunities to reduce cost and increase the speed of capability delivery to the Fleet. We have a number of ongoing initiatives that target our own internal processes, in an effort to create capacity for new work by streamlining our acquisition efforts. By supporting fleet training needs across all Navy warfighting areas, we are uniquely positioned to leverage technology across multiple platforms.

We will use that insight to look for opportunities to horizontally flow capability across platforms, and pursue distributed training results that yield a virtual environment where interconnected training devices provide the fleet with the opportunity to train like we fight.


Q: Are there any simulation and training technologies where you see great promise in creating better training results, increased efficiency and lower costs?


A: Yes. I would argue that promise exists to some extent in each of our products. It certainly is our goal to deliver training products that maximize human performance, safely and affordably.

One great example of one of our products delivering better training results, efficiently and affordably is our Multipurpose Reconfigurable Training

System (MRTS) 3D. This family of trainers was developed in-house in our Undersea Warfare Program Directorate initially to provide training in submarine radio rooms and weapons launch procedures, but its use has expanded to include training on a variety of systems including a mobile electric power plant used in aviation. Our team found that by using commercial off-the-shelf computers and touch screen monitors, along with a freely available computer gaming engine, they were able to provide very high quality virtual replicas a variety of equipment at a small fraction of the cost of building trainers using tactical equipment.

A single MRTS 3D hardware trainer can shift between the multiple software simulation applications within minutes. This capability enables a training command to use a single hardware device to give photo-realistic, virtual training on a variety of different systems.


Q: What is the status of the training systems and devices for the Navy and Marine Corps F-35? Can you talk about the walk-up to where you are today in planning the processes and systems for a new aircraft coming online?


A: NAWCTSD is honored to be a part the F-35 program via our support of the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The training systems that have been delivered are meeting the needs of the U.S. military services and partner nations as the F-35 program continues on the path to USAF and USN initial operating capability, following the declaration of USMC initial operational capability last year.

Having fulfilled duties on the F-35 program in previous Navy assignments, I am excited to remain engaged with the program here at NAWCTSD, and support of the F-35 program will always be a priority for us. F-35 is a driving force for networked operations, and the partnerships on the program represent an opportunity for the U.S. services and coalition partners to jointly pursue effective training solutions for decades to come.


Q: The Army just released a white paper on Enhancing Realistic Training in which the commander of the Combined Arms Center said that current Army training “is not realistic, demanding nor challenging enough to properly prepare our forces to improve and thrive in ambiguity and chaos.” When looking at the training regimes and systems you are responsible for, how do they measure on the realism scale? Where will improvements come from?


A: I cannot speak to the Army’s training needs, but when it comes to developing training systems for the Navy, our priority is to train sailors to meet specific learning objectives.

Not all training requires full realism to train a task. In many instances a part-task trainer is more than enough to help someone learn a new task, or familiarize them with equipment that is new to them. Other times, more fidelity and realism is needed, and we certainly have trainers that offer a great deal of fidelity, but they typically cost more, and take longer develop.

And of course sometimes, there’s just no substitute for live training while flying real aircraft and taking ships to sea. It’s important for us to have the right mix of training, delivered at the right time to optimize learning.

The key here is to have experts in the science of learning involved in the development of training solutions so our sailors get the right amount of fidelity to learn, without wasting our resources developing devices that exceed the training requirement.

As far as improving realism goes, with every passing year, there are remarkable improvements in available technology. Things that were technically impossible five or ten years ago are now becoming viable options. For example we are currently exploring the idea employing augmented reality and virtual reality technologies to add realism to training.


Q: Tell me about the Ready, Relevant Learning concept.


A: Ready, Relevant Learning is a pillar of the Sailor 2025 initiative that will provide a learning continuum approach to the training of Navy sailors.

Broadly, RRL will look at improving the efficiency of Navy training to more appropriately meet fleet needs for training, including when and where the sailor is engaged in that training.

Starting with fleet readiness as the priority, there will be opportunities to incorporate new technologies to improve training effectiveness, and ways to support the delivery of that training across multiple media elements.


Q: In addition to honing technical capabilities, you also work on the decision-making and reasoning skills. Tell me how you go about building the overall individual?


A: At NAWCTSD we have a Training Analysis, Design, and Evaluation Division that specializes in analyzing human performance requirements and subsequently, defining alternative strategies and solutions for meeting those requirements. Central to the training of decision making, and other highly cognitive skills, is the need to break down tasks to individual parts—the hardware or software with which the trainee must interact, the nature of the task and the significance of the information presented to them, how fluctuations in the environment affect the task (e.g., workload, ambiguity), the decision making process itself, and the teammates with whom they work.

This is done through a series of task analyses, including cognitive task analysis, where analysts work with subject matter aspects to represent the cognitive activities used to perform tasks such as decision-making, problem-solving, etc.


Q: In honing decision-making skills, it is critical for learners to have repeated practice opportunities?


A: This is important in several aspects.

First, repeated practice is critical in developing the basic “button pushing” operations that are required. During time constrained or any stressful condition, an individual’s performance will suffer if they haven’t fully learned the system they are working on.

Second, repeated practice provides opportunities to experience a wide variety of circumstances that could arise during performance. Experience gained during that training supports the development of decision-making skills by learning to recognize situations and understanding how decisions made influence performance outcomes.

Finally, a key point in any training strategy is creating a performance measurement system to describe, diagnose, and evaluate processes that lead to effective outcomes.


Q: Operations are not always just a Navy affair—or any single service— how can NAWCTSD better prepare itself to train jointly?


A: The NAWCTSD team fully realizes we need to train like we fight, and when we execute combat operations globally, we do so in a joint environment, fighting alongside our coalition partners.

As a long-time F/A-18 pilot, I had the honor of executing operations in a number of theaters, and I expect that we will continue to support attributes of training systems that support future networked training opportunities across service and national boundaries. That type of activity is not without challenges, however, we have a team that has significant experience in supporting large scale integrated training events, and we plan to keep them busy!


Q: Tell me about the Small Business Information Forum Initiative. How do these events benefit the command and the training and simulation industry?


A: The Small Business Information Forum Initiative (SBIFI) is a quarterly event that provides a venue for exchange of meaningful and timely information between Team Orlando and industry, specifically concentrating on a variety of issues that have value to the small business community.

Previous SBIFI events have provided the opportunity for the small business industry to hear directly from Team Orlando senior leaders as to how the small business community may be able to assist in achieving organizational objectives and missions and insight into technologies sought after in the NAWCTSD and PEO STRI portfolios.

Some SBIFI events have provided more targeted information aimed to assist in identifying resources available to support successful business operations, such as no-cost or low-cost human resources functions. These events take place on the 2nd Tuesday of every other month from 10:15-11:15 in the UCF Partnership III Building. Topics are announced in advance via posting to Federal Business Opportunities portal at


Q: Is there a use for additive manufacturing with the naval aviation training environment?


A: Absolutely! Additive manufacturing’s (AM) traditional strengths of flexibility and responsiveness, yielding high speed to prototype and lower non-recurring engineering costs, are extremely useful in the development of training systems.

Furthermore, the barriers AM has encountered entering other areas of the Naval Aviation Enterprise, most notably a loss of economy of scale and variation in material properties leading to questions regarding airworthiness certification for AM parts, don’t generally impact its use in training systems.

In fact, NAWCTSD has an in-house advanced plastic AM capability that is ideally suited to its rapid prototyping mission. Parts that may have taken days or weeks to make by traditional manufacturing methods can now be built and tested within hours with AM. In cases where the AM materials are suitable to the training environment the AM part becomes the delivered part, removing the final production step entirely.


Q: Last year, NAWCTS D was recognized by a local Orlando newspaper as being a top company for working families—in fact listed in the top 10. Taking care of people is a great way to improve productivity and retain the skilled technicians you need. First, what are you doing that has given you this recognition and is there a way you can measure what this means to the command in terms of dollars and cents.


A: I am proud that NAWCTSD has earned a place on the Orlando Sentinel’s annual list of “Top 100 Companies for Working Families” for nine years in a row. Last year we were ranked fifth among all workplaces in central Florida. By any measure that’s an impressive accomplishment.

The secret to our success is really no secret at all. It’s as simple as doing everything we can to ensure our employees—we prefer to call them teammates—know that what they do is important, and that we care about them. We do things for our teammates that cost the taxpayers nothing, but pay huge dividends in increased productivity and retention.

While it’s hard to quantify the benefits in terms of dollars and cents, I can tell you that for every employee who chooses to continue working at NAWCTSD, we save on the intangible costs of bringing a new employee up to speed. There is simply no way to but a value on a teammate with a wealth of knowledge and experience.

To put it simply, this is a place where by and large people are happy to work. For example, every quarter we take time to celebrate our teammates’ accomplishments, and it is very common for us to celebrate employees with 30, 35, 40 or more years of service. In fact just last year we had an employee who somewhat reluctantly chose to retire after more than 50 years of service—all of it right here on our team. I could not think of a better place to work, and I’m proud and honored to have the privilege of leading such an amazing team.