Simulation & training: expecting the unexpected

Aerospace and defense technology companies are meeting the mounting need for more realistic, flexible, and networked training and simulation systems.

BY Courtney E. Howard

The nature of war has changed, and so, too, must military simulation and training. A new level of warfighter preparedness is needed in the face of asymmetric warfare and dissimilar opponents employing myriad tactics and strategies in varying locales, from congested urban environments to harsh, expansive deserts. It is challenging, if not impossible, to anticipate with a high degree of accuracy what war- fighters are likely to encounter in the field today, let alone in the future; yet, lessons learned on the battlefield are helping to shape how military personnel are trained.

Recent history has taught military and government officials, including those in the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), the value of flexible, quickly customizable, scalable, and realistic simulation and training capabilities. These government and military organizations are partnering with aerospace and defense technology companies to improve the way they prepare war- fighters to face a broad spectrum of threats, as well as to enhance their abilities to predict, mitigate, counter, and defeat asymmetric warfare methods and opponents.

Superior simulation

Today’s flight training and simulation technologies are designed to deliver benefits such as cost savings and convenience, over training in the field with expensive weapons systems such as combat aircraft, surface ships, submarines, and armored combat vehicles. Training operators to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in particular, proves problematic with the use of real-world unmanned aircraft and restricted airspace.

“In the U.S., training people to fly [unmanned systems] has to rely on simulator activity because of the limits we have in terms of airspace. Given the numbers of people that we’re responsible for training, the airspace would become very saturated very quickly,” explains Krista Ochs Terry, senior program manager for unmanned aircraft systems at General Dynamics Information Technology (IT) in Tucson, Ariz. “We would not be able to conduct the work we do without simulators to prepare those students for their real flights.”

U.S. Army personnel are using simulations from General Dynamics IT for training on the Shadow and Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft. Several reasons exist for training on simulations, rather than real-world equipment and locales. “Airspace saturation is one,” says Howard Phelps, section vice president of intelligence, training, integration, and support at General Dynamics IT.

“Secondly, for new students to become accustomed to control mechanisms, as well as to learn the requirements for flight safety and airspace management, in a simulator environment provides the ability to have failures without catastrophic consequences,” Phelps continues. “You can do things over and over until you get them right, or even crash, in a simulator; if you do it with a real airframe, you have loss of materiel and environmental impact issues to deal with. Use of the simulator allows students and instructors the freedom to do a lot of things repetitively until they are comfortable with the operating system, and then they can move into live operations—launch, recovery, flight, sensor usage, target unification, and those types of things.

“The military and DOD have found that, like with any type of system, the real aircraft only have so many hours on them before they start to break,” Phelps continues. “Simulation is an excellent method to do the same types of training in a controlled environment so the students aren’t penalized for making a mistake. You can go back and rerun the simulation so they can see where they made errors.”

General Dynamics IT’s simulations are used throughout the U.S. Army for training not only on unmanned aerial systems (UASs), but also rotary-wing and fixed-wing systems, tanks, armored vehicles, and more. “You can use a simulation to practice and rehearse and get your techniques down before you go into a live-fire or real environment—and you have confidence that you can operate the airframe, the sensor system, etc., because the simulated environment today is so close to the real environment, because the technology has evolved,” Phelps says.

Fidelity first

The goal is to deliver a training and simulation system with high fidelity to what soldiers will encounter in the field. Growing concern over shrinking budgets has traditionally required program managers, and the technology companies delivering these training systems, to balance cost and realism; however, technology is advancing and becoming more affordable.

“One of the major trends Presagis is seeing is the availability of high-fidelity solutions at much lower price points,” enthuses Nick Giannias, vice president of new technologies and enterprise solutions at Presagis in Montreal. “There is also increased demand for true-to-life simulation environments. The industry is leveraging commercial hardware and software to reduce cost, while providing capabilities that were previously associated with expensive simulators. The overall result is better, more accessible training with no sacrifice in quality, which could result in negative training.”

Pilots learn using the E-3A Operational Flight Trainer from L-3 Link Simulation & Training.
Pilots learn using the E-3A Operational Flight Trainer from L-3 Link Simulation & Training.

Presagis engineers are currently developing technology based on procedural modeling, the goal of which is to reduce the two highest-cost areas in creating simulation and visualization environments: the manual labor associated with database creation and the purchase of data, which is often a starting point in the development of training environments.

“Procedural modeling uses computer algorithms to rapidly create detailed environments from little or no data. These algorithms can plant trees, lay out buildings, and even synthesize satellite images similar to those found on Google Maps—all without human involvement and ‘on demand’,” Giannias explains. “The benefit to the pilot is that the environment he/she trains in can be larger, more detailed, or both. The benefit to the organization is that the environments can be generated more rapidly and at much lower cost. Also, the speed at which changes can be implemented lead to higher overall quality, since issues can be resolved more quickly.”

Defense contractors worldwide have used Presagis software to develop training solutions, including: high-fidelity visualization solutions that provide pilots with simulated, yet realistic views of the outside world; computer-generated simulations designed to emulate the actions of enemy and friendly forces, including people, vehicles, aircraft, ships, submarines, and weapons; tools to integrate geographical data, such as satellite images, into the simulation, enabling mission rehearsal; and the simulation of sophisticated sensors, such as night-vision and infrared cameras, which are key elements of UAVs.

General Dynamics Canada engineers selected Presagis to provide a specialized database of air, land, marine, and weapons models for the training and testing component of the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP). The database, developed by the content creation services program at Presagis, provides the ability to include detailed models of military and civilian aircraft, ships, buildings, and vehicles, as well as customized attributes, such as soldiers wearing Canadian uniforms.

“The exceptional detailing of the entities combined with the powerful semi-automated forces capability of STAGE software from Presagis enables customers to provide a realistic visual experience and immersive training environment for trainees,” Giannias says. “With these high-fidelity simulations, trainees are exposed to sophisticated scenarios based on mission strategies with the added benefit of adjusting its simulations on-the-fly to incorporate trainee feedback or new mission plans.”

Lockheed Martin Prepar3D visual simulation software enables users not only to create training scenarios across aviation, maritime, and ground domains, but also to train essentially anywhere in the virtual world, ranging from under water to suborbital space.
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D visual simulation software enables users not only to create training scenarios across aviation, maritime, and ground domains, but also to train essentially anywhere in the virtual world, ranging from under water to suborbital space.

Engineers at The Boeing Co. in Chicago have adopted Presagis tools for several training systems. Staff integrated Presagis Lyra and Lyra Sensors COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) Visual Runtime software into the F-15 jet fighter training system to provide realistic out-the-window, infrared sensor, and night-vision goggle views in fighter jet scenarios. The Presagis Technical Services team also supported the development of the simulator’s Visual Database.

The Apache Longbow Tactical Demonstrator (ALTD), developed by engineers in Boeing’s Combat Simulation and Systems Evaluation Department in Mesa, Ariz., for the AH-64D attack helicopter, integrates the actual aircraft display processor software with Presagis Vega tools to place users in the seat of the Apache Longbow AH-64D. The ALTD includes Boeing’s Advanced Tactical Combat Model (ATCOM) and enables the investigation of new system technologies, the demonstration of Apache Longbow capabilities in representative operational scenarios, and the examination of attack helicopter tactics, techniques, and procedures, Giannias explains.

Engineers at BAE Systems in Arlington, Va., used Vega Prime and Creator software from Presagis to enhance training for frontline Royal Air Force (RAF) aircrew and forward air controllers. The system, which falls under the Integrated Aircrew Training (IAT) program, produces and displays terrain and entities to emulate an airborne advanced targeting pod. It is designed to integrate live, virtual, and constructive elements, including electronic warfare and air-to-air combat, into increasingly complex training environments.

GPUs for greater fidelity

High fidelity in flight training and simulation scenarios can be achieved only with robust software and hardware, including powerful graphics processing units (GPUs). Today’s trainees require an increased level of visual fidelity, explains Doug Traill, senior solutions architect at Nvidia in Santa Clara, Calif.

Most flight simulators use satellite imagery to create a patchwork of the Earth, and each of these patches has typically been limited to 512-by-512-pixel resolution, Traill notes. “Modern GPUs are capable of processing patches at a resolution of 16k-by-16k-pixel resolution, which increases the overall visual acuity. As projectors increase in resolution, we can increase the dots per inch (dpi) and reach displays that match our eyes’ ability in the real world.”

As the overall visual fidelity is increased, so must the accuracy of the terrain database increase. Think of it as going from standard-definition TV to high-definition TV (HDTV), Traill suggests. Fine details in the background can be seen with increased resolution. Approximations and fewer details can now be replaced with increased accuracy, by using tessellation to increase the overall polygon count of the simulations. In fact, tessellation support enables the ability to draw 1.3 billion polygons per second, providing greater terrain database accuracy.

Smoke, fog, clouds, and the like are all pre-canned or pre-scripted in a typical simulation. “Increases in GPU performance enable us to calculate real-world effects in near real time,” Traill explains. “It can improve shadows on the ground, helping to determine where smoke may be blowing following an explosion.”

Training and simulation systems from the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.; the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL); FlightSafety International (FSI) in Alexandria, Va.; Presagis; and CAE Inc. in Montreal harness the power of Nvidia GPUs in tandem with visualization simulation software, Traill describes. Nvidia Fermi GPUs available in Quadro 6000, Quadro Plex 7000, and Tesla companion processors are designed to deliver a high level of visual realism.

L-3 Link Simulation & Training delivers Advanced Aircraft Virtual Simulators and Reconfigurable Collective Training Devices for the U.S. Army Flight School XXI program.
L-3 Link Simulation & Training delivers Advanced Aircraft Virtual Simulators and Reconfigurable Collective Training Devices for the U.S. Army Flight School XXI program.

“Fast data interconnect with companion GPUs can be used for real-world simulation, bringing visual effects in real time that were once only found in movie special effects,” Traill describes. “They can also be used to do collision detection simulation, radio simulation for radar detection, etc., so that sensor simulation can be included in the overall training experience.”

“Nvidia GPUs are being used in a wide variety of flight simulator environments to provide higher levels of visual fidelity, better terrain database accuracy, and real-world physical simulation,” says Michael Steele, general manager of visual consumer solutions at Nvidia. “The visualization processing and massively parallel computational power of modern GPUs are making it possible to recreate amazingly realistic simulators that help equip pilots with invaluable training experience while saving on time and equipment costs.”

Cost and COTS

Affordability is top of mind for training efforts given budget pressures in today’s economic climate; at the same time, the complexity of missions requires proficient, agile pilots, says Jim Weitzel, vice president of training and engineering services at Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics in Orlando, Fla.

Lockheed Martin offers technology designed to prepare pilots affordably for the dynamic conditions they encounter, Weitzel explains. The company’s engineers build and deliver immersive training technology adapted to customers’ missions, from handheld interactive courseware and desktop part-task trainers to full mission simulators. “We employ the latest technology, such as high-resolution projection systems with high-definition models, to support formation flying, including aerial refueling. We also offer product line sensor simulation technology to provide near real-world presentation of radar, infrared, and electro-optical display imagery.”

Lockheed Martin officials are currently working on several contracts aimed at bringing innovations to training the next generation of fighter pilots. Lockheed Martin is now administering at Eglin Air Force Base’s 33rd Fighter Wing, Fla., the F-35 Lightning II pilot and maintenance training systems, which combine interactive courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators, flight events, and event-based maintenance training.

BAE Systems officials are offering the company’s Hawk Advanced Jet Training System for the U.S. Air Force T-X program.
BAE Systems officials are offering the company’s Hawk Advanced Jet Training System for the U.S. Air Force T-X program.

“In all the simulators, actual F-35 software is used to give students the most realistic experience possible while accelerating the process for software upgrades,” Weitzel says. The F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator (FMS) features a high-fidelity, 360-degree visual display system and a reconfigurable cockpit that simulates all three aircraft variants, as well as accurately replicates all F-35 sensors and weapons. The simulator uses many legacy and COTS software tools to increase the affordability of the total solution.

“The smooth surface, high-resolution dome is a dramatic improvement over legacy fighter simulators,” says Col. Arthur Tomassetti, 33rd Fighter Wing vice commander. “The high visual acuity and utilization of a significant amount of real aircraft parts and source code will allow us to train a wide variety of mission tasks previously not accomplished in simulators.”

Flexible and scalable

Today’s simulators are designed to be flexible, supporting a broad scope of military and civil missions and organizations and translating to cost savings. “There are so many different ways you can use these systems now,” says General Dynamics IT’s Terry. “One of the greatest added benefits of starting with simulator training is that you can, depending on how you write the software code, tailor that simulator to myriad missions—whether a combat operation in Afghanistan and Iraq, or a UAV supporting military or civil authorities in the event of a national or natural disaster. You can use simulators to train people to be very good at many different things.”

“The future is only limited to the imagination and innovation of the people who need to use the systems,” Phelps agrees. “With the technology that we have today, you can turn changes a lot quicker. Software can be changed quicker. Instructors have the capability to change the environments and the aspects while the student is learning. It can go from day to dusk to night to dawn, to rain, snow, clouds, or smoke. The multitude of things that you can do with the technology today allows the system to be utilized for a lot of things.”

Whether it is a fast jet, such as an F-16 or F/A-18, or a transport aircraft in the C-130 family, or helicopters, such as the AH-64, engineers at L-3 Link Simulation and Training (L-3 Link) in Arlington, Texas, look at it like a software application, from a technology standpoint. “We literally look at them as applications and put them on a technological substrate,” says Frank Delisle, vice president of engineering and technology at L-3 Link. “The technology has progressed to a point now that the technological substrate tends to be commonly applied across the different applications.”

Years ago, every part of an F-16 simulation system, for example, would have been designed for that application. All the technology had to be tailored to and aligned with that application. “Today, we plug it on a computational substrate that is fundamentally the same as that we use for the Predator UAS, F-18, or AH-64,” Delisle says. “All we have to do is customize the platform to that environment. The analogy I like to use is an Apple iPad: You download different apps, but you don’t buy a new iPad for a new app. That, to me, is the biggest fundamental technological shift. As we move forward, the fidelity of the system becomes richer and more robust. The level of fidelity, just in the last two or three years, has gone up exponentially across the spectrum. Everything now is much higher fidelity, so the training value is much higher.”

Latest and greatest

Technology has improved the simulation environment, recognizes Bob Wood, vice president, T-X campaign lead at BAE Systems Inc. in Aberdeen, Md. “People are always looking for ways to do better, more effective training at a more affordable, cost-effective price because we know that airplanes are expensive to fly and operate. Technology has allowed us to do some very sophisticated things with training pilots.” In fact, BAE Systems has invested heavily in emulating sensors into the simulator’s cockpit without having to employ all the avionics components that a pilot has on a fighter jet.

Just as aircraft fleets are being upgraded with new weapon systems and aging aircraft are being updated with modern avionics, flight simulation and training systems need to be modernized. BAE Systems officials, including Wood, seek to replace the U.S. Air Force’s aging T-38 trainer with the company’s Hawk Advanced Jet Training System (AJTS) under the current T-X program.

BAE Systems has partnered with Northrop Grumman Corp., which would serve as the manufacturing partner for the new Hawk aircraft. The COTS-based Hawk AJTS combines live and synthetic air- and ground-based elements to train U.S. Air Force combat pilots on 5th generation fighters, such as the F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.

The U.K.’s Royal Air Force has acquired 28 of BAE Systems’ new variant of the Hawk jet trainer, called the T2. “It is an excellent airplane and the basis for the airborne component, but there’s so much more to it—ground-based training elements on the simulation side, significant preflight planning, and debrief components—that are very critical for training pilots for the whole mission,” Wood says.

The Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer from BAE Systems combines live and synthetic air- and ground-based elements to train pilots for 5th generation fighters, such as the F-35.
The Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer from BAE Systems combines live and synthetic air- and ground-based elements to train pilots for 5th generation fighters, such as the F-35.

“The T-38 is an aging airplane that is 50 years old, and the jet training system is very old and doesn’t have the technology leaps that we have today. They have F-22s and F-35s, 5th gen. fighters, in combat with very unique requirements in the sensor management world; they need a trainer that can help train these pilots in beyond visual range detection and elimination of enemy fighters,” Wood continues. “They have a real need not only to replace an aging airplane and to get pilots ready to get in these very sophisticated 5th gen. fighters, but they also have a lot of training gaps that the T-38 just cannot solve. That is why we’re heavily engaged in this procurement with the Air Force.”

The company has invested in truly emulating the sensor displays in 4th, 4.5, and 5th generation fighters in the Hawk. When a Royal Air Force Typhoon pilot sees the displays, the three multifunction displays and the radar sensor display, he is seeing the same radar and using the same hands-on throttle and stick as he’d use in the Typhoon. “But there’s no radar in the Hawk airplane,” Wood says. “It’s done with a data link system; the airplanes are connected via data link. We are able to emulate the radars and other sensors that then develop target tracks that look exactly like a 4th gen. radar would look, and all the associated weapons that go with it, without the legacy hardware—including the cost of the hardware and the maintenance issues and support required. It is really quite sophisticated.”

Networked teamwork

Everything today is about team dynamics, admits Delisle, so aircraft and flight simulators get networked together. The F-16, for example, has to play a role in the mission with other assets. Everyone is networked together in real time so they can do training and exercises in very high-fidelity, highly realistic environments.

Anytime there’s a mission today, from a training standpoint, the operators have to be proficient in their own weapon system and they have to be trained to work in an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) network, Delisle continues. “Training used to be very individualistic, now they have to be skilled and trained in an ISR network. Everyone has to be communicating and trained together and understand the different roles. From the forward observer on the ground to the UAV operator that is the eye in the sky and all the other assets brought into play have to be orchestrated and operated in a common environment. Things are moving beyond a platform-specific skill set to a network of capabilities in theater; our customers look at these as assets that are networked together to accomplish a mission, not individual assets.”

Linking training assets and transporting relevant, accurate, and timely simulation data will be a key element of training for mission success, Weitzel predicts. “As training becomes more integrated across platforms, services, and partner nations, distributed mission operations in which aircrews can practice together around the world in real time will become even more important.”

Wood and his colleagues at BAE Systems would like to deliver networked training to the U.S. Air Force. “Each of the bases operates separately from one another. They all have the same curriculum, but they operate separately,” Wood describes. “We would do a training architecture that would link ground-based simulators with the airplane in the air, to be able to have pilots on the ground linked up to pilots in the air flying multi-plane sorties—and they would not have to be in the same location. You could have a colleague on one base and someone across the country in an aircraft or a trainer link up and fly a sortie together, and work together on their training whenever they need to.”

Presagis delivers commercial off-the-shelf modeling, simulation, and embedded display graphics software to enable high-fidelity, true-to-life simulation environments.
Presagis delivers commercial off-the-shelf modeling, simulation, and embedded display graphics software to enable high-fidelity, true-to-life simulation environments.

Networked assets drive the need for security, which training and simulation customers are increasingly requesting. “For example, low observable platform technology performance cannot be easily obtained and analyzed by hostile forces when mission data is encrypted,” describes Todd Kortbein, vice president of business development for range systems at DRS Training and Control Systems in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. “Multiple levels of security (MLS) allow forces to train with friendly/coalition forces without providing 100 percent of their mission parameters to those same forces while they train together; certain parameters can be filtered/withheld from these forces. In this way, combat air forces of the world can train with allies, but not sacrifice all their tactics/weapon capabilities to their allies.”

DRS provides live air combat training instrumentation solutions for U.S. fighter aircraft, as well as internationally for aircraft of U.S. friends and coalition allies. DRS Air Combat Training Systems (DACTS) can be carried as an external store in air-to-air missile form factors or internally to the aircraft as an avionics box, Kortbein describes. “Our instrumentation allows real aircraft, with real pilots, to fly exactly as they would in real combat. The only difference is that instead of real weapons, weapon simulations are used to simulate the outcome of combat. Our systems capture the data for display, allowing pilots to analyze their performance after the mission has been completed to become a better pilot.”

Customers are requesting that “live training” be combined with “constructive” and “virtual” simulation, Kortbein continues. Constructive simulation enables combat pilots to fly and fight against airborne and ground targets that appear real on aircraft seekers and sensors, but in reality are provided by onboard simulations that stimulate appropriate sensors and heads up display and cockpit symbology for the pilots to maneuver, fire, and train against. Virtual simulation enables real aircraft to fly against pilots that are training in ground-based flight simulators via a linked data link/ground network.

Combating challenges

The newest generation of military fighter aircraft poses real challenges for training, admits Philip J. Fisch, senior director of business development for air ranges at Cubic Corp. in San Diego. “The planes are so much more capable of information gathering and management that the aircrew is faced with a huge amount of information to evaluate as they decide on their tactics. Thanks to newer technologies, such as data fusion, the information is combined and presented to them in a convenient way. However, providing training for these advanced capability aircraft requires the ability to show the aircrew a dense environment with many adversary aircraft and Air Defense systems. The real world of live training ranges does not have this target density available. Thus, the real world must be supplemented with virtual and constructive simulations to challenge the aircrew.”

The P5 Combat Training System (CTS) as it is called by the U.S. Air Force, or the Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS) as it is called by the U.S. Navy, is an example of a live air combat training instrumentation solution, Kortbein observes. The P5CTS, which is used in live training of military aircrews for fighters and attack aircraft throughout the world, takes advantage of technology from Cubic. Its benefits include high-accuracy tracking during live flights, support for as many as 200 aircraft and 4000 ground troops in a training exercise, and high accuracy and classified simulations of advanced weapons, describes Fisch.

Myriad aerospace and defense organizations, including NASA, are increasingly reliant on modern training and simulation systems and solutions for flight training and mission rehearsal applications.
Myriad aerospace and defense organizations, including NASA, are increasingly reliant on modern training and simulation systems and solutions for flight training and mission rehearsal applications.

“As the aircraft become more and more capable, the challenge for training systems will be to match the aircraft capabilities and also meet the training needs of the aircrews in the most realistic way possible,” Fisch says. To this end, a new variant of the P5CTS will be installed on and embedded within the F-35 aircraft.

Presagis executives, including Giannias, are seeing increased interest in, and use of, embedded training. Embedded training is based on simulations that are used inside real aircraft to enhance training and reduce cost. “Imagine a military pilot that is being trained to use radar to identify potential threats in the air. Without embedded training, it would require at least a second aircraft in the sky for the radar to identify,” Giannias says. “Since radar can ‘see’ farther than the human eye, the two aircrafts will never actually see each other visually, only through the radar display in the cockpit. Based on that display, the pilot decides what action to take—fire a missile, take evasive action, etc.

“Now imagine the case with embedded training, in the form of a simulation that is actually part of the aircraft,” Giannias continues. “The potential enemy aircraft can be entirely simulated and so can the radar display, with a level of fidelity that makes it indistinguishable from the real aircraft appearing on the radar screen. The simulation is indistinguishable from the real thing, allowing the same level of training. The second aircraft is simulated instead of real, saving the cost of flying, which can be very high. Adding more simulated aircraft is almost trivial, and opens up the possibility of creating more sophisticated training scenarios and enhancing training overall.”

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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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