Air Force takes the lead in new initiative to network aircraft simulators

Oct. 1, 1999
Distributed Mission Training (DMT) continues to be a work in progress in terms of scope and implementation. Within the U.S. Air Force, DMT extends from a system of linked, high-fidelity simulators for Air Combat Command aircrews, more widely across other the Air Force commands, into joint service training exercises, and even to the incorporation of allied forces.

Air Force takes the lead in new initiative to network aircraft simulators

By J.R. Wilson

Distributed Mission Training (DMT) continues to be a work in progress in terms of scope and implementation. Within the U.S. Air Force, DMT extends from a system of linked, high-fidelity simulators for Air Combat Command aircrews, more widely across other the Air Force commands, into joint service training exercises, and even to the incorporation of allied forces.

The goal is not only to provide realistic training with realistic ground and airborne threats, but also to replay real-world events in as much detail as possible and as often as necessary to prepare aircrews for any combat situation with minimum warning.

On a day-to-day basis, DMT is a readiness initiative to develop and maintain high-end individual, team, and composite force skills for combat and combat support forces. In its mission rehearsal role, DMT will enable the newly evolving Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) or joint force commanders to prepare and assess their forces for real-world missions.

DMT will do this by using networked virtual, live, and constructive components to create a synthetic battlespace by linking high-fidelity combat and combat-support simulators with other command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR) systems into an interactive synthetic training environment.

"If we can realize our vision with distributed mission trainers, we`ll be able to provide our aircrews with combat training to include mission rehearsal every day of the week, fifty-two weeks a year. It will be an unprecedented improvement in the quality of training that we provide to those troops that we ask to go execute our mission every day in so many far-flung parts of the world," says Gen. Richard Hawley, commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC).

"We won`t even have to worry about foul weather erasing countless hours of preparation or about losing access to airspace because of competing higher authority requirements," Hawley says. "And — very importantly for our ops-tempo — we won`t have to task other units to add another deployment to an already heavy deployment workload so they can go provide adversary air support to our training program."

Air Force officials actually have three DMT efforts in progress. The first is for aircrews (DMT-A), the second is for space (DMT-S), and the third is for special operations (DMT-SO). The DMT-SO involves a DMT integrated process team (IPT) that focuses on the long-range vision for DMT, including tying those individual systems together when appropriate and when there are training requirements that benefit all parties.

Maj. Edward Maxwell, recently the chief of the ACC`s DMT section, says training effectiveness evaluations will begin by the end of this year at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., (where a four-ship of F-15 DMT simulators became operational in May) and at Langley Air Force Base, Va., (which went operational in July).

Eglin and Langley also are being linked to E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., although the first of four DMT mission training centers at Tinker will not be delivered until July 2000. The first Lockheed Martin F-16 jet fighter DMT mission training center is scheduled to stand up at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., in 2002.

Eventually, a total of four virtual mission devices at each Air Force fighter wing will be linked via local and wide-area networks to training systems for bombers, AWACS, Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) aircraft, and other support systems. If all goes well, by the second decade of the next century DMT will incorporate most Air Force weapons — including the new F-22 jet fighter — as well as the C-17 cargo/ transport jet and Navy, Marine Corps, and Army weapons systems.

DMT will offer unprecedented opportunities for many of these aircraft pilots to train together and eventually to perform joint mission rehearsals. Given limited supplies of aircraft, aircrews, money, and time, such joint efforts using actual equipment are fast becoming extremely rare, if not extinct. Further complicating the situation is the supersonic cruise capability of the future Air Force Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor jet fighter, and the dwindling amount of airspace available for live training with such high-performance aircraft and their equally long-range, high performance weapons.

Technology tradeoffs

While DMT relies heavily on commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) components, it also demands technologies more specific to the needs of the military than those of the commercial world, especially with respect to high-fidelity display systems.

"The technology we`re experiencing now has significantly improved in the past five years or so," Maxwell says. "However, the visual systems, while good for air-to-air training, still need improvements in fidelity to do air-to-ground. Part of the Air Force DMT-IPT is focused on a technology-investment strategy. We`re trying to determine what are the critical technologies we need to have to allow us to train as we anticipate fighting."

If DMT is to be effective for mission rehearsal, the fidelity of the simulation must be real time. As Air Force officials switch to high-level-architecture (HLA) systems, engineers must develop a real-time interface to effect the conduct of distributed events with no latency or jitter problems that would degrade the training. Once experts have developed the standards for HLA and the run time interface (RTI), program officials expect they will be able to conduct simulations in real time with minimal latency.

"One of the critical challenges we see with DMT and advanced simulation is warfighter acceptance," Maxwell says. "If the pilots, aircrews, and wing leadership don`t view this training as an accurate representation of what they expect to encounter, it won`t be widely accepted or used. One thing that will ensure aircrew acceptance is to make that simulation as immersive and realistic as possible," Maxwell says. "If the shortfalls of the simulations require us to use `simisms` — things happening in the simulator that won`t happen in the real aircraft — then it becomes negative training."

The level of technological capability that designers will require — and when they will require it — depends on aircraft missions. For example, the first F-16 DMT systems will be based on Block 50 aircraft, which have a primary mission to suppress enemy air defenses. That does not require the same visual capability in a simulator as an air-to-ground bombing mission, which is the primary mission assigned to F-16 Block 40 aircraft.

Visual tactics is the first requirement for DMT. It mandates a 360-degree view for each F-15C base, for example. If the realism of display is not sufficient for pilots to fly a visual tactical formation or visually attack targets, including other aircraft, combat aircrews will never accept it, Hawley points out. The same applies to display of terrain from low to medium altitudes that use real-world intelligence and mapping databases to show not only ground cover and buildings, but also dynamic targets such as armored vehicles moving through dense foliage with logical movement and behavior.

"While realistic visual displays are essential, there are other critical technologies that we`re also relying on," Hawley explains. "If we`re going to use training as the rehearsal, then we need better combat simulations. We need missile fly-out models and weapons effects that mirror physics-based models."

Fidelity of simulations remains the primary issue, Hawley says. "Training needs to be realistic, but mission rehearsal needs to be real. We`re a long way from solving this problem, but we`re working on several projects to lead us toward solutions, including some of the technology developed in the Department of Defense Synthetic Theater of War program, which is literally an artificial battlespace environment. Physics-based modeling will increase network bandwidth requirements, lower our tolerance for latency, and demand a multi-level security system as we integrate programs like the B-2 [stealth bomber], the F-22, the F-117 [stealth fighter-bomber]."

Experts say they expect the most significant increases in the DMT environment between 2003 and 2005, when numerous new weapons systems begin to enter the inventory. If the programs remain on track, the F-22 DMT is to become operational around 2006, and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) version in 2007, although the JSF itself is not scheduled to enter service until at least 2010.

Unmanned DMT

DMT is not limited to manned systems, however. The Air Force already is looking to integrate a Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) simulator into the DMT environment by 2001, with other UAVs eventually joining in.

Each Air Force command, including Europe and the Pacific, are working on DMT. The goal is to allow aircrews to train at their home stations, but with other units around the world as one air force. As that effort begins to evolve, the scope of DMT`s impact on the entire Air Force is being recognized and efforts to coordinate and synchronize DMT are increasing throughout the service.

The open architecture design of all DMT components is a double-edged sword. Not only does it mean DMT has access to the latest technology, but it also means that its hardware and software are subject to rapid change. Initially, systems such as the F-16 simulators will incorporate Origin 2000 and Origin 200 servers, Onyx2 graphics systems, Octane, and SGI 320 and 540 visual work-stations from Silicon Graphics of Mountain View, Calif. MultiGen-Paradigm of San Jose, Calif., will provide visual runtime software and database processing techniques to enhance out-the-window visual scenes.

Commonality between systems also is a DMT goal. In one such effort, engineers from Boeing in Seattle will tie the F-15C and F-16 Mission Training Centers together with their common Visual Integrated Display System, Big Tac tactical environment, threat stations, and HLA-compliant DMT network components.

DMT also marks a major new direction for military training — paying for services, not hardware. All of the mission training centers will remain the property of the contractors — Boeing`s McDonnell Aircraft and Missile Systems in St. Louis for the F-15s, Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems in Akron, Ohio, for F-16s, and PLEXSYS Interface Products of Portland, Ore., for AWACS. Air Force officials will pay only for the time they actually use the equipment. This "fee-for-service" approach is known as a Commercial Training Simulation Services (CTSS) contract.

Under a CTSS agreement, the contractors also are responsible for technology insertion — keeping the simulators current with any changes in aircraft, weaponry, or tactics — so aircrews are always training on exactly the same systems and procedures they will be using in actual combat. For example, Lockheed Martin`s F-16 DMT contract specifies that plus or minus 30 days from the time a change to the aircraft — software or hardware — hits the ramp, it must be incorporated into the training system.

This ability not only to insert new visual systems and computer-generated forces, but also to maintain concurrency with the actual weapons systems, is included in the contract price.

By having centers in place with each wing, DMT also will enable aircrews to train with far greater frequency in far more complex combinations and situations than would be possible if they had to temporarily relocate to a fixed training range such as at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., or to a central simulator facility, as has been the case in the past.

For the pilots, the bottom line is they will be able to "fly" against each other, individually or in groups, or flight as a team against a common foe as often as they want without ever leaving their home bases. Yet the other pilots they fly with or against can be anywhere else in the world with a DMT center. And they will be able to utilize any theater airspace for which a database has been created.

"Without a doubt, Distributed Mission Training is an ambitious undertaking," Hawley acknowledges.

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