Cubic and IAI launch dogfight over whose rangeless pilot-training system is the best

The advent of Top Gun-style air combat training marked a major step forward for the U.S. Air Force and Navy in dealing with lessons their fighter pilots learned from Vietnam, and with challenges involving fast and agile aircraft.

Jan 1st, 2002

by J.R. Wilson

ORLANDO, Fla. — The advent of Top Gun-style air combat training marked a major step forward for the U.S. Air Force and Navy in dealing with lessons their fighter pilots learned from Vietnam, and with challenges involving fast and agile aircraft. But being tied to specific instrumented ranges limited access for training pilots.

Rangeless systems, using the global positioning system (GPS) and other technologies to replace ground stations in tracking the positions of combatants, began to appear in the 1990s and now have become the standard for such training worldwide.

Generally speaking, the primary elements of such systems are airborne-instrumented pods, datalinks and debriefing systems. There are three primary pod manufacturers — Cubic Defense Systems in San Diego; Israel Aircraft Industries of Beer-Yaakov, Israel; and Metric Systems in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Data links and debriefing systems are more widely produced.

At the 2001 Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC) 2001 Interservice/Industry, Simulation and Education Conference last November in Orlando, Fla., Cubic and IAI came head-to-head over whose technology best meets the growing coalition training needs of the world's air forces.

"We had the first rangeless system in the world — deployed in 1992. This is the third generation now with more than 160,000 flying hours in 14 countries," says Haim Berger, business management director for IAI's MLM Division, which is responsible for the EHUD autonomous air combat maneuvering instrumentation (AACMI) training system, which made its U.S. debut at the Orlando conference. EHUD is named after an Israeli Air Force F-15 pilot, Ehud Falk, who died in a collision with another aircraft over the IAF ACMI range.

"We are teamed in Europe with BGT in Germany. They manufacture part of the pod. They also manufacture the Sidewinder in Europe," Berger says. "We also are teamed with MBD in England and France, where they are prime and do partial manufacturing."

As a result of all that, Berger declares, the Israeli system is the "NATO standard".

"The European nations have recognized the superiority of the system and selected it as their system of choice," he claims. "The EHUD data link and algorithms are the de facto European standard for AACMI and the key for interoperable training as recommended by the NATO AACMI working group. Currently in Europe, only the U.S. Air Force is training with a non-interoperable system. The European NATO members have procured or are likely to procure systems based on MLM's pods. Although various ground debriefing systems are supplied with the pods, all are dependent on the EHUD data format and algorithms suite."

In fact, Berger says, no other system is interoperable with EHUD pods.

"There is no American system, per se," he adds. "There are two — Cubic and Metric — which can't talk together. We are open to discussions and willing to sell pods to Cubic, if they want. That already has been done in The Netherlands."

The last was a reference to the Royal Netherlands Air Force AACMI system, which is to become operational in 2002 with a combination of IAI's EHUD pods and Cubic's portable Individual Combat Aircrew Display System (ICADS). Two Dutch companies also are involved — Stork Aerospace will provide logistics, installation, and maintenance, while Fokker Space will provide display software maintenance.

Cubic, whose own Air Combat Training-Rangeless (ACT-R) system first went operational at the U.S. Air Force's Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, in 1997, does not exactly agree with Berger's claims.

"There is no standard in Europe or NATO, de facto or otherwise," counters Philip Fisch, director of business development for Cubic training systems. "There have been four or five procurements in Europe won by companies bidding the EHUD pod. Not all those systems are interoperable with datalinks, more are not on ground systems.

"In Europe today, there are at least five different datalink standards and six or seven different data cartridge standards. I can't think of two countries in Europe today that could put pods up and have them talk to each other. There are two or three additional different standards in the U.S. and Canada. EHUD in the UK cannot be in the air at the same time as Air Force Metric pods because Metric and EHUD are on the same frequency and interfere with each other."

Fisch is most adamant in his rejection of IAI's claims to being the NATO standard, noting he is vice chairman of the NATO ACMI Working Group to which Berger referred.

"In July, NATO funded a $500,000, one-year study that got underway in September — Study Group 71 — to determine the current status of ACMI interoperability in Europe, both rangeless and instrumented," he says. No matter what decision comes out of that working group, however, Fisch says the overall landscape is unlikely to change.

"There are three pod manufacturers in the world and there will continue to be three for the foreseeable future," he says. "We are a pod supplier, but more importantly, we are a systems integrator — and there is a lot more to a training system than the pods or even the ground stations."

Fisch also pointed to Cubic's participation in the July 2000 win by Matra BAe Dynamics (MBD) of the UK MoD's Rangeless Airborne Instrumented Debriefing System (RAIDS). That win was based on MBD's Air Combat Training Inter-Operable NATO System (ACTIONS), using 22 Cubic ground debriefing stations.

Despite their sharp disagreements, Berger and Fisch both believe the future will involve IAI-Cubic cooperation in this arena.

"Cubic has a relationship with IAI that goes back four years. We've teamed more than competed," Fisch says, adding Cublic, Metric or IAI pods can be integrated into any Cubic ground station and "the most important part of the mission is the debrief."

For Berger, the currently dormant U.S. Joint Tactical Combat Training System (JTCTS) offers some possibilities for future cooperation.

"We want to be part of it if it revives. We would like to find a U.S. partner and offer our expertise and experience," he says.

Raytheon was prime on the rangeless JTCTS, which was intended to replace all existing U.S. Air Force and Navy instrumented ranges — most of which were built by Cubic — but lost the contract in 2001 after the Navy, which has the lead on the program, cited it for failure to meet significant milestones.

"Raytheon was unsuccessful in its efforts to complete system integration in a timely manner [an exit criteria for the first option] and was unable to project when it would be able to do so," say officials of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Washington. "Raytheon was informed of the government's intention not to exercise further options on 24 January 2001."

Last February, Raytheon officials told the government that they found no value in continuing the effort under the present contract. Currently, the Navy is attempting to work with Raytheon to bring the JTCTS contract to closure.

NAVAIR officials say the Navy, Air Force, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are each examining options for fulfilling their rangeless training system requirements, but funding and acquisition strategy for a restructured or new program has not yet been approved by the services. As to the existing systems, the U.S. Air Force recently awarded a contract to Cubic for the refurbishment of its P4A ACMI pods, but the Navy says it does not have plans for major upgrades to its current systems.

Meanwhile, IAI and Cubic are pushing into new arenas, IAI with a Rangeless Training and Safety (RTS) system for helicopter pilots and Cubic with its Deployable System for Training and Readiness (DSTAR), which it bills as "the world's first fully equipped, PC-based mobile system for joint combat training missions" involving air and ground elements.

IAI says RTS integrates proven AACMI capabilities for logistics and support, search and rescue, or combat missions training for helicopter pilots. The system outputs can be integrated to any Digital Moving Map, supporting all types of cockpit displays.

Cubic, meanwhile, says DSTAR is part of a broader effort to build deployable training products for air and ground combat training, particularly small, transportable systems for home station training of any mission or unit. Cubic products that can be packaged with DSTAR include the Individual Combat Aircrew Display System (ICADS), the PC-Range Instrumentation System (PC-RIS), MILES 2000 and ACT-R pods.

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