There has always been a debate regarding the relative benefits of live training versus simulation, and in the case of electronic systems such as radar and EW, stimulation. With advancing capabilities, the Defense sector is looking to bring the advantages of virtual reality into the training regime as being able to use actual platforms is expensive especially as militaries move towards next generation platforms such as the F-35 where the flying costs can run as high as $50,000 per hour. However, it will be a while before soldiers hook themselves into the “Matrix” to learn how to fly a helicopter, and militaries still require pilots to rack up actual flying hours, and this is where the use of Live Virtual Constructs (LVC) comes into play.
For pilots, 90% of flying is centred on training and these basic training requirements will provide a new opportunity for LVC. In Canada, for example, a pilot does an additional six months of training on F-18s to augment the basic training completed on a trainer platform. Companies such as Canada-based CAE are offering militaries the ability to bring virtual reality into the training mix while maintaining a focus on live training using Live Virtual Constructs (LVC). CAE sees the potential for up to 50% of basic training being pushed into the LVC domain, increasing operational capability and saving on costs. By blending virtual reality with live training, militaries can save money on the cost of flying while still allowing pilots to build up the hours necessary to attain and maintain flight certifications, as well as gain real life experiences associated with flying platforms in differing weather conditions.
LVC training also allows a pilot to fly a platform and have a “virtual” wingman. The LVC allows the systems on both the simulator and actual platform to be linked so that the pilots can see each other using both the platform instrumentation and the helmet displays. On the ground, in the simulation environment, the cockpit environment is emulated using large flat panel displays and helmet-based HUDs that link with the systems on the ground and in the air. Links include the ability to communicate via the radio systems. The computers on the ground construct threats that can be seen by the sensors so the pilots in the air and on the ground can practice the relevant TTPs related to enemy radar, SAM threats and engagements with enemy aircraft.
- Canada and the UK are currently leading the charge in this area, driven by a need to bring pilots up to speed on fifth generation platforms while saving on training costs associated with bringing pilots across to train at the NATO flying school in Canada.
- Training on next generation platforms, still currently at LRIP (low rates of initial production), also brings another complication as countries may not have enough planes.
- Training of larger platforms (for example the UK sends pilots to Canada to for P-8A training) will be the next opportunity as the LVC construct allows tankers, AEW&C, MPA and other platforms to be brought into the training regime as part of Red Flag-type exercises in the next 10 to 15 years.
Bandwidth and latency will be amongst the key underlying technology requirements if LVC-based training regimes are to be successfully implemented. This will require gigabit per second data link speeds and millisecond latencies akin to those being proposed for the commercial wireless sector as part of the forthcoming 5G standard. Millimeter wave capabilities for both ground sector and airborne links will be a requisite suggesting Ka-band frequencies will play a primary role.
LVC will also present new opportunities for the T&M (test and measurement) sector if the radar, EW and communications systems being emulated in the construct are to accurately convey the different environments that will be faced in future threat scenarios, underpinned by an increasingly congested and contested electromagnetic spectrum environment in which it is necessary to counter increasingly sophisticated radar and EW capabilities.
The timing is right for LVC in the training domain as various training programs take shape. In the US, the $16 billion US T-X trainer program has huge potential not only for whoever wins the final program but also for the provider of LVC-based training. There are also a number of other training programs around the world which could also conceivably incorporate LVC constructs as part of the training regime. Taiwan is moving forward with a $2.66 billion program to develop 66 advanced trainers, and South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand and Argentina are other countries looking to upgrade their training fleets.
Moving forward, virtual and live training will increasingly underpin training across other domains as well. The future direction for LVC-based training will also potentially see suppliers building up their own capabilities, in terms of schools operating platforms to work alongside their simulator equipment. This can also help overcome other commercial difficulties as the training company can act as a systems integrator allowing platform OEMs to offer their training regimes without fear of critical system architectural IP being made available to competitors.