By LeAnn Ridgeway, VP and General Manager, Simulation and Training Solutions, Rockwell Collins
When military watchers consider the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, they see a next-generation warplane and the world’s most advanced weapons systems in flight today. When I look at it, I see the realization of my engineering team’s “If we can think it, we can do it,” mind-set.
The visual training platform Rockwell Collins Simulation and Training Solutions created for the Joint Strike Fighter training represents the state-of-the art in visual training systems. We took requirements that had never before been requested, let alone conceived of, and made them a reality. The F-35 pilots aren’t untested 18 year olds. They’ve got years of experience flying, and it’s been gratifying to hear them say the training and simulated experience is unlike any they’ve ever had.
But there’s been no resting on our laurels. In engineering simulation training platforms today, we must be able to support joint, interoperable mission scenarios that play out in real time and among disparate locations. For Rockwell Collins, building the effective and efficient simulation and training platforms of tomorrow is as much about seamlessly weaving together live, virtual, and constructive environments as it is about understanding the nuances of networking. Therein lie some of our biggest challenges as well as opportunities.
Trickery in the Cockpit
When you’re in this business, your goal is to train at the maximum level of effectiveness and efficiency. The trick, made more difficult when facing financial constraints such as those of today’s U.S. Department of Defense, is balancing effectiveness with fidelity requirements. In order to be judged truly effective at training, you’ve got to be able to immerse people fully in the environment — to trick their eyes and brains into thinking the simulation is real. High fidelity translates to realism.
You might think creating this realism is all about cool graphics, like those you find in popular video games. Cool graphics do make a big difference, but they’re not the only piece of the puzzle.
Rockwell Collins’s visual systems comprise four components: a display, the data used in creating the visuals, the image generator, and the projector. These all go into creating the high-fidelity simulations for the F-35 training I mentioned, as well as for Black Hawk and Apache helicopter flight training, for example. And most commercial airlines around the world use our visual systems, too. All told, these systems drive about 60% of my business portfolio right now.
Believe me, if you were a pilot in one of our simulators, you would feel like you were flying the real aircraft. And that’d be the case regardless of whether you’re in one of our full-flight simulators or in a simulator that doesn’t use motion. With the fidelity and quality, just putting you in the seat with a screen and an image generator would do it — this I know from my own experience.
I’ve never been much of a video game player, and the whole motion thing disturbs my inner ear, yet here I am leading simulation and training! Naturally, the first thing proud employees want to do when they have something new is to throw me in the simulator to check it out. I’ve gotten better over the past three years.
Lightning Out of the Blue Sky
Of course, measuring how green somebody turns isn’t really the best way to judge simulator effectiveness. Nor, for that matter, is testing a pilot’s heart rate or using other biometrics. If you have a pilot who basically knows the pattern of the training and doesn’t feel any fear when the engine fails and he has to safely land a plane with 400 lives on board, then you’ve failed to get the training outcomes you’d hoped for. To circumvent that situation and better measure effectiveness, our instructor-operator systems work in sync with the training platforms.
Say I’m an instructor, and my student is training in a cockpit simulator. I have the ability to change the scenario in the cockpit. I might throw a thunderstorm at her or have her aircraft lose an engine or encounter wind shear, for example. My instructor-operator system records her reactions and runs real-time analysis on them. If it sees that her reflexes were off and that reacting to the situation took her way too long, it would then build in more scenarios to overcome that training deficit. This is all done in real time, which is an advantage for achieving optimal outcomes for the trainee.
As valuable as this type of individual training is, it pales in comparison to the training that’s possible in a networked environment. The simulation and training industry in the aerospace and defense market is becoming Internet-based and very much network-centric, which is both a difficult challenge and an exciting opportunity. The challenge is in integrating discrete pieces of training equipment or events across the network. The opportunity is to enable a high quality of training that produces a desirable outcome not just for one person but for people working on joint, interoperable assignments.
In other words, this isn’t just about one guy in a cockpit or at a ship’s control panel any longer. It’s the guy in the airplane, who has to be able to talk to his counterpart in the submarine and in the ship on the surface and in the tanks on the ground and — oh, by the way — to the soldier at the front whose job it is to call in the fire. Your training scenario needs to account for them all, telling where they all need to be and what they need to do in order to accomplish the mission in the most effective way.
From Iowa to Afghanistan
If that sounds complicated, it is. But it’s not nearly as complicated as the type of training enabled with networked connectivity. This more sophisticated training involves live simulation, virtual simulation, and what we call “constructive” simulation, where simulated players use simulated systems in a synthetic environment.
In a recent demonstration of this live-virtual-constructive simulation and training, we involved a joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC — the frontline soldier providing attack coordinates to combat aircraft — in a virtual training room in the UK , a pilot in a cockpit simulator in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a real pilot flying an airplane over nearby Iowa City. As observers, we could see the JTAC visuals as he guided that airplane — the live asset — on where to drop a munition. And from his screen we could see if that pilot hit the target. From the training perspective, the challenge is making that look real enough so that the JTAC’s heart is racing as he believes he’s really under fire and he’s really saving people by calling in the proper coordinates for the strike. And that guy flying over Iowa City in the airplane — his displays had to show a remote village in Afghanistan where he was dropping his munition, the same visual the guy in the cockpit simulator had to see.
Think about the complexity involved. How do you make it look like there are clouds and a thunderstorm if the place where you’re running your live asset is perfectly clear and sunny? How does the intersection of the roads happen, so the JTAC and the pilot coordinates are in the same place?
As we work on this challenge at Rockwell Collins, we have the benefit of the company’s years of experience working in avionics and in networking aircraft in the sky. We are a company built on communications products. If you think about it, what is an airplane now if not a big network flying through the sky? It’s full of information, and it’s transmitting this information via satellite — air to air, air to ground, and, with our December 2013 acquisition of ARINC, ground to ground.
The acquisition of ARINC, which handles a lot of air traffic control communications around the world, puts the last piece in place for secure networked communications. (Rockwell Collins has the U.S.’s highest-level security authorization for secure mission transmissions.) You can see from the training scenario I described just how important these communications pieces are. Networked training, with its difficult, complex scenarios, is indeed a great opportunity for Rockwell Collins.
We see the benefit of that whole value stream, from design and development in avionics all the way through the life cycle, which includes service and support as well as simulation and training. And in Simulation and Training Solutions, we know that by having Rockwell Collins in the driver’s seat on the avionics, we’re in the best position to achieve appropriate training outcomes. Who’s to argue with those F-35 pilots, who have told us they’re the most equipped and well trained they’ve ever been in their careers?
Originally published in CTO Straight Talk, No. 1 (August 2014)
Building the effective and efficient simulation and training platforms of tomorrow is as much about seamlessly weaving together live, virtual, and constructive environments as it is about understanding the nuances of networking.
The simulation and training industry in the aerospace and defense market is becoming Internet-based and very much network-centric, which is both a difficult challenge and an exciting opportunity.
There is lot of value in managing the entire value stream, from avionics design and development all the way through the life cycle, which includes service and support as well as simulation and training.