Today's warfighters operate some of the most technologically advanced vehicles, aircraft, and weapons systems, and to do so effectively and safely, they require the most sophisticated simulation and training systems. L-3 Link Simulation & Training (Arlington, TX), a division of L-3 Communications, is a leader in providing advanced simulation systems and training services for both U.S. and international military services. Defense Tech Briefs recently spoke to Frank Delisle, L-3 Link's Vice President of Engineering and Technology, about current technologies used to help train the warfighter, the challenges involved in networked training and simulation, and how the gaming industry is helping to advance the state of the art in "urban environment" training.
Defense Tech Briefs: What types of training and simulation systems do you supply to the military?
Frank Delisle: We provide for the military a total training solution. It includes all the services associated with the delivery of training, including the underlying products, the media used in the training itself, and the instructors to operate a schoolhouse, as well as the devices used within a schoolhouse to deliver training.
The training media we provide spans the gamut from basic computer-based training and interactive courseware, to introductory training, to full Level D-certified simulation and high-fidelity training devices. We can provide all those capabilities in the schoolhouse. Depending on the particular program, we can deliver "soup to nuts" — everything in the process.
We don't do any training at our locations. All training and simulation operations are done at the customer's sites — government-owned and contractor-operated facilities or GOCOs. All training is done within their environment and is driven by security issues they want to manage and control. Most of the schoolhouses are at the customer's facilities.
DTB: When you begin developing a new training system, how closely do you work with the pilots or operators who will be using the system?
Delisle: When we start developing solutions and working with the customer, we always form a team that includes the customer and what's called subject matter experts — mostly pilots and other operators on the customer side. We join them as an integrated product team that includes, on our side, our own subject matter experts so that we have a complete understanding of the user requirements. It always starts with the user and understanding the warfighter requirements. What do they actually need for training? You need to start there when you're composing a training solution.
As a team, we also provide a core competency called instructional system development (ISD). That's where we provide the expertise in training and training delivery with our instructional system developers, psychologists — people who understand how you train, what you train, and how often you have to do something, and what type of particular tasks you need to provide for training delivery and retention.
You couple them with the ISD staff, and then we bring in the last element, which is engineering operations. There is a technical team that supports this team to really compose the total solution. The process involves, right up front, all the stakeholders on all sides before we launch off any details together. That's the first step in the process — you really need to understand all the stakeholder values and the acquisition command — getting it on time and on budget.
DTB: Are training and simulation systems designed on a custom basis for each type of aircraft or weapon system, or are they adaptable?
Delisle: We have a common training simulation architecture, which is a composable framework or set of capabilities that can be re-used in different application spaces. A lot of the training delivery capabilities can be delivered to the same underlying technology. So if you're looking at a specific application — an F-16 versus an F/A-18 — the only differences between the two tend to be the specific performance characteristics of the vehicles themselves or the weapons they have. That information gets mapped into our simulation environment with each specific model. But the underlying networking and functions within that framework are common to both. That way you get a lot of re-use in delivering the product.
DTB: Do your simulators and systems incorporate Link's own proprietary software?
Delisle: We try to avoid proprietary software as a fundamental design that open architecture, so for the different components within the architecture, we like to, as much as possible, leverage commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies. We can plug them into the framework and leverage the commercial products in terms of price and economies of scale. We've developed this open architecture approach because if you look at the supply set we use, and depending upon customer requirements, we want to get the best of the best. We want to be able to go to a supplier or subcontractor that has special or unique capabilities in their particular area that better satisfy the solution and gives the best value to the customer.
When we work with the customer — and it's an often-used term — we try to use the "honest broker" approach. We want to work with them and determine the best total solution given all the potential suppliers — how they can better solve the problem rather than forcing them into a Link proprietary solution. If you're pushing your own agenda and your own products, in a lot of cases that may not be the right answer, and the customer knows that.
DTB: What are some of the major programs to which you've supplied training and simulation products and expertise?
Delisle: One of our top programs is the Army Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer (AVCATT), which trains helicopter pilots for the Army. A companion to that is Flight School 21, a total turnkey schoolhouse operation where we run the program for the Army to train the helicopter pilots. On the Air Force side, we do the F-16 training program as one of our mainstays. There is a whole family of F-16 derivatives that we do for that program. One of the major programs with the Air Force now is the movement toward unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). We won a program with the Air Force to deliver the first training system for the Predator UAV, and we just delivered to the Air Force the Predator mission aircrew training system. That's very important because now you're going from man-in-the-loop air vehicles to unmanned. That had its own unique challenges from a training and simulation perspective.
On the Navy side, we provide the whole series of F-18 training systems. And above and beyond that, we do the B-2 and the F-117 training systems, and provide a whole family of service programs, including aircrew training systems for the E3 and E6.
DTB: What are some of the new technologies you're applying to future training and simulation systems?
Delisle: When you look at training needs and gaps we're focusing on filling, there always has been a need and desire for distributed mission operations training — everything is joint these days. The technology has made it difficult to make that happen because you need to link a network of these different devices and training simulators together to make them look like they're all operating in the same physical space, interoperating at the same time, and experiencing the same experience. This is a complex problem because of the bandwidth of the network. Providing what is true interoperable training is a major challenge. Second, the desire is to train where you are. The conflicts have changed, and taking time to travel to a schoolhouse to train takes away from the efforts.
Finally, the desire to do more distributed and networked training where they are either in route or in theater is a very high demand on the customer side. They'd like to be able to train and rehearse the day before an operation. We've been focusing on the technologies that allow train-on-demand and train-where-you-are while still retaining the ability to experience that in real time and in an interoperable fashion. If you're engaged in the training exercise as a user or operator, wherever you may be, when you experience the experience and you're working as a team and somebody is in a different country participating in the exercise, you both need to experience it at the same time and see the same events unfolding in real time. That's a big deal for the Department of Defense, because that solves a major problem they face today.
DTB: You're also leveraging technology from the gaming community. How has that advanced simulating the "urban environment"?
Delisle: When we look at the future in terms of key technologies and you look at training capabilities today and where the customer really has gaps in current training, one of the major gaps that exists today is the ability to provide what's called a robust urban environment. Today's conflicts and the global war on terrorism have changed the traditional enemy. Today's enemy is not what it used to be and now everything is being done in a more urban setting where the threats are ill-defined and the enemies are unknown in a lot of cases. Historically, simulation and training have provided environments that have been focused on traditional warfare — fighting enemy aircraft or tanks in different areas. Now, it's in an urban environment, so the training environment has to incorporate a complex set of civilian activity with civilian vehicles, human forms, human behaviors, and crowd behaviors — all those things that you see in a complex urban environment have to be generated into relevant and effective training for today's warfighters.
The area we've been focusing on from a technology perspective is to take the technologies and provide that type of rich, complex urban environment. What's really enabling a lot of this is what's going on in the gaming community, which has very rich games that include a lot of special effects. It's not operating in what we call a real-time sense, but we've been able to take advantage of the underlying technologies that they use — graphics-processing technologies and physics-based processing technologies. So we've been able to take what's being pulled to the commercial market, where a lot of investment dollars are being spent, and we've been able to take that technology and apply it to the military side and create the kind of physics-based environment settings that we can apply to a real-time training system.
That's been key. We're getting ready to demonstrate and release some products in the next month or two that show these capabilities and the way training is being done today with new technology. We show customers the difference that can be realized in these complex urban environments.
If you look at homeland security and the initiatives they have, they face the same environment as military first responders. In the homeland security side, where firefighters, police, the FBI, or whomever is engaged in an urban environment, they are faced with the same kind of complex environment as the military. The same technology can be used for homeland security efforts. Those efforts tend to be joint operations, so the military is engaged on the civilian side. The key from a training perspective is how to create that realistic, complex, multidimensional, confusing environment.
Before, we could get away with just simulating different aircraft in the sky, and some ground vehicles or tanks, armored personnel, and anti-aircraft artillery on the ground. That was fairly complex on its own, but it really wasn't urban and there was not a lot of activity going on. Now you have to generate thousands of moving vehicles and crowds of people who will all respond differently to an incident or event. All that simulation in a complex environment gets very dense. In our problem space, all of this has to be done in interactive real time. So the processing to make this operate and respond in real time is a challenge. That's where the advent of the gaming technologies has really pushed it to a point where that realism is attainable.
For more information on L-3 Link Simulation & Training's capabilities, visit http://info.hotims.com/10970-522.