Group Editor Marty Kauchak provides an update on trends and developments in European military forces’ simulation and training programs.
Military services across Europe, allied or friendly to the US, are bringing a diverse, but increasingly higher-end mix, of S&T products and services to their training readiness portfolios. While parent military departments’ investments are meeting the requirements brought about by supporting missions across much of the spectrum of conflict, the defense forces are concurrently eyeing future-leaning technologies, including XR to support their learners. This feature article provides a glimpse of a few of the myriad evolving programs in this defense sector.
One Executive’s Overarching Perspective
Marc-Olivier Sabourin, Vice President for Global Defence & Security at CAE, provided a high-level industry perception of trends at play in Europe, when he first reminded MS&T that 27 of NATO’s 29 members are located in the region – making this a challenging but opportunistic market.
To begin, each of the nations has a slightly different approach to their training requirements with “multiple drivers defining Europe,” he noted. In one instance, the UK is observed to very strongly nurture the NATO alliance, and will typically embrace innovation in areas such as synthetic training sooner than many other European countries. “This is more for the means of cost-effective readiness and addressing challenges that other nations may not see or see as imminent,” Sabourin explained and added the outcome is pushing innovation to a higher level – providing for the digitization of the battlefield.
The CAE executive also called attention to state- and non-state agents adjacent to Europe increasingly having access to more disruptive technologies for the battlefield, which is changing the whole dynamics of the defense spectrum. An important solution to enable NATO nations to adjust and counter these disruptive threats, is through modeling these disruptions in a digital sphere, with implications also evident throughout the training continuum – from tactics, techniques and procedures, up through strategy.
One Solution Set
In one part of the training readiness sector, Meggitt Training Systems’ marksmanship devices support ground services’ programs of records in the UK, Italy and Belgium. Richard Hicks, noted while marksmanship terminology is basically the same among nations’ infantries, his company must be attentive to differences in training-related requirements. “These may include the difference between a ‘decommissioned’ weapon system and a live weapon – and the requirements on how you can transport and stow those weapons. We’re looking at ways to allow us to conform with that, and provide non-live weapon solutions that can still be used with a simulator and provide a form-fit function of a live weapon.”
Eric Perez, Director of International Business Development and Sales for Meggitt Training Systems also detailed another significant issue of doing business in Europe – supporting the diverse number of weapons in the nations and differences in acquisition policies. Hicks rejoined the discussion and observed efforts to overcome differences among nations’ weapon of a similar calibre, include his team developing “drop-in kits”. The strategy permits the use of the operator’s live weapon in simulation.
Perez also noted there are differences among European armies’ doctrines. “Europe is certainly not a one size-fit-all solution. We consistently modify our efforts,” he emphasized.
Of great interest to new soldier programs in Europe should be the FATS 180MIL, an advanced marksmanship trainer and one of Meggitt’s newest offerings for the broader defense market. Perez noted the new product gives the user the ability to move around in a training room and be accurately tracked “so they are no longer at a fixed firing point. You have a completely wireless experience, much as you would at an outdoor range.”
The FATS 180MIL interfaces with a variety of weapons including Meggitt’s BlueFire wireless weapons and BlueRail devices to convert live-fire weapons for training purposes.
A derivative of the 180MIL has been delivered to the US Army and is in use at 28 sites to support the service’s Squad Advanced Marksmanship Trainer program.
Advancements within individual product programs are being integrated at training centers and similar sites to support the spectrum of training, from individual, to unit and staff.
Training Center Developments
Munich-based KMW is delivering ever-increasingly capable training centers to support military operators of the company’s tracked- and ground vehicles. Hungary is the most recent KMW training center customer in Europe, with the training venue scheduled to be finalized in 2025 with the first training devices ready in 2022.
The company’s training centers adapt to local needs. In one instance, the ground force customer is populating its center, within budget and service requirements, with training devices supporting team and individual crew members assigned to a Leopard Main Battle Tank and other KMW or vendors’ vehicles.
While the hardware may be networked and include higher-order training devices with motion bases, KMW’s “secret sauce” and latest technology breakthrough for moving ground force training to a higher plateau, reside in its Next Generation Simulation Software. The Hungarian Army will be one of the first customers of this enhanced software capability.
The company’s Next Generation Simulation Software has five attributes: AI-based Entity Behavior; Rigid Body Physics-based Dynamics; OEM C4I Integrated; Dynamic ORBATs; and instructor operator station enhancements. Mathias Nöhl, Senior Vice President for Systems Technologies at KMW, emphasized “the requirements of all our customers appear in what we have now in this newest generation software.”
Jan Biegler, a corporate Manager for Training & Simulation, provided additional details on this latest offering, initially noting, that for “computer-generated forces, each of the entities is its own agent, and based on its perception of the virtual environment makes decisions accordingly.” This and other built-in capabilities, have provided KMW and its early users with early returns on investment. Training center instructor workloads have been reduced during scenarios, similarly, fewer operators are required to control large-scale exercises. Biegler further called attention to the new ORBAT capability in this software version, declaring “it’s not limited any longer. We can establish up to ten forces, and quite complicated scenarios. One can set up an ORBAT, reuse it, save all or part of it, and go beyond traditional ‘red’ and ‘blue’ forces – and more important, define the behaviors among the different forces.”
Solutions for Other Domains
For Collins Aerospace, opportunities in the European S&T market are primarily generated through platform OEMs, training device manufacturers and other industry team members which are seeking to deliver a total life cycle solution, including training. Michael Blackford, Manager for International Business Development in the Mission Systems Group in the company’s Simulation & Training Solutions Division, told MS&T that his company’s S&T products delivered to the region’s military forces include image generators, visual dome displays, database tool sets, JTAC solutions and other materiel which are “out there, through a well-established customer base.”
The S&T division is also taking advantage of the synergies being offered by other sectors within the broader Collins Aerospace company structure. For instance, new or rehosted avionics equipment installed on airframes often generate a requirement for simulation solutions for supported training devices.
Beyond Collins Aerospace’s established portfolio, Blackford highlighted that the European military training community is focused on open standards such as for for networking, communicating, sharing terrain and other content. “There is clearly going to have to be mechanisms to link all these things together. As we know from our experience with fifth generation aircraft it is going to be very hard to train all those things you want to train to in the air – the customer wants to be able to link simulators. There’s a massive focus on common interoperability standards with the UK DOTC(A) [Defence Operational Training Capability (Air)] program coming to mind. And everyone is looking at the US Army’s Synthetic Training Environment program. That is certainly going to influence the thinking of how people view S&T in Europe,” he noted. While European nations’ defense departments look at open standards from the perspective of jointness, they are also eyeing standards to continue to enhance their coalition warfighting training readiness.
Whilst European militaries procure F-35s and other new weapons platforms, there are also significant opportunities to address obsolescence issues with legacy force training programs. Blackford noted the region’s legacy F-16s and Eurofighter Typhoons are expecting to remain in service well into the next decade. He offered, “There is certainly going to be new technology inserted into the aircraft, which will in turn impact how they train – the training system must move forward with those efforts.”
Elsewhere there is a dose of innovation on CAE’s business horizon with the XR-based Rear Crew Trainer for the UK Royal Navy Merlin Life Sustainment Program. CAE is subcontracted by Leonardo Helicopters to deliver this part of a comprehensive full-crew training solution in 2020. The company’s Sabourin previewed the product, calling attention to the “very high fidelity” system that will be “one of a kind, because of the fidelity it will achieve,” due in part, to the trainer’s “movie-like quality from the ‘blue screen’-type interactions with the real world.” The winch operators and gunners in this helicopter training device “will not see any side effect of the AR/VR technologies,” he added.
In an adjacent training readiness sector in Europe, CAE has also observed a “massive gap in fighter pilot production capability that will hit us in the next five years,” according to the executive. The company is taking advantage of this significant opportunity by leveraging the experience and expertise gained through operating the NATO Flying Training in Canada. Beyond this long-standing program, CAE is teamed with prime contractor Leonardo and in cooperation with the Italian Air Force will establish the International Flight Training School starting in 2021. “When we talk about multi-national training programs, there’s also C-130J training between Germany and France,” Sabourin continued and added, “the French are responsible for the training system, and we’re working with Lockheed Martin to provide a suitable offer for a training center.”
CAE is also bringing to bear its training system competencies developed in the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) market space as the training partner for General Atomics. In 2019, the Italian Air Force took delivery of the world’s first “zero flight time” RPA simulator, and CAE is currently under contract from General Atomics to develop the training system for the United Kingdom’s Protector RG Mk1 RPA program.
A Pivot and Focus on LVC
Cubic Global Defense also observes US allies and partner nations in Europe pivoting from supporting ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, to meet a quickly emerging near-peer threat – with a caveat. “They have the same constraints, if not more severe, than the US in terms of money, training range size and complexity, and security – showing ‘all your cards’ very close to a potential threat nation,” Mark Graper, the company’s Vice President for Europe, Middle East, and North Africa, observed. To that end, he pointed out that more of their LVC work is occurring in “the Commonwealth nations of the UK, Canada and Australia”.
Cubic UK leads the company’s efforts for the British Army market and brings to bear best-of-breed solutions from across Cubic Global Defense’s engineering base. One of its innovations is an artillery trainer that injects effects from an actual artillery piece virtually into the live training environment. The retired US Air Force Major General explained that safety constraints prevent gunners from live-firing artillery weapons in a tactically realistic manner, and likewise prevents commanders from realistically integrating these fires hence the need for this innovation. “LVC is very practically being exercised right now for the British Army. This is one example,” he pointed out.
Cubic’s business model for Europe also includes providing scalable and tailorable solutions to those armies with relatively small budgets. Whereas smaller services’ units may nest within larger formations on the battlefield, Cubic’s modular, affordable training solutions permit these services to link to the LVC environment.
On the air side of the company’s ledger, the emphasis is on interoperable training ranges for fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft. With a focus on LVC and multi-domain operations, Cubic is seeking the opportunity to install several new instrumented ranges in that region and extend their effectiveness. In the near term in Europe, Graper sees a continued maturing of LVC and the beginning of regional ranges for aircraft, with the latter development catalyzed by the delivery of F-35 to NATO allies as well as to US Air Forces Europe.
Also on the Horizon
Beyond new products, of interest to forces in Europe and elsewhere, are other Meggitt efforts to bolster its technology baseline. “In the very broad area of cognitive feedback, now that we can move the soldier in a simulation scenario, we can see their heart rate, how they are breathing, and we can put on eye tracking to see where their gaze is and where they are actually looking – we’re looking at the science behind the shooting,” the company’s Perez concluded.
Collins Aerospace is also stepping up its R&D efforts in the quickly expanding XR space, using its Coalescence mixed reality system, to anticipate and meet the region’s end user requirements. “Customers are certainly looking at these options. MR and VR are allowing the training customer to exploit XR in maintenance training, for example” Blackford explained. He further suggested that as baseline technology levels improve in headset resolution and other system hardware, this sector will further expand.
Blackford noted there will continue to be external partnering opportunities for his group’s S&T activities in Europe. “Customers are adopting more and more COTS technology. And there is a lot of demand for local, industrial support and content. We look for opportunities to work with local companies – to localize the content and other solutions,” he concluded.
During I/ITSEC 2019, the author also viewed a KMW VR driving simulator demonstrator, unveiled to gain current and prospective customer insights – and certain to remain on MS&T’s near-term watch list.
Dr. Joachim Schauss, Sales Manager in KMW’s Training & Simulation division, explained the focus of this technology thrust. “For any discussion of virtual and fully immersive simulation as you see here, the focus is always how does it feel? You are in a 100%, full immersive environment, with goggles on seeing nothing else. So, the problem is haptic: what does it feel like; how does it feel when you push a button on the dashboard, for example.” Of significance, the KMW technology demonstrator is proceeding without the operator using haptic gloves, instead, using precise tracking and other underlying technologies. “We are here to show it is possible to come up with a system like that – and it is designed for rapid prototyping.”
Schauss presented another business case for advancing the VR driving simulator – while it offers significant, early cost savings in terms of reduced hardware content, it is also scalable and modular. Further, this technology demonstrator is being used to inform KMW about programs in adjacent spaces such as the embryonic French-German main ground combat system, a new common indirect fire system, and future KMW driving simulators.