It has become a custom over the last few years, in the run-up to ITEC, for CAE to host a select group of defence media at a military establishment in which CAE has an operating interest. This year’s outing was to the Deutsche Marine Air Base at Nordholz on the German North Sea coast. MS&T’s Dim Jones joined the cohort.
Nordholz is now the Deutsche Marine’s only airfield, situated a few miles south of the picturesque port of Cuxhaven, and is home to the two major units of German Naval Air Command, Marinefliegergeschwader (MFG – Naval Air Wing) 3 and 5. MFG 3 Graf Zeppelin is the fixed-wing element, and operates the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and the Dornier Do228NG; it is also responsible for the Base Operations organisation. MFG 5 is the rotary-wing component, and operates Sea King Mk41s in the Search-and-Rescue role and Sea Lynx Mk 88A in the anti-surface and anti-submarine roles. There is also a single Eurocopter EC135 for pilot training, and MFG 5 is responsible for all training facilities at Nordholz, including those for maintenance.
The Do228NG is a STOL utility aircraft; MFG 3 possesses two, which are used for pollution control on behalf of the Government. There is no simulator for the 228. The eight P-3Cs were acquired from The Royal Netherlands Navy in 2006 to replace the Breguet Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft. At the time, the P-3s had just been upgraded, but will be further modified over the next five years with Lockheed’s Airborne Tactical Mission System, including new acoustic processors, which will see the aircraft in service until at least 2035. In addition to the P-3C airframes, the Marine also purchased a simulator.
All the simulators at Nordholz – Lynx, Sea King and P-3C – are maintained by CAE through their European subsidiary, CAE Elektronik GmbH, which is headquartered at Stolberg, near Aachen on the German/Dutch/Belgian border. CAE Elektronik delivers full-spectrum training services and simulation products throughout the Europe and Africa regions, including: instructor provisioning and courseware design; training needs analysis; product design and development; and maintenance and logistics support services.
The P-3C simulator comprises two elements: the Operational Flight Trainer (OFT – flight deck) and the Operational Tactics Trainer (OTT – rear cabin); these can be operated linked or decoupled. There is an aircraft control station in the OTT to replicate commanded aircraft manoeuvres when the OTT is being operated decoupled. At the time of purchase, the OFT had been modified to mirror the aircraft, but the OTT was unmodified. The Marine engaged CAE to modify the OTT, a programme that lasted four years and was completed in 2012, and thereafter to maintain and upgrade the simulator. Currently contracted improvements include adding Open Geospatial Consortium Common Data Base (OGC CDB) architecture, and upgrading the visual with a new collimated display system using Sony laser projectors and the CAE Medallion-6000 IG. Future planned enhancements are a new mission system and an operating system upgrade to comply with the latest cybersecurity and IT requirements.
The P-3Cs are operated by five constituted crews, which can be supplemented from the staff of about 40 military simulator instructors, all of whom maintain operational currency in their roles. Simulator training is scheduled in advance, and a sortie will take a working day, to include dissemination of the mission, planning, the mission itself (normally about four hours), and a full debrief.
The flight deck crew is two pilots and a flight engineer. The mission crew comprises: two navigators, of whom one is the tactical coordinator and Mission Commander, and the other who is also the communications operator; acoustic sensor operators, using both active and passive sonobuoys; and systems operators, whose equipment includes radar, camera, ESM, IR detection system and Magnetic Anomaly Detector. Recent conflicts have seen increasing use of MPA for overland ISR missions, and the P-3 can use its ESM sensors to locate targets and the L-3 Wescam MX-20 camera to downlink real-time images. The aircraft is armed with internally mounted homing torpedoes, and can carry sonobuoys internally or on wing pylons. The simulator database encompasses all likely theatres of operation, provides accurate representations of all friendly and potential threat surface vessels and submarines, and can create operational scenarios for training which could not be replicated – for security or other reasons – in live flying.
New navigators arrive from basic training in Canada or the US; the rear crew operators can come from anywhere, but will complete basic underwater systems training with the fleet before converting to the airborne role at Nordholz.
Notwithstanding the operational imperative for use of the simulator in scenarios difficult to conduct live, we were told that currently about 70% of GeN P-3C crew flying is synthetic and about 30% live, a ratio with which the senior staff at Nordholz were clearly uncomfortable, doubtless having spent their formative years as aircrew in a less constrained environment. The lack of live flying is due in part to aircraft availability and operational commitments, one of which is a contribution to the anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa, with aircraft based at Djibouti. Nevertheless, a crew-to-aircraft ratio, even allowing for simulator staff augmentation, of less than 0.75 is unusually low, and the synthetic/live ratio unusually high; I am told that when the UK last had a maritime patrol capability, the crew-to-aircraft ratio was something over 1:1, and the live/synthetic balance was 70/30% or more. This suggests that, unless P-3C aircraft serviceability is abnormally poor, the driving force may be more one of funding, in terms of availability of airframe flying hours, ground crew support, and operational crews. Apparently, the establishment for P-3C crews is eight (which sounds more reasonable), and the Lynx and Sea King elements at Nordholz are similarly, or more acutely, undermanned. Such is the shortfall that, even at such a high level of synthetic training, the P-3 simulator is underutilised, and one wonders what would be the operational effect of a protracted simulator unserviceability.
CAE support for the Sea King and Lynx goes back much further than for the P-3. The original Mk41 IFR training device was delivered in the mid-70s, and the Lynx simulator in the late 80s, having originally been located at Naval Air Station de Kooy at Den Helder in The Netherlands as part of the Joint Lynx Simulator Training Establishment (JLSTE). CAE supports the current Sea King FMS with an on-site crew, and also provides instructor support services. A major upgrade in 2017 included a Medallion-6000 IG, OGC CDB, improved avionics, synthetic and tactical environment software and a new IOS. The FMS is flight deck only; there is currently no provision for synthetic training of winch operators or winchmen.
The Lynx Full Mission Flight Trainer (FMFT) is used for training throughout the operational spectrum, and will shortly be upgraded with a new electrical motion system, OGC CDB architecture, visual system. Further improvements, including a new Firefly sonar system and LTR400 transponder, are planned between now and the Lynx’s planned out-of-service date of 2025. The Lynx FMFT is modular and has high availability, which provides an opportunity for using surplus capacity for third-party training of other Lynx users, such as Denmark and Portugal.
MFG 5’s single EC-135 is used for continuation training for pilots graduated from helicopter basic training at Buckeburg and waiting to convert to the Sea King or Lynx – a wait that can be up to 24 months. The EC-135 is on the civil register, leased from DL Helicopter GmbH, and contracted for up to 1000 hrs per year. There are no associated flight training devices.
The Sea King Mk41 is due to be replaced from the end of next year by the NH90. This will, in Deutsche Marine service, be known as the Sea Lion, and is a development of the NH90NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter); the 18 aircraft ordered will initially be replacing the Sea King in the SAR role, but the Sea Lion – which first flew in December 2016 – is a vastly more capable aircraft, and can be expected to be employed on a much wider range of tasks in the future. Curiously, since the Marine are the first customers for this mark of NH90, the aircraft – which embodies improved sensors, navigation and communications equipment – appears to have been procured without direct input from the eventual users, the strategy seeming to be to get it into service as quickly as possible as a Sea King replacement (the SK OSD is 2023), and then find out what other roles it can perform, not least when embarked in the Type 702 Berlin Class Combat Support Ships.
Unsurprisingly – and it seems that we are obliged to record this for almost every new aircraft purchase, no matter how much planning has apparently gone into the programme – the Sea Lion simulator will not be available as the aircraft comes into Marine service; indeed, the contract for its provision – management of the tender process being the responsibility of the NATO Support Procurement Agency – is not yet let, and no NH90 simulators currently available completely reflect the aircraft the Marine will get. The requirement is for a suite of FTDs, comprising a flight deck FMS plus a rear crew trainer, supplemented by a winch trainer and a cockpit procedures trainer (CPT), and the intent is for a single company to provide the whole programme, including infrastructure. The acquisition programme is at the source selection stage; CAE will be one of the bidders, and should be well placed, having recently won a contract to provide a comprehensive NH90 training solution for the Qatar Emiri Air Force.
Other Bundeswehr business that interests CAE is the German Air Force Heavy-Lift Helicopter programme, in which CAE Elektronik GmbH is teamed with Boeing for the H-47; a formal announcement to this effect was made on 13 July at the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford, UK. If their bid is successful, CAE, an experienced provider of Chinook training systems, would design and manage the overall training solution, including training support services and ground-school instruction.
Lastly, and slightly in contradiction to CAE’s mantra that it is purely involved in training, the company has produced a lightweight Magnetic Anomaly Detector, the MAD-XR, which is an order of magnitude lighter and smaller than existing equipment, and would be suitable for use in aircraft types other than MPA, for instance UAVs or helicopters.
In sum, this was a most informative and interesting visit, splendidly hosted by both CAE and the German Navy. Given the current reliance of the Marine on simulation for all its aircraft types, CAE’s work on supporting the various flying training devices is clearly pivotal, and they have ambitious plans for the future. The Sea Lion looks to be a most capable aircraft, and I have little doubt that professionalism and operational imperatives will encourage its owners to use it to its full potential.
Published in MS&T issue 4/2018