Instrumented air combat training took the guesswork out of practice dogfighting. Now the latest generation of Cubic Defense Applications' system is freeing trainers from land-based practice ranges.
Six U.S. Marine F/A-18 Hornet squadrons based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., are using the P5 Combat Training System/Tactical Combat Training System (P5CTS/TCTS).
"It has added a tremendous amount of flexibility," said Maj. Paul McKenzie, director of safety and standardization for Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121.
The company developed its P5CTS/TCTS with help from DRS Technologies, which supplies the airborne instrumentation to collect and process in-flight data for post-mission debrief.
Under a 10-year development effort, Cubic and DRS will provide a next-generation rangeless air-to-air and air-to-ground combat training system to about 30 U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Air National Guard training ranges in the United States, Europe and the Pacific region.
Among other features, the P5 system allows the Navy to conduct at-sea instrumented training from aircraft carriers for the first time.
It also extends the training envelope for Marine aviators. Instead of flying over mostly inland and desert airspace shared with Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and Naval Air Facility El Centro, Calif., Marine aviators can now fly their F/A-18s over the Pacific, where they have the space and freedom to practice advanced maneuvers.
P5CTS/TCTS is the latest advance of a concept - pod-based instrumented air combat training - that was first deployed more than 35 years ago at Miramar.
The idea was to track and record the performance of pilots during simulated dogfights. An electronic scoring system documented each simulated gunshot or missile launch, taking the guesswork out of deciding who won each engagement.
Since then, air combat maneuvering instrumentation (ACMI) systems have become a standard training tool for air combat forces around the world, with ranges as far afield as Alaska, Canada, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. Cubic, which made that first Top Gun system, makes more than 80 percent of them.
Miramar's TCTS notched its first joint use in January in a large training exercise off the coast of San Diego.
"We were working in correlation with Air Force units that were down there and a couple of Navy units," said VMFA-121's Capt. Jonathan Ashmore. "We were able to all fly together, then do mass debriefs where we could replay the entire exercise using the TCTS system. It seemed very user-friendly, and the system for us, as far as debriefing, worked really well."
"There were some limitations with the old system just based on range with the ground relay system. This one has a much better capability further out over the water, and that enhances our training as far as allowing us to train in different areas, not just one range," Ashmore said.
Later this year, the system will become operational at Top Gun's current home, Naval Air Station Fallon, Nev.
The key components of the P5CTS/TCTS system include the instrumentation pod, which is the heart of the system and which is typically mounted on an aircraft's wingtip weapon station. The pods collect in-flight events and data, then record and transmit the information to ground stations for monitoring of exercise events and post-mission debriefs.
New-generation pods incorporate GPS technology to provide continuous and precise position tracking of all players, as well as air-to-air weapons simulations with instant hit/miss notifications and weapons scoring capabilities.
During post-mission debriefs, aircrews can view 3-D computer-generated profiles of all participating aircraft, including flight dynamics, weapon events and outcomes of each engagement. A portable PC-based aircrew display system - the Individual Combat Aircrew Display System - features a user-friendly interface and incorporates commercial off-the-shelf components.
A so-called rangeless version, the ACT-R pod, is used for autonomous training in either the untethered or real-time monitor mode. Missile simulations are processed in the pod, with instant kill notification provided to pilots via a synthesized voice call. Data can be transmitted to a ground monitoring station via data-link technology. Its features include the capability to do electronic warfare threat computations, no-drop bomb scoring and the ability to compute for nine air-to-air weapons, 12 air-to-ground weapons and six surface-to-air weapons. Improved debriefing capabilities can display more than 100 aircraft and electronic warfare threats.
The Kadena Instrumented Training System (KITS), built for the U.S. Air Force and operational with the 18th Wing at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, was the U.S. military's first GPS-based rangeless ACMI system. KITS can track 24 high-activity aircraft, has dual frequency air-to-air data links and can perform missile simulations in the pod with real-time kill capabilities.
Now Cubic believes the P5 capability could also be applied to the U.S. Air Force's T-X project, aimed at upgrading the service's primary jet training program. T-X is in early stages, with a request for information just issued, but companies are already lining up their strategies for ensuring they get a foothold on what could be a massive, long-term and multilayered contract.
"Our focus is on the live training, and the centerpiece of that is the P-5 combat training system. We think that with that expertise and some of the principles that guided us for the P-5 can be useful to the T-X," said Philip Fisch, Cubic's senior director, business development.
The P5 system was selected by Lockheed Martin four years ago to be part of an embedded ACMI system for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"This is a stealth aircraft, so it makes sense to embed this in the aircraft rather than have the usual configuration of putting it on missile launcher rails," Fisch said.
That embedded capability will be on all F-35s for all customers in the U.S. and abroad, further extending the P5's reach around the world.