Boeing is expanding its Integrated Live Virtual Construction project to a three-year, $6.3 million contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory that will include work on the F-15E and F/A-18E combat aircraft. It will culminate in a capstone demonstration at Nellis Air Force Base late this year.
ILVC is a descendant of Boeing’s 2007 internal research project, Project Alpine, which used the F-15E as a testbed. The expanded project is an attempt to combine live, virtual and constructive beyond-visual-range threats, upload them to the displays of live aircraft on a training flight, and do it with such fidelity that pilots can’t tell the difference.
“What is unique about our approach is that we bring all three domains together in the aircraft so the aircrew can interact across all three domains simultaneously,” said Boeing research scientist and ILVC project director Rob Lechner. “To the aircrew, it’s all one picture.”
The data is uploaded via Link 16 on a Web IP-based network that Boeing developed for another project.
In a recent test, a blue force — two F-15Es armed with virtual air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, two F/A-18Es with virtual air-to-air weapons, and a virtual AWACS — engaged a red force of two live F-16s, a virtual Su-27 and several constructively generated Su-27s, plus multiple constructively generated SAMs, anti-aircraft weapons, and moving ground targets.
“The pilots did not observe any differences between live and constructive BVR threats on their displays,” Lechner said.
If ILVC can suspend disbelief to the point that pilots flying their own aircraft can engage live, virtual and constructive without noticing any differences, it opens up many possibilities. Still, hurdles remain, such as the need to develop concept of operations.
“We’re working through it with the Air Force and Navy,” said Lechner. “They both have taken a different approach to it. Part of the pilot program is to work through some of those details.”
Another obstacle down the road is enabling ILVC to work with fifth-generation aircraft. Advanced jets with secure systems, low-observability design, and restricted emission of signals are more difficult to integrate than older aircraft.
Probably the most important issue is safety. Developers are working to address what happens when virtual targets enter the visual range, how entities are represented within the cockpit, how to safely use weapons with virtual enemies, and “how to rapidly clear the airspace of all non-live participants,” Lechner said.
Boeing aims to make ILVC a selling point for its jets, said ILVC business development leader John Schwering.
“We believe it will be a discriminating factor in our ability to sell the F-15 and the Super Hornet to our overseas customers,” he said.
Boeing is not the only one pursuing this sort of training. Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Combat Enhancement System (ACES) is similar to Boeing’s ILVC. Lou Olinto, flight training business development lead for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, declined to give many details, but he did say that ACES is currently an internal research project, though AFRL is aware of it. It has been tested on Lockheed Martin’s F-16, F-22 and F-35, and there is a lab demonstration set for this spring and a live flight demo later in the year.
Olinto said Lockheed is also considering the concept for ground forces: “We are looking at a broader applicability than aviation.”
Regarding any differences between the approaches taken by the two companies, Olinto would say only that Lockheed would “offer the customer community affordable, minimal intrusion to aircraft OFP [operational flight programs],” and that it would be a “one-time, very easy modification.”
Boeing said that it “has demonstrated multiple ILVC architectures, one of which minimizes the impact to the aircrafts mission computer.”