An attendee tests an aerial refueling trainer, left, while another demonstrates motion-capture technology at I/ITSEC. (Courtesy of I/ITSEC)
ORLANDO, FLA. — The real and digital worlds collided last week here at the Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference (I/ITSEC), with discussion of live, virtual and constructive (LVC) technologies atop most attendees lists.
While the show attracted more than 375 exhibitors from industry and government, participants noted that foot traffic at booths was lighter than in previous years, and uniformed staff were few and far between on the show floor.
Not everyone was upset with that. Three vendors said the smaller number of attendees allowed for better conversations, including on the hot topic of LVC.
As the name implies, the concept behind LVC is the integration of live, virtual and constructive assets for a training program. Imagine the Air Force’s traditional “Red Flag” training exercise, but instead of needing dozens of flying assets in the sky, the service would need to put up only four or five planes.
The red team in this scenario could instead be run on simulators across the country, while ground-based stations could set up constructive elements such as weather conditions or new mission scenarios with the flick of a switch.
Advancements in technologies have allowed LVC to move from concept to reality, at least on a limited basis. That’s left the Pentagon and industry searching for ways to improve the process.
“I don’t think any of us here today would say that we’re where we need to be,” Maj. Gen. James Jones, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, said in a Dec. 3 keynote. “In order for us to truly achieve an impact on readiness, we must take the next steps toward a complete integration of live, virtual and constructive assets.”
Jones highlighted cost savings: An F-16 Block 50 costs about $7,500 per flying hour, while an LVC training hour could cost around $900. But he also focused on how an LVC environment can provide training scenarios that a live-flying environment would struggle to replicate, be it changes in the weather, threats or emergency situations.
Industry officials agreed that cost savings, while important, are not the largest advantage of LVC training.
“The beauty is, you can generate that readiness by injecting into that cockpit constructive and virtual sophisticated red air assets that our folks don’t have the ability to train against today, [and] sophisticated surface-to-air threat emitters you don’t have the ability to train against today, and they appear into the cockpit exactly as they do in the real world,” said John Schwering, Boeing’s business development leader for Training Systems and Government Services.
In August 2012, Boeing demonstrated LVC technology on both the F-15E and the F/A-18 Super Hornet with a pod designed by DRS. That pod would come with heavy encryption, something the companies feel is crucial given the amount of digital information about the planes that would be going out into a virtual environment.
Next-generation aircraft, such as Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, could benefit greatly from LVC training.
“We’re looking at how we can use LVC training for the F-16, F-22 and F-35s, with the idea that F-35 could potentially benefit. This is a Lockheed investment,” said Mary Ann Horter, vice president for F-35 sustainment at Lockheed’s Mission Systems and Training business area. “It’s still early, but I think there are real possibilities that could help us long term, and a program the size of F-35 could really see the benefits from the training perspective.”
To test LVC technologies, Lockheed has scheduled a demonstration on an F-16 for the first quarter of 2014.
“Long term, that can help not only form an ability to keep pilots current and reduce the cost of live flying, but with a fifth-gen airplane, airspace can become a challenge to really test what you need to,” Horter said. “So I think [LVC] would help with that, as well.”
LVC concepts could play well in Western Europe and the Middle East, according to Simon Williams, a former rear admiral in the UK Royal Navy and now chairman of Clarion Defence and Security.
“The Middle East is technologically receptive to that kind of change,” he said.
“Middle Eastern armed forces are structured in a broadly similar way to Western forces, [where] the more expensive element is generally manpower,” Williams added. “In the Middle East, they are human capital-scarce. They have small populations, so they tend to use contractor-based forces.”
Countries that are reducing manpower and increasing reliance on technology, such as the US, will want to invest in high-tech training like LVC. That’s a stark contrast to parts of the world where there are plenty of bodies but not a lot of money.
“If you go into South Asia, into Pakistan and India, the manpower is the cheapest part of the equation,” Williams said. “You use manpower to substitute for technology wherever you can. So there are different needs.”
Moving to Open Architectures
While industry and government are onboard with the LVC concept, Pentagon officials warned that an open environment to promote sharing is necessary for the training and simulation world to reach its full potential.
“We need to move away from proprietary standards. We need to work together so we have an open architecture we can quickly and easily plug into and expand our systems into,” Jones said after his speech. “But it needs to be a partnership.”
“We’re concerned about getting the best deal from industry for a life of the system, and that’s one of the promises of open systems architecture,” said US Air Force Col. Peter Eide, chief for the USAF Simulators Division. “If you can solve that, where we have common standards and open architecture, you have modular functionality, now you need to get industry partners to collaborate with each other.”
Eide said the current budget environment has made it easier to encourage open standards among competitors, but that doesn’t mean the training world can switch on a dime, including in the Pentagon.
“Our system and our capabilities were born where individual combat air forces have a responsibility to train their folks to be ready,” Eide said. “They advocate for programs. They build simulators. They have a training capability. They have a culture of doing business. The Air Force has more of a challenge in that our systems grew up independently of each other and now we’re trying to get them together.”
That challenge increases when dealing with the other services.
“That’s the next discussion for us in the Air Force,” Eide said. “First we say, ‘How do we make all of our systems talk together efficiently and effectively?’ Then we say, ‘We need to make sure we don’t make a decision that precludes us from doing it with our joint partners and coalition partners.’ ”
Industry is mixed on the movement away from proprietary information.
The training world needs to have an open standard, according to David Graham, director for Technology Application at CAE.
“The need for that is that it’s highly unlikely in a market, in a world like ours, that you’ll have one company that will control the whole technology base that people will use for military missions,” he said. “It’s just not realistic.
“So one of the key features we’re talking about here is open, and that’s really important, we believe,” Graham said. “It’s a battle because our DNA is to build proprietary solutions that I can go walk around the floor and say, ‘Mine is better than his. You should buy mine.’ ”
While some companies embrace an open future, others may be concerned about wasting funds just to give away a product.
“When [Defense Department] budgets were such that people were making the margins on programs, they would be potentially more willing to say, ‘I will invest in this with the understanding I’m going to give it away,’ ” said Leonard Genna, president of L-3 Link Simulation & Training. “Right now, the government doesn’t have the money to invest, but they want you to give up intellectual property.
“So if you’re a big company and you’re investing in intellectual property and then the government is going to get it, your competitive advantage is — you spent all that money,” Genna said. “If you give it away, you have to rethink what it is you’re trying to do. In some cases in the commercial business, [it may] push more people into international and commercial.”
For open architecture in the training world to work, Genna said the large companies need assurance that they won’t lose control of their intellectual property.
“The OEMs spent a lot of money on those platforms, and they need to protect their intellectual property,” he said. “By the same token, we have safeguards that say, ‘If you give us this IP, we’re willing to put it in a vault, [with] safeguards to make the OEM feel good.’ That’s the challenge for the training industry.” ■