Virtual missions

Flight simulators in the UK, US and Europe have been connected in the first joint operational training exercise of its kind in the world.

Dubbed Avenging Eagle, the five-day exercise was a culmination of the MoD’s 30-month mission training through distributed simulation capability concept demonstrator (MTDS CDD) programme, led by Qinetiq and Boeing.

‘The [MTDS] system was designed to demonstrate how you can train aircrews, using a network of simulators, to operate more effectively together. The crews flew a different, increasingly complex mission each day, and developed their understanding of how to operate in large groups of aircraft and so on,’ said Jon Saltmarsh, Qinetiq’s programme director for MTDS.

As part of Avenging Eagle, Tornado, Typhoon, E3 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) and Forward Air Control simulators based at RAF Waddington were linked to A10 aircraft simulators in Spangdahlem, Germany.

Also linked to these were F-16 simulators at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) in Arizona; F-15 aircraft simulators at Langley Air Force base, Virginia; and AWACS simulators at Tinker Air Force base, Oklahoma.

‘Typically a mission day would start first thing in the morning where crews would be briefed about weather, intelligence and the air tasking order. The crews would then go and plan their mission, and brief all aircrew at the other sites via video conferencing,’ said Saltmarsh.

‘Following this, they would get into the simulators and fly their mission, typically lasting two to three hours,’ he added.

The mission would then be followed by a debriefing to allow aircrew to assess their performance, first in small teams from each type of aircraft, and then in a mass debrief. Each training day would last from about 8am to 6pm.

The successful demonstration of MTDS working internationally paves the way for future aircrew to be able to undertake more operational training within a network of different aircraft than is currently possible.

At present, the US military conducts a series of live-flying exercises called red flag, comprising a large number of aircraft.

‘The problem of red flag is two-fold,’ said Saltmarsh.

‘First, it is very expensive because it uses real aircraft.

‘Second, typical UK squadron pilots will be lucky to go there once in a two-year tour, so they are not getting very much of this training, if any at all. In many cases, the first time pilots are faced with a mission of this complexity is when they are doing it in an operational theatre for real,’ he said.

Work on the MTDS programme was conducted by Team ACTIVE (aircrew collective training through immersive virtual events), which, in addition to Qinetiq and Boeing, included cueSim, a UK-based manufacturer of the project’s fast jet simulators, Aviation Training International, which runs the UK’s Apache training facilities, Rockwell Collins, which made the visual databases for some of the systems, and HPR Consulting.

Anh Nguyen