Therefore, the U.S. Special Operations Command is funding the development
of a common standard and imagery database for the Army’s 160th
Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
The new architecture will create mission rehearsal databases quickly
and allow the data to be accessed by multiple sources in real time,
said Maj. Mike Newell, assistant product manager of special operations
forces training systems at the Army’s program executive office
for simulation, training, research and instrumentation.
PEO STRI, the acquisition agent, awarded the $16 million contract
to CAE USA. The contract will be exercised in two phases during
the next three years. The first focuses on the development of the
architecture and common standard, and the second deals with the
actual implementation of the standard and the database into new
simulators for the MH-47 Chinook and the MH-60 Blackhawk.
Once the contract is completed, the U.S. government will have unlimited
rights to the standard, which could be available to other special
operators or Defense Department users, noted David Graham, CAE special
operations forces program director.
“The 160th and SOCOM, in general, want to do high-fidelity
mission rehearsal before they attempt any real-world mission,”
Graham said in an interview. “The ultimate goal is to be able
to rehearse everything that you can, and use more simulation than
in the past.” In order to do that, the elite aviators need
more capable mission rehearsal characteristics in their simulators,
The 160th aviators, called Nightstalkers, have been training on
simulators for the MH-47 Chinook and the MH-60 Blackhawk since the
late 1980s. These devices use a proprietary database, called Topscene,
which allows the regiment to quickly generate imagery and realistic
terrain, said Graham.
“The creation and correlation of databases, principally for
the out-the-window visual scene, has been a source of frustration
for military users and the simulation and training industry alike
over the years,” said Newell. “For traditional flight
training applications, we’ve managed to make things work,
but very short mission rehearsal timelines don’t allow for
database correlation, tuning and customization.”
Even though current simulators offer a realistic outside-the-window
view, special operators “would like to do a lot more,”
Graham said. “They would like all of the other systems in
the mission rehearsal to have very realistic data as well. They
would like to have the enemy order of battle and characteristics
of the enemy, the accurate weather to the part of the world [where
The Night Stalkers also want to have a precise view of the sensors
and radars, as they would be represented on the helicopters during
missions, said Graham.
“If you look at the technology today, we can simulate all
those things, but each of those subsystems tends to have its own
database,” he said. “In fact, there are 12 different
databases in modern high-fidelity simulations that have some representation
of the world out there.”
Databases are optimized for a particular use. Radar operators only
have a database to get up the radar picture, Graham pointed out.
Meshing those databases takes time, he added, and they do not agree
with each other. “It creates correlation errors,” he
said. The idea behind the common database development is to do mission
rehearsal in a shorter time frame and limiting errors, said Graham.
“It sounds easy, but the reason it has not been done before
is because we run in real time,” said Graham. “You have
to update the simulation 60 times a second, otherwise it does not
In the past, industry developed its own optimized databases to
“get in a form that they can deal with [updating] it 60 times
a second,” said Graham.
CAE’s common database will consist of a single synthetic
representation of the world. Various users will be able to simultaneously
retrieve relevant information to perform their tasks, according
to a white paper written by CAE’s Richard Connoly, a systems
architect, and Paul Telmosse, a hardware architect, who are working
on the program.
“The [common database] will largely eliminate the time-consuming,
off-line database compilation process,” Connoly and Telmosse
wrote. “Current compilation steps lead to the replication
of data and to a loss of correlation across the simulator.”
The common database standard will be as compatible with existing
commercial data formats as possible and all data will be stored
using a published, open standard, said the paper.
Initially, the database will support feature sets such as terrain
and ocean floor in the form of altimetry data; imagery data; surface
material codes; one-dimensional objects; two-dimensional objects
such as runways, roads and terrain coplanar areas; moving models;
night vision properties; thermal properties; navigational data,
and weather data.
“With the latest generation of computers, we can connect
all these systems to a single database,” said Graham. “We
are taking steps that we used to do over days and weeks, and now
try to do very fast. Trying to make it faster and trying to add
more elements to mission rehearsal is a technology bottleneck that
needs to be broken.”
CAE has a contract to deliver a new MH-47G simulator by April 2006.
“Our contract says that the simulator will play the new database,”
The development of this technology does not come easy, nor is success
a given, said Graham. In order to accommodate the more proficient
database, the simulators have to be “modular and flexible
because we are changing the combat missions to adapt to the new
standard,” he said. “Even though we have done analyses
that convince us [the database] is possible, we are against performance
limits of computers and networks and storage systems, and we are
pushing the leading edge in those areas. That depends on all those
other people living up to their claims.”
CAE only is developing a prototype for SOCOM. The actual databases
will be created in the Defense Department and will be classified,
Graham said. “The government will make the decision who gets
it,” he said.
The plan is to introduce the standard only on new simulators, said
Graham. Apart from the MH-47G, the standard will be included in
the new Black Hawk simulator, he said. CAE received the design award
for that, and now is in negotiations for the production contract,
he added. Relatively new simulators also could be upgraded to accommodate
the new standard, if necessary.