F-35 Simulators Face Network Connection Issues (UPDATED)

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

While the number of training systems for the F-35 joint strike fighter program continues to grow, the simulators the services and foreign military customers use are unable to connect to each other, said the program’s executive officer on Dec. 2.

“Right now I don’t have the capability to take an F-35B simulator at Yuma and connect it to an F-35A simulator at Hill Air Force Base, or eventually to an F-35C simulator for the Navy anywhere in the U.S.,” said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan at the annual Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference.

The root of the problem is that each simulator lives within its own network with its own standards, he said. That’s a problem when the aircraft will be used by three services, multiple allied partners and foreign military sale customers, he said.

“Before I can even worry about how to connect with eight partners and three FMS customers and bring it into that fold, we have to solve our own problem within the U.S. services. And it’s not easy,” he said.

This makes joint training — which is the backbone of the program — a challenge. Bogdan called on the services and industry to work toward a solution.

Sharon Parsley, a spokeswoman for Lockheed, noted that the full-mission simulators do have the ability to connect with each other in the same classified facility, but security regulations prevent them from connecting with simulators in other locations.

"The U.S. military has an effort underway to add network capability that will enable the F-35 full-mission simulators to connect across locations for distributed training events," she said in an emailed statement.

Training for the F-35 program is “pretty big and pretty complicated,” Bogdan said. Currently, there are nine full-mission simulators in operation. By 2018 there will be 50 and by 2020 there will be 250 simulators and mission rehearsal trainers in 40 locations around the globe, he said.

F-35 training began in 2011 at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, where the service and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the aircraft, stood up its first integrated training center. The so-called F-35 schoolhouse conducts initial pilot training, which includes academics and simulators for pilots, and all the maintenance training, Bogdan said.

Two more schoolhouses are being stood up, said Mary Ann Horter, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for F-35 sustainment support. The center at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina, which will train Marine and United Kingdom pilots on the B-variant of the aircraft, is now fully operational. Its first pilot graduated in November, she told National Defense.

Luke Air Force Base in Arizona will also have a center. Operational training is slated to begin in summer 2015 which will supplement pilot training from Eglin on the A-variant for allied partners and FMS customers. Aircraft are already on site, she noted. 

“By next summer, we’ll have three major training centers stood up for F-35, and that’s just here domestic,” she said. Overseas training centers will also be built but specific locations are still being decided, she noted.

So far, the training programs have produced 140 pilots and 1,500 maintainers, she noted. More than 70 percent of pilot training can be done in Lockheed’s full-mission simulators, she said. That’s compared to the 40 percent of pilot training carried out on legacy aircraft simulators.

Simulated training with the F-35 is critical, Bogdan said. First, it offers the military a more affordable way to train both pilots and maintainers while reducing lifecycle costs. Affordability is a major issue when it comes to managing a program that has been dubbed the “trillion dollar program,” he said.

“We work every single day to get that number off our backs and to reduce the lifecycle costs on this program. Training is a very important area in which we are focusing on trying to do that,” he said.

A big challenge to maintaining affordability is how to service a number of customers with “varying levels of training and readiness while at the same time achieving commonality and economies of scale to reduce our overall costs,” Bogdan said.

Simulated training is also the only way that the F-35 can be tested to its limit, he said. 

“Certain mission scenarios today can only be exercised in a synthetic environment,” he said. “Our current training range infrastructure doesn’t posses the threat systems capable of truly stressing the aircraft and the pilot.”

Correction: The original article incorrectly stated the name of Lockheed Martin's F-35 simulators. It is called the full-mission simulator.

Topics: Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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