Live, Virtual, Constructive Training Poised for Growth

By Jon Harper
Advances in simulation technologies and data links will revolutionize the way U.S. fighter pilots train, according to Defense Department officials and members of industry.

A blend of techniques known as live, virtual, constructive (LVC) is viewed by many experts as the wave of the future for aviation training. The concept entails linking live aircraft with manned simulators in the “virtual” world and computer-generated “constructive” forces.

The “live, virtual, constructive integrated concept … is one of my top priorities,” Rear Adm. Michael Manazir, director of air warfare in the office of the chief of naval operations, said in an interview with National Defense.

“Imagine that you are flying in an F-35 live on a range in [Naval Air Station] Fallon and your wing man is a guy in a simulator sitting in Fallon on the ground,” he said while describing a potential LVC training scenario. “Yet in the airplane when you look through your visor into the airspace … you see your wingman in the visor [even though] he’s not really there, and in the simulator bubble … he sees you flying and everything that you do. And then both of you are presented with the same constructive scenario.”

Several trends are driving the military’s pursuit of LVC, which offers advantages over legacy training methods, experts said. One is the increasing difficulty of replicating high-end enemy capabilities — such as advanced fighters and surface-to-air missiles — with live “red” teams.

“We may not have that aircraft or ground threat system [in real form] but in the virtual or constructive world we can create it via modeling and simulation,” said John “Fozzy” Green, training systems lead on the Naval Air Systems Command integrated warfare capabilities team.

“We can’t get there truly without LVC because of the complexity of some of these scenarios and the fact that we just don’t have the adversary systems to really stress out our aircrew and our systems properly,” he added.

The problem is of particular concern as the Defense Department is preparing to fight in anti-access/area denial environments.

The Chinese “have created some pretty impressive airplanes and surface-to-air missiles,” said Air Force Col. Nathan Hill, director of the training division within the air and space operations directorate at Air Combat Command. “We really have to go to the virtual or the LVC environment to train against it.”

“I think 10 years from now we’ll be much better equipped to go fight these [high-end] wars” because of LVC training, he added.

Cost is another key driver. The Defense Department needs to save money amidst budget constraints, officials said. Industry insiders said it can cost 10 times as much or more for a pilot to do a training exercise on live aircraft versus a simulator.

“If I wanted to, in my F-22, fight against 20 bad guys — which is a realistic scenario — I can’t pay for 20” red team aircraft to participate in an exercise, Hill said.

The same budgetary logic applies to training with friendly forces or “blue” platforms.

“While we’re going to avoid some of the adversary aircraft costs with LVC because we can create them constructively, we can also go fly most of the blue air assets in a LVC environment,” Green said.

“The cost reduction will be significant,” he added. How much exactly “will really depend on how well received it is, how good a job we do at making it relevant training, and then how much we use it and how many different ways we use it.”

Foreign spying is another concern encouraging the move toward live, virtual, constructive training because potential adversaries wouldn’t be able to see the computer-generated entities that are involved, officials said.

Additionally, the constructive tool is helpful for overcoming training range barriers that limit where military aircraft can fly.

“You’re not restricted to putting those constructive threats inside the same space as those live aircraft are restricted to,” noted John Schwering, leader of LVC business development efforts at Boeing. “Those constructive threats are computer generated. They don’t exist in real life in that airspace.”

A number of technical challenges need to be overcome before the blended training can reach its full potential, officials and members of industry said.

One of them is latency, or time delays, when pilots in live aircraft are flying with or against those using ground-based simulators. “If, for example, one pilot shoots, the other pilot has to know it has happened right away as it would in the real-world environment,” said David Scott, vice president of business development for training and logistics solutions at Lockheed Martin. “The data links and the control of the overall system are some of the areas we’ve also been working on.”

Another hitch is that different aircraft systems have varying classification levels. That means the military needs a way to restrict the information shared between platforms without limiting training exercises, Hill noted.

“We’ve solved that in a lot of airframes but we haven’t solved it in every plane and we haven’t solved it with coalition partners or with the Navy and Marine Corps yet,” Hill said. During joint or multinational exercises, “we have to dumb it down and operate at the ‘secret’ or lesser level.”

The current limitation of constructive technologies is another hurdle. Beyond visual range, computer-generated aircraft can be programmed to appear on radar displays in the cockpit of a real aircraft. But within visual range — about 10 nautical miles or so — the LVC concept is “going to break down a little bit” because when the pilot looks out the window he won’t see the digitally created airplane, Hill explained. “We’ll have to solve that as well,” he said, noting that technology developed by the gaming industry might ultimately provide the solution.

Perhaps the most crucial technical issue that needs to be dealt with is establishing secure, highly encrypted waveforms with a large amount of bandwidth to transmit sensitive data between aircraft and ground stations, officials said.

“We can’t do anything without having that problem solved in advance because … if you could tap into that whole network then you could get a whole lot of secrets,” Hill said.

A greater reliance on virtual and constructive tools is good news for the simulation industry, said Michael Blades, a senior analyst at the market research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan.

“If you compare it to other markets within the defense industry I think it’s strong because you have less focus on live training and more focus on simulation,” he said. “A lot of that is being driven by the problems we’ve had for several years with defense spending.”

There are also opportunities for industry in overseas markets, he noted. “Everybody wants to try and do their military training cheaper, so there’s definitely a demand and there’s a market for it,” especially in Europe and the Asia-Pacific.

Currently, larger contractors dominate the market for the types of systems that will be needed for LVC, he noted.

“It’s very expensive” to build them, Blades said. “If you look at companies that are head long into these things — your Cubics and your Lockheed Martins and your Northrop Grummans — they have a lot of money.” But there will still be opportunities for subcontractors with innovative technologies, he added.

Among the big players, Boeing has successfully developed and tested LVC technologies on board F-15 and F-18 fighters, Schwering said.

“We’re confident that we’re ready to move forward with both the U.S. Navy and Air Force,” he said. “The longer term vision is to provide this synthetic training capability that is interoperable between current and future gen aircraft … all the way up to that full scale, integrated battle group type of training.”

Lockheed conducted a demonstration of its LVC technologies last year. The event linked an F-16 pilot in the air with a pilot in a simulator; together they battled constructed enemy fighters, Scott said.

“The next step in the proof of concepts will be to scale and show that it can be done with multiple live assets, multiple virtual simulators bringing them all together in a complex environment,” he said. “Over the long term we see this as a capability that will be incorporated into many of our products.”

Thus far, integrated LVC technology has been used on a limited basis by the Air Force and Navy, officials said. To get to “full” LVC, the Defense Department is moving forward with a number of projects.

Cubic is working with the Air Force Research Laboratory and industry partners on the secure LVC advanced training environment program. The company was recently awarded a $17 million cost-plus contract to be the lead integrator on the advanced technology demonstration project, which is part of the larger program.

The project will “test out the encryption requirements… [and] prove out the full LVC concept for the Air Force” by linking different systems together, said Waylan Cain, senior business development manager at Cubic Global Defense.

The demonstration is expected to be completed by September 2018. In the meantime, the services are working to connect distributed training simulators around the country and around the world to lay the groundwork for LVC.  The Air Force has created a distributed mission operations network, which is used for combat training exercises.

“You can think of that as your kids playing their Xbox … against somebody who is over in India or China or Europe,” Hill said. “I can have a [group] of F-22s here at Langley [Air Force Base in Virginia] … flying with or against somebody flying F-15s in Europe.”

The Air Force would like to be able to connect those simulators to live aircraft, he said.

The Navy is building a new air defense strike group facility at Fallon and there are plans to eventually use it for live, virtual, constructive training, Manazir said.

He described the new facility as “a building with a bunch of simulators inside it” that are “connected in a constructive environment.”

It is slated to be completed in January 2016. Once it is up and running, the simulators at the facility will be connected to the rest of the Navy’s continuous training environment and the Air Force distributed mission operations network. In 2020, the Navy plans to “link in the live piece” and greatly expand the number of simulators there, Manazir said.

“The full LVC solution is what we’re after,” he said. “For both the United States Air Force and the Department of the Navy, most of the puzzle pieces are on the table. We just have to put the pieces together.”

For training systems that need to be linked together, the Pentagon is looking for open architectures and common standards, officials said.

The military wants a “plug-and-play” dynamic where “we own the interface, we own the standards, and then industry and academia come with the capabilities that we need,” Manazir said.

“People will come in for some kind of proprietary solution but … I’m trying to get away from that,” he added.

The Air Force has similar concerns about getting locked in with specific vendors.

“We … in the past have gotten stuck by jumping on the first technology we saw that worked from some company and then we’re stuck paying that company and making other people pay that company to use that technology,” Hill said. “Anybody who wants to play in the LVC game for the Air Force has to abide by our [waveform] standards, and we’re not going to all pay homage to some proprietary information.”

Photo Credit: Air Force

Topics: Aviation, Science and Engineering Technology, Simulation Modeling Wargaming and Training

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