Increasingly, air, land and sea weapons systems developers are incorporating modelling and simulation to save time, cost and downstream headaches. Rick Adams reports.

Next month, when Boeing rolls the first KC-46 aircraft out of its Everett, Washington production facility, refueling boom operators won’t be prone to take the news lying down. On the new US Air Force tanker, “boomers” will not be face first on the deck when they navigate the gas nozzle toward thirsty fighter aircraft. Rather, they will be seated at a video game-like console with a 185-degree field of view stereoscopic 3D visual system using special glasses. The remote vision system (RVS) will use infrared spectrums to enable aerial refueling at any time, day or night, under any lighting conditions, including simultaneous multi-point refueling from wing fuel pods.

The new gas-pass design is borrowed from an unlikely source: Rockwell Collins engineers who worked on remotely operated bomb disposal systems, the Mars rover, and unmanned aerial vehicles. In effect, you might characterize the KC-46 digital fly-by-wire refueling boom as an unmanned robotic system within a manned aircraft.

That kind of cross-over thinking is what Rockwell Collins is also trying to leverage by integrating about a dozen engineers from its simulation and training group with those who are developing the avionics systems for the new tanker. In so doing, Rockwell hopes to reduce development costs and shorten the aircraft schedule, or at least help Boeing hold to schedule, unlike most new aircraft programs.

“One of the unique positions Rockwell Collins has in being an avionics company and a simulation and training company is taking advantage of integrating those two skill sets in a way that supports development on the aircraft side,” said Mike Knowles, senior director, air transport and mission solutions, for Rockwell’s simulation and training unit.

In addition to the RVS, Rockwell will provide the flight deck – featuring four 15.1-inch diagonal liquid crystal displays borrowed from the Boeing 787 program – aircraft networks, surveillance / air traffic management equipment, communications and navigation gear, and a Tactical Situational Awareness System that will fuse information from satellite communications, Link 16 data links, and onboard sensors to provide an integrated picture of the operational environment. The company has more than 200 engineers focused on the program, many of them imported from Rockwell’s commercial avionics business.

The Rockwell Collins simulation and training group is using its CORE (common open re-usable elements) simulation architecture, a multi-year development effort that was completed just prior to the KC-46 contract award two years ago.

“CORE architecture is essentially based on simple, open systems architecture elements, some communication protocols, and a system of abstraction layers that allow us to develop code one time and re-use it independent of hardware or operating system changes that result from using COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] equipment,” Knowles explained. The communications system protocol allows different components of software units or third-party vendor software to be used in the architecture. “Each player in the network does not know if it is talking to different vendor software, if it is talking to a piece of real hardware, or it is talking to a virtualized element of a real piece of hardware, because it’s just working off variables.”

“We all know data is king,” Knowles described. “When developing a simulator, everybody goes through SRR [system requirements review], PDR [preliminary design review], and CDR [critical design review] generally with relative ease. But then we hit that ugly thing called hardware-software integration, and we realize the data’s just not there or we don’t know for sure how all the knobs and dials turn and react exactly and we find ourselves on the phone with the manufacturer.”

Knowles said, “We were in a unique position with Rockwell Collins. We could solve that problem for a lot of people by integrating simulation and training with the development of the avionics. In addition, we determined with them that we could build their test rig utilizing the CORE simulation architecture, which would allow us to move high-fidelity simulation and training simulation elements into the more detailed integration phase of their development and test of the avionics.”

An avionics developer’s desktop might include a real aircraft display, a virtual simulation of a second aircraft display, any of the associated avionics boxes – radios, navigation, radar – in a mix of real or virtual components. The software engineer developing a specific piece of code can access any number of real or virtual elements on his desktop, and run integrated tests. He can add or subtract components by himself independent of any other developer on the team.

“In the past, you may have had to schedule lab time or computer time, and/or wait for somebody else’s component to reach a level that you could test. With our environment, an engineer can move ahead with integrating their code quicker – they can use either virtual elements or components of real elements, and no matter where they are in the development stage, they continue to advance their work. Ultimately they come together in a system rig or systems integration lab where all of the hardware components are together; they’ll upload their code and run it in an integrated systems mode with all the avionics,” explained Knowles.

On-the-ground Flight Test

Knowles also noted that, “One of the things we are able to bring was a broad envelope that allowed the avionics development team all the freedom they needed for their pre-test cases on the ground before they ever got to the aircraft.”

In the past, fixed test cases had a defined, limited set of parameters. “You know you’re going to take off exactly this way, you’re going to fly exactly to this altitude, you’re going to perform exactly this maneuver. They would just run those over and over again so they had some level of understanding how their software would perform before they got into flight test.”

Often in flight test on the aircraft, something will happen that cannot be recreated in the systems integration labs or avionics development lab. “Then you would basically be troubleshooting on the aircraft – pre-flight, post-flight or in-flight – which of course is greatly more expensive than if you could do it in a simulated or a desktop environment.”

Knowles said, “Utilizing the CORE sim architecture, they’ll be able to record flight data on a bit-by-bit basis and we’ll be able to play that back at the same high fidelity, bit-by-bit. We’ll be able to recreate everything that they see, which will allow troubleshooting in the desktop environment without being on the aircraft.”

“The avionics today are so software-oriented and so highly integrated and the communications protocols and the architecture that drives them are also extremely complicated. The complexity, the throughput, and the bandwidth are so much greater that our ability to provide the CORE simulation architecture for development and test that can handle that level of complexity and the flexibility of the development where you can troubleshoot, track, and develop in that manner, I would say, has proven to be one of the most beneficial aspects.”

Because the avionics work was done in Rockwell’s sim architecture, they are in a unique position to be able to re-use that software in a simulation and training environment. The KC-46 Aircrew Training System was awarded in April to FlightSafety International, and it is anticipated that Rockwell Collins will play some role in development of the Level D full-flight simulators and other training devices. “We wanted to make sure that re-host, re-target, re-use of that software would be built-in as a matter of doing the avionics development so we could roll that in a cost-effective way back into simulation and training,” noted Knowles. “In addition, in the unique position we will always be with the avionics team, we will be able to provide aircraft concurrency updates to the simulation and training devices in almost a near-real-time capability. If there is a software change or a ‘red label’ [development stage] to ‘black label’ [ready to use] change, we can literally take that right off the avionics developer’s desk.”

Subsequent to the KC-46 avionics program, Rockwell Collins has been applying a similar approach on their Pro Line Fusion commercial avionics suite, which is being used on new aircraft such as the Bombardier CSeries, which began test flights in September. Fusion has also been selected for Bombardier’s new Global Vision cockpit and AgustaWestland’s AW609 tilt-rotor aircraft.

From Concept to Training

CAE is taking a similar ‘virtual aircraft’ approach in supporting development of Bombardier’s CSeries, as well as the Global commercial aircraft family. As part of the Global 7000 and 8000 programs, CAE will deliver an engineering development simulator, host computer system, and test rig interface using its Augmented Engineering Environment (AEE) software suite. AEE is also being used in the Chinese C919 to help develop, evaluate, test, and validate a range of aircraft models and systems.

On the military and homeland side, CAE has supported various stages of program development – from requirements specification to design of an upgrade – on armored vehicle systems, maritime controls, aerial surveillance platforms, mobile biological containment labs, and security for the Winter Olympic Games.

“A major advantage of simulation modeling is that it drives down cost very significantly. It prevents you from making incorrect design assumptions or decisions as you’re building a system,” stated Joe Armstrong, regional leader, Canada, for CAE’s Integrated Enterprise Solutions (IES) business. “You don’t have to re-engineer it once you’ve already implemented it, and it also helps you interface with a customer to de-risk requirements that may not have been well interpreted. You can use simulation, basically, to iron those out.”

A government customer will issue requirements based on a predictive future state, which Armstrong explained as a future operational environment and future capabilities of what they believe the weapon system will be able to achieve. “Well before you cut steel and invest in the physical implementation of the system, you use simulation to show a customer the exact level of performance that he will be able to achieve. Does this meet your requirements? If it does not, then let’s explore options to either change the requirement or change the system design.”

“You can modify requirements to meet the realistic levels of performance that can be achieved with current technology. And then you have objective performance-based data that can be used from a traceability perspective as you’ve gone through implementation.”

CAE has been a key partner of Lockheed Martin on the Halifax Class Modernization Program, which is upgrading command and control systems, radars, tactical data links, electronic support measures, and other electronic warfare capabilities on the Canadian frigates. “We paired human factors and human systems integration with modeling and simulation to help them design not only the unique interfaces for the operator systems but also an understanding of how to build a business process that optimizes the configuration of all the systems, workflow, and the workload that the operators are undergoing.”

Royal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman said in November that the program is proceeding “at full speed. We’re on track to modernize all 12 Halifax-class frigates by 2017.”

CAE also applied simulation modeling – from concept development into the design phase – for the Advanced Land Fire Control System which was implemented in the mobile gun system on the US Army Stryker armored vehicles. The effort included modeling of the environment, weapon systems ballistics, electro-optical and infrared sensors for the crew commander and gunner, defensive suites, and laser warning receivers. “It was very, very holistic,” said Armstrong. “It got into the detailed system level modeling all the way to the operator-machine interface as we iterated the design and fielding.”

For a potential new maritime surveillance patrol aircraft for Canada, CAE worked with both the government program management office and subsequently on the implementation side on behalf of the contractors. “We used human-in-the-loop simulation and cognitive performance and human workload modeling to help define the requirements of the aircraft and the training requirements, and then flowed all of that capability to the OEMs as they were going through the design phase.”

Typically, Armstrong described, the challenge is trying to identify a highly complex and dynamic environment where multiple simultaneous events occur that may be beyond an operator’s ability to respond. Then mitigate against that by building automation into the system or changing the way information is displayed to an operator to reduce the risk of an accident or critical event that may jeopardize survivability. “The greatest contributing factor to failure is human error because you haven’t designed a system that incorporates the ability of that person to respond “

“You can imagine events where you’re flying a surveillance aircraft into a littoral operation where all of a sudden your electronic surveillance measures detect a missile that’s been fired at you … while you’re trying to track a submarine … while you have an engine failure … and your battle management system suddenly starts to fail. How do you build both the training and the systems themselves to make sure the operators can deal with all those simultaneously?