During I/ITSEC 2013, MS&T Group Editor Marty Kauchak explored issues of interest to the S&T community with executives from Rockwell Collins, L-3 link Simulation and Training, and FlightSafety International. He reports.
The largest single military customer of S&T is struggling to close the “readiness/budget gap”, or at least, prevent it from growing; those in the S&T industry are partners, willing or not, in that struggle. These are, indeed, interesting times. The frank discussions reported below provide an insight into each company’s view of the market and their approaches to that market.
LeAnn Ridgeway is vice president and general manager of Simulation & Training Solutions for Rockwell Collins.
Ridgeway initially reflected on remarks from the Tuesday morning I/ITSEC flag and general officer panel members, and later time spent in the exhibition hall, and declared that the Live, Virtual, Constructive (LVC) training environment is “finally coming to fruition.” Ridgeway pointed out these capabilities are not new, with Rockwell Collins having demonstrated LVC-based scenarios at its conference booths for four years. She then noted that LVC is getting a boost from the Pentagon’s continued, projected funding reductions through the budget out years. “DoD budgets are now the forcing function into making people look for new ways to get better training value for their money, and they are more serious about it.”
The Sterling, Virginia-based executive was asked when LVC might advance to the next plateau – with Gaming as a fourth recognized domain in the military learning environment. “The major problem to be solved there is with databases – being able to blend the on-the-ground, high density database with the air database,” she responded. Ridgeway then predicted that these databases will begin to merge and come together, to provide another valuable training tool, in about five years. “I do think that is coming. Companies are starting to look at that. I don’t know if you are going to see mergers and acquisitions to make that happen or only collaborative environments. But the joint forces are certainly going to want to see that – soon,” she emphasized.
Ridgeway was asked if industry is doing a good job telling its military customer about the benefits of investing in learning technologies. “No, and that’s a great point,” she responded.
Indeed, Rockwell Collins has recently hired a firm to help it generate and illustrate efficiencies and other ROIs from investing in simulators and other training technology. She continued, “I believe the acquisition community and the decision makers, to your point, only have notional pieces of information to date. Each of the military services has their thoughts on it. What is needed is for somebody to pull together more information – some of the OEM data on what it costs to fly a live platform – and then merge it with that notional data that everyone throws around all the time. People know notionally about what it is. But there needs to be more hard data to give the decision makers justification to move O&M [Operations & Maintenance] funds into the training and simulation budget lines, because that is where the savings will come from.”
Ridgeway also attached importance to changing the Simulation and Training (S&T) community’s business models in order to allow the industry to expand, and be increasingly agile and responsive to its military customer.
For its part Rockwell Collins is altering its business models by optimizing the flow of content and innovation between its civil and military sectors. The company also believes the proven PBL (performance based logistics) business construct from its avionics business space is applicable to military S&T.
“We’ve done PBLs for a very long time. Industry, including Rockwell Collins, is very willing and is comfortable to discuss how we can bring this to bear in price per flight hour, or service type environment. We would make the investment [for S&T infrastructure] and make the military pay as it goes for the training services they need,” Ridgeway said. And while she opined the US is not ready to migrate to this model, she emphasized it has been institutionalized in the UK.
Looking out on Rockwell Collins’ near-term business horizon will be the completion of the acquisition of ARINC, and then harnessing that company’s capabilities back to the buyer’s core communications segments. “This will play into LVC in an interesting and unique way. We have been very good on air communications – ground-to-air – and with this new foothold in the ground communications network, this will play out well.”
2013 I/ITSEC was the venue for Rockwell Collins to showcase its ProSim ultra-contrast projector in the US for the first time. The ProSim program supports the F-35 Lightning II, with the ProSim’s predecessor used with the Griffin rear-projector simulator dome to train aircraft pilots. One of the ProSim’s upgrades allows the seamless transition to and from, black, dark night and light, very bright day – without degradation to the projector’s performance – further increasing its value for NVG-enabled training.
L-3 Link Simulation and Training
Lenny Genna is president of L-3 Link Simulation & Training. Of little surprise, the first discussion topic was the impact of the ongoing US budget issue on L-3 Link’s military business unit. The Arlington, Texas-based industry official pointed out that in 2013 Link navigated the October government shutdown, contract delays and other effects of sequestration, and other budget dynamics. “For 2013 we finished pretty well considering those things that took place,” Genna recalled, and said, “but it would have been better if it wasn’t for those budget developments.”
Shifting to the other L-3 Link business units, Genna said Link’s civil business sector represented by L-3 Link UK, performed “quite well” in 2013, pointing out that unit had a number of major contract awards this year.
L-3 D.P. Associates (L-3 DPA) has been part of the L-3 business family for over two years and provides training solutions for commercial and civilian customers’ organizations. L-3 DPA “has been doing very well in the driver training business,” Genna noted.
Link continues to successfully expand its presence in the international market across its sectors. Indeed, Genna declared “I think we did pretty good this year internationally.” As one data point in this market, shortly before the conference convened L-3 Link announced that it successfully upgraded a fielded F-16C Block 52 ATD (Aircrew Training Device) and achieved a ready-for-training milestone on a second F-16C Block 52 ATD for the Royal Moroccan Air Force.
Genna also emphasized Link’s continuing diversification away from the military market, with one third of Link’s business volume now in the civil and international sectors. While L-3 Link UK continues to focus on China and Southwest Asia, he reminded us that the unit also had a significant, recent contract award (KLM) in Europe.
Back in the military market, L-3 Link sees some evolving international opportunities in the helicopter and F-16 sectors. The company also expects additional business to result from the company’s award of the US Air Force’s Predator Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS) program announced this July. “With the win of PMATS, the natural extension of what the UAS provides onto other US platforms is important. And we’re also expanding our UAS portfolio in maintenance training – another area we can also now go out to international customers who were waiting for PMATS to be awarded,” he said.
Looking at the reality of continued uncertainties surrounding the Pentagon budget, Genna’s top business priority for 2014 includes, “aligning ourselves and doing all of the other things to make sure that we continue to be cost conscious and try and drive costs out of our system and our industrial base as we focus on these new opportunities.” Also in 2014, Link will continue to look for investment opportunities in adjacent markets.
And while Genna said that “while there may not be anything specific in the way of acquisitions, we’ll always have our eye on opportunities to fill gaps if it makes sense.”
Three FlightSafety International (FSI) company executives, Ron Ladnier, a vice president for Flightsafety Services, Jon Hester, FSI’s general manager for simulation-visual systems, and John Van Maden, FSI’s vice president for simulation, discussed topics of mutual interest MS&T. Flightsafety Services Corporation is the prime contractor to deliver the US Air Force KC-46's training system.
The training system will be one of the largest near-term programs of record for the US simulation and training industry. Boeing, the KC-46 original equipment manufacturer, expects to deliver 179 tankers if all options on the current contract are exercised. The service will use the KC-46 to replace its fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. By 2017, Boeing is to build four test aircraft and deliver 18 combat-ready tankers.
Ron Ladnier said his industry-led team is “off to a great start to deliver the system.” The team is currently completing a number of concurrent projects, most important of which is gathering aircraft data from Boeing. The first KC-46 operational training device is expected to be delivered in December 2015, with the second device scheduled for delivery in January 2016.
FlightSafety Services is relying extensively on the learning technology capacity within the broader FSI portfolio for the new tanker program. Ladnier noted the company’s simulation unit at Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, has an extensive menu of cutting- edge products to draw on. “One example is enhanced motion, so that the flight controls feel a lot more realistic and the motion of the aircraft feels a lot more realistic,” he emphasized.
FSI’s new Vital 1100 image generator will be another technology foundation for the KC-46 training system. Introduced in October 2013, the IG is FAA Level D and EASA Level D certified.
Jon Hester, FSI’s general manager for simulation-visual systems, noted that eight Vital 1100 IGs have shipped to a rich mix of end users. While the IG has been delivered to FSI training centers for civil helicopter training in Lafayette, Louisiana and Stavangar, Norway, the Vital 1100 was also shipped in December to support the US Marine Corps’ AH-1Z and UH-1Y training programs, among others. There is the potential to upgrade other legacy, military visual systems furnished by FSI with the new device.
FSI’s Display business unit will supply its glass cockpit display for the KC-46 training system. “This is glass, not mylar,” Ladnier emphasized. He continued, “This will be ‘bright and crisp’, and we also articulate it so you get the full range of air refueling and other tasks.”
The KC-46 visual system static display is expected to be 225 degrees (Horizontal) x 60 degrees (Vertical) and then articulated once the training device is on motion.
Ladnier told MS&T that FSI is addressing how the end user can reduce training costs by transferring more training into the simulator. Aside from innovations in visual displays and motion systems, FSI is moving more crew members into the same simulator cabin. “In one instance we have a simulator that trains not only pilots but also two gunner positions with their own visual display, so this crew knows how to operate as a crew before it goes into combat,” he noted.
Ladnier also spoke to FSI’s efforts to increase training fidelity by more fully integrating the expanding number of sensors on weapons platforms into training devices. “We can present that through separate channels and by enabling crew members to use NVGs. When you add all of this up it encourages the military customer to do more and more training in the simulator,” he said.
FSI continues to expand internationally, John Van Maden, FSI’s vice president for simulation, observed. While noting recent press releases on contract awards in Brazil and Southeast Asia, he was unable to discuss other specific developments.
Of further interest, one of FSI’s fastest growing sectors is its civil helicopter training business. “Some of the technologies FSI’s engineers are improving – blade element models, visuals, secondary motion and others are why we are seeing growth in Flight Safety’s helicopter business,” Ladnier concluded.