Group Editor Marty Kauchak reports on recent developments in the F-35 training system, which supports a rapidly expanding group of operators and maintainers in the US and other nations.

The F-35 Lightning II acquisition program of record calls for Washington to buy an attention-getting 2,443 aircraft for its Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Three distinct variants of the fifth-generation F-35 will replace the services’ legacy combat aircraft: F-35A for Air Force A-10s and F-16s; F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing for Marine Corps F/A-18s and AV-8B Harriers; and F-35C for Navy F/A-18s.

This May 2, Laura Siebert, spokesperson for Lockheed Martin, the F-35 prime contractor, told MS&T her company had delivered101 F-35s, but was unable to provide the end users and their individual delivery totals.

While the Pentagon’s procurement plan for the Lightning II will certainly be trimmed to support the department’s spending reductions into early next decade, the program will remain by far the Pentagon’s largest. As the US military customer and the industry team accelerate their completion of acquisition milestones, the pace of international activity also continues to quicken.

Beyond the US, there are eight partner countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Israel and Japan both selected the F-35A through the Foreign Military Sales process. The Republic of Korea is also considering joining the global F-35 network with the F-X III competition.

The promise of the F-35B flying at the 2014 Farnborough Air Show, a distribution venue for this issue of MS&T, is certain to attract more international attention for the program.

The F-35 program is rapidly expanding in terms of airframe deliveries and national membership – with huge implications for the training audiences in the US and other program nations.

Lost in the main stream media’s attention to the flurry of efforts to correct high visibility, hardware and software issues and move the three F-35 models toward initial operational capability, has been the F-35 training system’s accomplishments en route to providing a fifth-generation aircraft training program.

The Training

The US Air Force’s F-35 Academic Training Center (ATC) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, is the current focal point for domestic and international training.  The center plays a critical role in supporting the overall mission at the service’s 33rd Fighter Wing (FW) to train F-35 pilots, maintainers, air battle managers and intelligence personnel.

Air Force 1st Lt Hope Cronin, the chief of Public Affairs at 33 FW, the F-35 Lightning II Integrated Training Center, noted the current mission statement of the F-35 ATC is “to train Air Force, Marine, Navy, and international partner operators and maintainers of the F-35 Lightning II.”  The ATC achieves this mission with a joint staff of military and contractor instructors.

As of June 1, the F-35 Academic Training Center at Eglin AFB has trained more than 100 pilots and 1,100 maintainers for the F-35 program. Image credit: Lockheed Martin
As of June 1, the F-35 Academic Training Center at Eglin AFB has trained more than 100 pilots and 1,100 maintainers for the F-35 program. Image credit: Lockheed Martin

As of this June 1, the ATC had trained more than 100 pilots and 1,100 maintainers for the F-35 program. The ATC had 32 pilots in training. Cronin further reported the breakdown by service includes 17 USAF F-35A pilots, three USMC F-35B pilots and eight USN F-35C pilots.  Reflecting on the international dimension of this program, Cronin pointed out there were also two Netherlands pilots in training and one United Kingdom pilot in training. “Lockheed Martin is also training a pilot at this time,” the public affairs officer added.

Cronin said there were currently 88 maintainers in training: 30 USAF students, 46 USMC students, and 12 USN students. While there were no partner nations’ students in maintenance classes on June 1, nine Netherlands’ students were scheduled to start the Autonomic Logistics Information System/Maintenance training course on June 9.

The US F-35 training infrastructure is rapidly expanding.

In one instance, Luke Air Force Base is ramping up to host its firstF-35 squadron, the 61Fighter Squadron (FS). While on May 14 there were six F-35 pilots assigned to the 61st, there will eventually be approximately 30 pilots by the time the squadron is up to full capacity. And while approximately 16 F-35s are expected by the end of 2014, the full contingent of 144 aircraft should arrive incrementally over the next decade.

Luke AFB’s Academic Training Center, which will house classrooms and 12 F-35 simulators, is under construction and is expected to be completed in late September. Construction is also underway on other projects to support the USAF F-35 squadrons to be based at the air base.

And not later than this October 1, the Marine Corps is expected to have its first full flying and training operations underway at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

The Marine Corps is projected to be the first service to declare program initial operational capability – with its F-35B – in July 2015.

Technology Status

As of F-35 Low Rate Initial Production lot 8, prime contractor Lockheed Martin leads a total of 191 US and international suppliers contributing to the training system’s training devices and other enabling technologies. The industry team furnishes training hardware and software to program learning audiences for all three aircraft models.

One insight on the system’s technology can be gleaned from a Lockheed Martin equipment status report (as of this June 1). The document noted 17 training devices are available on which to learn and rehearse skill sets. Another 20 are scheduled for delivery through mid-2015, all of which will be located in the US. In all:

  • Nine Full Mission Simulators have been delivered with 15 more scheduled for delivery by mid-2015;
  • Four Aircraft Systems Maintenance Trainers have been delivered with three more scheduled by mid-2015;
  • One Ejection System Maintenance Trainer has been delivered with two more scheduled for delivery by mid-2015; and
  • Three Weapons Loading Trainers have been delivered with no further deliveries scheduled through 2015.

Training Strategies

To support the F-35 customers’ requirements the government-industry team has a multi-faceted strategy to ensure alignment between the F-35 training continuum and the increasingly complex air operations and maintenance domains.

In one instance, the Air Force’s F-35A training program is making more extensive use of higher fidelity training devices than the current F-16 program.  The Air Force’s Cronin pointed out the F-16 training program utilizes devices from low-to-medium fidelity part-task trainers (unit training devices and others) to high fidelity, networked simulators with full field-of-view (FFOV) visuals for night terrain contour and other events - over 50 simulation events for nearly 75 hours. “The concept of the F-35A program is to use one type of high fidelity, networked simulation, with FFOV visuals (in the full mission simulator) for all simulation events, and to provide more of those missions - over 70 events for more than 110 hours,” she emphasized.

Mary Ann Horter, vice president for F-35 Sustainment Support at Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training, described the challenge of training fifth-generation airmen from the perspective of maintenance training.

The F-35 training system is designed to blend a variety of training media to create a total training solution for the F-35 weapon system. “Because of the aircraft’s computing power, F-35maintainers must bring a high level of technical expertise to their jobs. More than 1,100 maintainers have been qualified to keep the fifth-generation F-35 mission ready at the F-35 Integrated Training Center located at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Graduates of the program are currently supporting F-35 operations and test at seven locations” said the subject matter expert.”

Just as the maintenance force works with advanced technologies to service the jets, maintainers also learn with the latest simulators provided by Lockheed Martin. Horter continued, “Integrated Training Centers like the one currently in operation at the 33rd Fighter Wing are home to a full spectrum of the latest courseware, electronic classrooms, simulators, flight events and event-based maintenance training. The technologies at the Academic Training Center, which is similar to a college campus, include interactive courseware, desktop simulators and high-fidelity training devices.”

With respect to instructional strategy, maintainers rotate from the classroom to training devices and to the flight line to develop an in-depth understanding of the F-35 weapon system. Horter pointed out simulation provides more efficient training because it helps to limit the amount of time jets are taken off the flight line for training exercises. She added, “With simulation, maintainers also get to see a variety of emergency and wear-and-tear conditions so the first time they deal with them isn’t when they have a limited window to service the jet and return it to readiness status.

Another linchpin of high fidelity learning on the training system’s devices resides in the software concurrency between the aircraft and the training system – and with good reason. Air Force Lt. General Christopher Bogdan noted before he assumed leadership of the program in December 2012, “There is an awful lot of software on this program. It scares the heck out of me.”

In all of the simulators, F-35 software is used to give students the most realistic experience possible while accelerating the process for software upgrades as the F-35 continues to develop and mature. “The training system also uses many legacy and commercial off-the-shelf software tools to increase the affordability of the total solution,” Lockheed Martin’s Horter said and continued, “Flexibility is fundamental to the design and is built-in to every element of the system, providing the ability to accommodate the three aircraft variants and all F-35 services.”

The F-35 training system further sets itself part from fourth-generation aircraft through the embedded training (ET) requirement. The concept of ET is to have supporting and threat entities, airborne and ground-based, resident in aircraft systems. “ET is currently part of the program of record for F-35 development,” the Air Force’s Cronin said.

Another development on the F-35 Academic Training Center’s horizon is the delivery and implementation of the next release of pilot and maintainer courses in early to mid-2015. Cronin pointed out this milestone will include the final system design and development delivery for maintainer courseware and the Block 2B software delivery for pilot training. She added, “As additional capabilities are certified on the F-35, training specific to those capabilities will be verified and integrated into the existing curricula.”

Other International Perspectives

As noted earlier, a cascading number of nations from around the globe are buying or are expected to buy F-35s.

While Lockheed Martin cited proprietary considerations for not divulging its simulation and training (S&T) team’s members and their home nations, or the number of non-US companies per nation, some of that information is available in the public domain.

One representative, non-US team member is UK-based EDM Simulation. The company, well known to MS&T and its sister publication CAT, is a provider of components for the weapons load trainer system and the ejection seat maintenance trainer for the F-35. The company also provides Boeing 777 and 767 door trainers and other training devices to the civil aviation sector.

Of note, Canada remains a program partner but has yet down selected the F-35 for procurement.

At the 2013 Paris Air Show Lockheed Martin and CAE signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for F-35 Lightning II training system support and services in Canada.

The MOU identifies CAE as a preferred provider of in-country F-35 training support, training system integration, operations and maintenance if Canada decides to buy the Lightning II.

This May 1, Chris Stellwag, director of Marketing Communications at CAE Defence & Security, told MS&T his company has not received any work under this MOU from prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

As the training system evolves and expands, Lockheed Martin remains open to discuss new products and insights for the F-35 program from other US and non-US S&T companies. Lockheed Martin does not have an F-35 training system industry day scheduled as this issue was published; however, the company meets frequently with US and international companies to discuss emerging technologies that could be applied to the system. “We also participate in air shows as well as training and simulation conferences to see demonstrations and meet with potential suppliers,” Horter added.

Interested companies may contact Lockheed Martin about joining the industry team or even requesting an opportunity to view a possible contributing technology to the training system. These S&T community members are invited to contact Lockheed Martin’s Business Development organization at 1-800-345-2609.