The pace of activity is quickening in the training programs supporting international F-35 Lightning II customers.

As additional pilots and maintainers from these nations enter US-based training sites, national programs are evolving as countries take delivery of the 5th generation aircraft. Group Editor Marty Kauchak, with files from Europe Editor Dim Jones, reports.

The F-35 Lightning II Program (also known in some remaining circles as Joint Strike Fighter) is completing an expanding number of testing, evaluation and operational milestones. While the program sprints toward completing initial operational capability with the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, more nations are making the F-35 part of their future force structure. Eight nations plus the United States are original program international partners: United Kingdom, Italy, Netherlands Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway. Three nations, Israel, Japan and the Republic of Korea, have selected the F-35A (conventional take off & landing (CTOL)) through the Foreign Military Sales process. Efforts by the Pentagon and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin to further reduce the cost per airframe are expected to gain additional sales beyond the US, in new and existing global markets.

As initial cadres of Lightning pilots and maintainers complete accession or conversion training at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida, other US training venues are being established for the program. The F-35A will comprise the majority of overseas sales, with training for these nations’ pilots migrating to Luke AFB, Arizona. F-35 B STOVL (short take off/vertical landing) version training for US, UK and Italian pilots and some maintainers transitioned last October to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort, South Carolina. Concurrently, international Lightning II customers are stepping up their efforts to establish national programs.

On the industry side, Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s original equipment manufacturer, is responsible for the models’ training devices including the domed flight simulator, deployable mission rehearsal trainer and other part-task trainers for pilots. For the latest Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) contract (iteration 8 announced in November 2014), Lockheed Martin has an attention getting total of 191 US and international suppliers contributing to the F-35 Training System.

What’s Different?

Simulation plays a prominent role on the F-35, more so than legacy platforms – and with good reason. Because of the sensors, avionics and other advanced capabilities of the Lightning II, it is not possible to adequately challenge pilots in the live environment – even in the much-touted training ranges and areas of the Western US. Mike Luntz, director of the F-35 Training System at Lockheed Martin, matter-of-factly told MS&T, “With simulation, we are redefining how pilots train to provide the range of experience required to maximize the F-35’s 5th Generation capabilities.”

The suite of pilot training technologies currently allows 72 percent of initial training flights to be accomplished virtually, driving affordability and effectiveness. The syllabus includes technology-driven academics with interactive desktop trainers, 18 flights in the Full Mission Simulator and seven flights in the aircraft. In comparison, about 40 percent of initial qualification for the Lockheed Martin F-16 is conducted through simulation.

Luntz described the overarching technology discriminator between the F-35 training system and heritage-era training suites. “We receive great feedback from pilots about the immersion provided by the Full Mission Simulator. The F-35 Full Mission Simulator uses the actual Operational Flight Program (OFP) to accurately replicate all sensors and weapons employment whereas most legacy simulators use aircraft code ‘emulators’ to mimic jet behavior. The simulator’s level of fidelity is then amplified by incredibly high fidelity visuals,” he pointed out and added, “The Out-the-Window visual display provides the capability to train air refueling and shipboard landings, a capability not found in legacy training devices.”

Rockwell Collins’ Griffin™ Rear-Projected Dome is the foundation of the F-35 Lightning II Full Mission Simulator solution. LeAnn Ridgeway, the company’s vice president and general manager of Simulation & Training Solutions, offered further insights on the simulator’s visual system.

One Griffin subcomponent is the EP-80, which is “unique in the PC-IG market space for several reasons, most of which make it ideally suited to F-35 types of simulation solutions,” Ridgeway pointed out. “All PC-IG image generation solutions use commercial graphics cards designed for the highest revenue markets; not simulation, but games. The performance of the cards and the related drivers is tuned to provide the highest impact to the interactive gaming business. In games, real-time rendering is not a critical requirement. In games, geo-specific accuracy is not critical. In games, very large areas of interest are not critical. In games, creating a fully immersive, eye limiting resolution environment is not critical.”

The community leader further noted that Rockwell Collins’ EP-80, while a PC-IG by class, is not like other PC-IG systems. She continued, “The EP-80 is the only PC-IG on the market that uses simulation-specific drivers, created by Rockwell Collins based on 40-plus years of experience with real-time simulation drivers. Rockwell Collins works with the card vendor to ensure coding access to the board hardware to create the drivers. Access to these drivers allows the EP-80 performance to be tuned to the very different demands of real-time simulation, especially at the vehicle speeds of a fast jet platform.”

Another capability offered by the EP-80 for F-35 pilots is its supports of a highly accurate, whole earth model which reflects the curvature of the earth in latitude and longitude, and which aligns with other operating components of the simulator such as the sensors, airport beacons, and target locations.

Ridgeway also emphasized the EP-80 brings to bear other Rockwell Collins products. With the very large fields-of-view (FOV) required for fast jet simulation (often 360 degree), any image generation solution will require a large number of IG channels to achieve the FOV and the resolution. “The EP-80 product provides a Rockwell Collins product called a Video Stream Manager (VSM). In addition to managing video streams, the VSM ensures a 100% synchronization of all video channels so that there are no noticeable artifacts across channel boundaries resulting from image timing,” the subject matter expert commented, adding “Other third party products provide hardware and software synchronization, but none are designed for this type of simulation, and none maintain the large channel count synchronization at 60Hz as reliably as the VSM.”

Rockwell Collins also provides the SimEye SX50T II Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system that is optimized for the F-35 Griffin Trainers to provide a comfortable and ergonomic training solution. Ridgeway said the SimEye SX50T II simulates all of the visual specifications of an F-35 Flight Helmet ensuring full fidelity of symbology and information, providing pilots with the highest fidelity training. She concluded, “The SimEye SX50T II system effectively simulates the F-35 Helmet by incorporating a sophisticated optical system mounting to a standard flight helmet. The HMD is coupled with a helmet tracking system, specifically tailored to integrate into the Griffin Dome.”

The SimEye SX50T II is manufactured in the Rockwell Collins Optronics facility located in Carlsbad, California.

Aside from tailoring the virtual domain to support 5th Generation flight training, the Lockheed Martin-led training team also retains the live training solution in the Lightning II program – within the resource constraints of its government customer. Indeed, Luntz noted, that while his team increased the amount of training that can be conducted in the simulator, live flights are still important. “Training tasks that require a high-G environment, like basic fighter maneuvers, air combat maneuvering and air combat training are best conducted in the aircraft.”

Of note, the US DoDs T(X) program – the replacement for the T-38 and other aircraft trainers supporting 4th Generation aircraft – remains the Pentagon’s solution for lead-in F-35 flight training. As this issue was published the USAF has just released the requirements to industry. Among the over 100 requirements listed, the three key performance requirements have been highlighted: sustained G, simulator visual acuity and performance, and aircraft sustainment. The current goals are to award a contract in the fall of 2017, and achieve initial operational capability by the end of 2023.

Lockheed Martin is also elevating Lightning II maintenance training to a higher plateau when compared to other current military flight programs, as it provides prospective maintainers a suite of simulators. Indeed, currently across all F-35 disciplines, 95 percent of training occurs during computer-based courses and hands-on exercises with part-task trainers.

“The Aircraft Systems Maintenance Trainer is unique to the F-35,” Luntz explained. With this training tool, maintainers are represented by avatars and they interact with a virtual aircraft to gain familiarity with the air system. The industry executive continued, “We are also designing three new maintenance training devices to further drive affordability and mission readiness: Engine Lift Fan Removal and Installation Trainer, Integrated Power Package Maintenance Trainer, and Landing Gear Removal and Installation Trainer.”

Luntz also discussed F-35 maintenance training in terms of return on investment for his military customers – simulation supports aircraft availability since the jets aren’t taken off the flying schedule for the majority of training tasks. The training subject matter expert continued, “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 important element to point out is that flexibility is fundamental to the Training System design to accommodate training for the three aircraft variants and all F-35 services.”

International Training Programs Gain Momentum

As initial F-35s enter international customers’ air orders of battle, the nations’ pilots and maintainers are completing training in a collaborative context at US F-35 military centers of excellence. Lockheed Martin reported this February 20 it has qualified 160 pilots and 1,668 maintainers across the US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, the UK and the Netherlands.

While initial F-35 pilot and maintainer training is occurring at the community’s initial center of training excellence at Eglin AFB, the program’s infrastructure is expanding. Luke Air Force Base, one US home for Air Force F-35As, will also be the central training hub for international F-35A training – with US and overseas students teamed together, learning how to effectively employ the 5th generation strike fighter. To that end, Lockheed Martin is installing the pilot training technology suite at Luke AFB as it prepares to welcome the first class of pilots this May. Partner-nations that will be participating in F-35A training program at the Arizona venue will be the US, Australia, Turkey, Italy, Norway, and the Netherlands, in addition to FMS countries Japan, Korea and Israel.

The Pilot Training Center and Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 kicked off the first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter pilot training course (also known as the F-35B Safe for Solo course), aboard MCAS Beaufort last October. Fightertown East took on a more international dimension this February 3 when Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 welcomed the first United Kingdom F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

While US Lightning II program training sites evolve, national F-35 training programs are being established.

Australia and the UK are the furthest along among international customers on their paths to achieve initial operational capability with their respective F-35 variants. Similarly the two nations were the most forthcoming about their plans to establish national training programs.

Australia's program of record is for the acquisition of 72 F-35A aircraft, enough to form one training and three operational squadrons. An Australian Department of Defence “department spokesperson” noted initial F-35A aircraft for the nation are being delivered to the International Pilot Training Centre at Luke AFB.

Australia’s initial Lightning II jet arrived at Luke AFB last December 18 – marking the first international partner F-35 to arrive for training at the military base. While Australian pilots have commenced F-35A pilot training at Eglin AFB, Australian maintainers will begin training in the United States from 2017.

The nation’s F-35 aircraft “will be incrementally ferried to Australia from late 2018, with enough available by late 2020 to declare initial operational capability, as well as begin F-35A pilot training in Australia. All 72 F-35A aircraft are planned to be in Australia by the end of 2023,” the defense spokesperson remarked.

Training for all Australia’s Lightning II maintainers will also begin in that nation not later than late 2020.

For its part, the current UK intent is to order 48 F-35 aircraft in its first tranche. Both RAF and RN pilots will operate the Lightning II force, permitting operations from both forward land bases and Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) carriers.

The nation has taken delivery of three F-35B aircraft and has finalized contracts for a further five scheduled for delivery by the end of 2017. “Further contracts for UK F-35Bs will be announced when they are awarded,” Wing Commander Martin Tinworth told MS&T.

All UK pilots and maintainers currently undertake their conversion training to F-35 at Eglin AFB. While UK pilot conversion training transitions to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort and UK maintainer conversion training continues to take place at Eglin, Tinworth added, “The UK intends to establish an F-35 Training Centre at RAF Marham, the Main Operating Base for UK F-35 aircraft, in 2018. The intention is to transition UK maintainer and pilot training from the US to the UK during 2018 and 2019.”

The RAF Marham training venue will include three Lockheed Martin-supplied Full Mission Simulators. Courseware will also be delivered by the OEM, although some modules – fuel system, ejection seat and UK-specific weapons – will be developed in the UK.

The RAF’s first operational squadron, No 617 (Dambusters) will form at MCAS Beaufort in 2016. This squadron will move to its permanent UK base at RAF Marham in 2018. Lightning II Carrier operations on board HMS Queen Elizabeth are also expected to commence in 2018.

The governments of Israel and the Netherlands declined to respond to this author’s email and telephone invitations to discuss their embryonic Lightning II training programs.

International S&T Industry Contributions

The F-35 program is built on extensive industrial participation to generate economic growth in F-35 nations and deliver the most affordable, effective technologies.

From the perspective of one nation, the UK, the F-35 program is estimated to be worth over £1bn (about $(US) 1.55bn) per year to British industry, and is expected to support 25,000 jobs over 25 years. Alongside the major contribution of BAE Systems and Rolls Royce, over 130 British companies are in the F-35 supply chain. The contribution of most of these companies is not confined to the F-35B or tied to the UK purchase; they have been involved with the F-35A from the start of the program. One example is Manchester-based EDM, a manufacturer of training systems for both military and civil applications. EDM has developed a Weapon Load Trainer and Cockpit and Ejection Seat Training Systems which are applicable to CTOL, STOVL and CV (US Navy’s carrier-based model) variants of the F-35.

The UK F-35B government-industry team is inserting a healthy dose of modeling and simulation elsewhere in the lifecycle of the aircraft and the operational interface with the QEC carriers.

In one instance, the UK identified that the QEC designers needed information on the aircraft to be operated from it, and vice versa. Additionally, the unique concept of carrier operations from the QEC required some development modelling work to be done on the management of the flight deck as well as flying techniques. In addition to the carrier’s ski-jump, allowing semi-conventional take-off at greater weights, recovery to the deck can also be achieved by either vertical landing or the Short Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), which again allows recovery at greater landing weight, such as with unexpended ordnance. In the former case, the aircraft is recovered to a position alongside the desired landing spot at 100ft, and then maneuvered sideways until over the deck and descended vertically. For the SRVL, the aircraft is recovered to the ship centerline at 200ft, and closes until a 7-degree glideslope is achieved, then descended on the 7-degree slope, guided by indicator lights until contact with the deck at a predesignated spot. BAE Systems has built a flight simulator at its Warton site which has been used in the development of these techniques, using data supplied by the QEC Carrier Alliance.

The UK MoD and its industry supplier is using a blend of virtual and live training on their roadmap to achieve the nation’s F-35B initial operational capability for carrier operations.

While industry team member BAE has a cutting-edge flight simulator for F-35B development, the week of this February 23, the Lightning II variant started its live "ski-jump testing." In this early live training phase, two UK pilots are initially testing the ability of the new warplane to take off from upward-sloping ski-jump ramps used on aircraft carriers like those operated by Britain and Italy. The ramps launch the jets forward and upward, reducing the thrust needed.

Strengthened Fast Jet Training Portfolio

Original partner nations Canada and Denmark are expected to decide later this year on whether the F-35 is the right fit for their future force structures.

In 2013, an alliance between prime contractor Lockheed Martin and CAE was announced –hedging that Canada will elect to buy F-35s. The resulting Memorandum of Understanding addresses F-35 Lightning II training system support and services in Canada – with CAE designated as a preferred provider of in-country F-35 training support, training system integration, operations and maintenance. This February 2, Chris Stellwag, the director for Marketing Communications in Defense & Security at CAE, confirmed that absent a decision by government of Canada to select the F-35 as a next generation weapons platform the MOU has been quiescent.

This February 23, a spokesperson at Canada’s Department of National Defence, speaking on background, declined to provide definitive information on that government’s prospective buy of the F-35, noting only that this aircraft remains an option for the nation’s future force structure.

While the F-35 MOU remains on the shelf, CAE continues to strengthen its portfolio as a provider of fast jet training. Indeed, this January it was announced that Bombardier was preparing to sell its Military Aviation Training unit to CAE. Among other things, CAE will take over as prime contractor for the NATO Flying Training in Canada, (NFTC), a program that Bombardier has been operating out of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and CFB Cold Lake, Alberta.

Bombardier currently has 200 employees supporting the NATO training program, which was begun in 2000. CAE expects to retain all 200 of those employees.

The Bombardier-CAE deal is expected to be finalized this year.

Queen Elizabeth Class Carrier

 The two Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers currently being built for the Royal Navy have their genesis in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) undertaken by the Labour government on coming to power in 1997. Following decisions in the 80s and 90s regarding the Invincible Class vessels, it had been widely assumed that the era of fixed-wing carrier-borne aviation in the RN was coming to an end and, following the retirement of the Sea Harrier in 2006 and the Harrier GR9 in 2010, the last of class, HMS Illustrious spent her twilight years as a helicopter-carrier, decommissioning in 2014. The 1997 SDSR, however, noted that carriers offer: the ability to operate offensive aircraft abroad when foreign basing may be denied; all required space and infrastructure - where foreign bases are available they are not always available early in a conflict and infrastructure is often lacking; and coercive and deterrent effect when deployed to a trouble spot. The report concluded: "the emphasis is now on increased offensive air power, and an ability to operate the largest possible range of aircraft in the widest possible range of roles”. Hardly revolutionary stuff, you might think.

As a result, the QEC was born, and the UK buy-in to the JSF programme in 2001 confirmed that aircraft, whatever it might turn out to be, as the Future Jet Carrier Aircraft (FJCA). In time, JSF became the F-35, and the decision was made that the QEC would be equipped with the F-35B (STOVL) variant, to be flown by Fleet Air Arm and RAF pilots. However, the SDSR of 2010, which had considered scrapping one of the carriers, decreed that both would be built (because the cost of cancelling would be greater than the cost of building), but that only one of the class would definitely be commissioned, the second possibly to be held in ‘extended readiness’, or sold to an ally, in order to provide a ‘continuous capability’. The carriers would have catapult and arrestor gear installed (they had been designed ‘for’ but not ‘with’), and the F-35 variant would be the ‘C’ (deck landing) model, rather than the B. Subsequently, however, financial reality resulted in a reversion to the F-35B and the deletion of the catapult-and-arrestor (after the cost estimate had doubled); however, the Prime Minister declared that HMS Prince of Wales (the second of class) would be brought into service.

There is little doubt that the various SDSRs were essentially cost-cutting exercises, and that lip-service only has been paid to a careful analysis of task and a commensurate matching of resources. There is also little doubt that the carriers have represented (literally) a ‘flagship programme’ to the RN, and that much has been sacrificed – by the RN and probably by the other two services as well - in order to fund them. The cost at contract announcement, excluding aircraft, was £3.9bn; in 2013, the contract was renegotiated at £6.2bn, with the contractors bound to pay 50% of any cost overrun. The size of the vessels has grown from the SDSR97-envisaged 30-40000t to the current estimate of over 70000t. The crew complement is nearly 700, rising to 1600 with the air element embarked. This is a sizeable chunk of the total RN manpower of around 31000.

Much thought is being given, in the armed forces and in industry, about training for QEC, not least because, by the time HMS Queen Elizabeth receives her first F-35 aircraft, the RN – and the RAF for that matter – will have been out of fixed-wing carrier-borne and STOVL operations for a decade. In future issues, I will be looking at some specific F-35 issues, and later a more general view of QEC training. – Dim Jones, MS&T Europe Editor