Group Editor Marty Kauchak highlights the quickening pace of S&T industry support for UAS fleets around the globe, enabling operators to train and rehearse for missions in expanding, ever more complex mission sets.

Military services around the globe have an insatiable appetite for unmanned air systems (UASs). The US Defense Department alone will receive about $7 billion in the fiscal year 2019 budget for UAS funding lines.

Beyond the US, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI) is one original equipment manufacturer helping to meet the burgeoning demand for these unmanned systems. GA-ASI will deliver its Predator B/MQ-9 Reaper medium-altitude, long-endurance UAS to the Dutch military on a contract announced in July, and the Spanish Air Force is scheduled to take delivery of MQ-9 systems in 2019. The existing MQ-9 fleet has logged more than two million operational flight hours with the US Air Force, UK RAF, and Italian and French Air Forces.

As US and coalition military operations from Afghanistan to Central Africa and beyond continue unabated, UASs have become a combatant commanders’ significant “go to” asset for obtaining and delivering intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data, placing precision weapons on target, and completing other missions.

The simulation and training industry is responding to a confluence of requirements in this weapons platform sector. Beyond providing more training systems, classroom instruction and other life-cycle requirements for supported UASs, the industry is meeting technology challenges. The imperative for UAS crews and operators to “train and rehearse as they operate” is the implied and explicit bottom line expectation of the service customer.

L3 Link Training & Simulation is at every US Air Force MQ-9 operating location with the Predator/Reaper Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS). Image credit: USAF/J.M. Eddins Jr. drones
L3 Link Training & Simulation is at every US Air Force MQ-9 operating location with the Predator/Reaper Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS). Image credit: USAF/J.M. Eddins Jr.

Quickening Pace of Growth

One major story line emerging from S&T industry UAS training portfolios is their quickening pace of growth.

At L3 Link Training & Simulation, Lenny Genna, company president, noted his company is at every US Air Force MQ-9 operating location with the Predator/Reaper Mission Aircrew Training System (PMATS), and at the center of every USAF MQ-9 training program. “PMATS is the program of record training system for the USAF, and is the only trainer approved to provide the majority of training in every USAF MQ-9 syllabus,” Genna said. Further, L3 Link is under contract to provide 74 PMATS full mission training systems in multiple configurations. As this article was written, most of those were already fielded, with upgrades and fidelity improvements delivering through the life of the contract.

Jim Chittenden, director of Global Strategy & Market Development for Unmanned Aerial Systems at CAE, reminded MS&T that for the past five years his company has been performing the academic, simulator, and live-flying training of US Air Force Predator and Reaper aircrews. “Our exceptionally experienced CAE instructors are integrated seamlessly with US Air Force instructors at four locations across the US to deliver the required training for both MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots and sensor operators.”

Beyond the US, during the past two years, CAE has been delivering a comprehensive training program for the UAE Air Force’s RQ-1E Predator remotely piloted aircraft, and according to Chittenden, recently delivered “an industry-breakthrough” Predator Mission Trainer to the Italian Air Force.

Petah-Tikva, Israel, based Simlat’s systems are widely used “in more than 100 UAS programs in 30 different countries, including seven advanced air forces and several UAS training centers in the US,” noted Gal Dayan, the company’s associate product manager for UAS & ISR Training Solutions. Indeed, the business case to invest in the UAS S&T market space is so compelling that Simlat also operates a US entity in Miamisburg (suburban Dayton), Ohio.

Real or VRSG? In the real-time MetaVR VRSG screen capture (left) a simulated MQ-8B Fire Scout is in flight above two CUSV vessels and a cluster of sea mines in the Straits of Hormuz. A real-world MQ-8B Fire Scout is in the right photo. Image credits: Left - MetaVR. Right - US Navy/Kaleb R. Stapleseased. drones
Real or VRSG? In the real-time MetaVR VRSG screen capture (left) a simulated MQ-8B Fire Scout is in flight above two CUSV vessels and a cluster of sea mines in the Straits of Hormuz. A real-world MQ-8B Fire Scout is in the right photo. Image credits: Left - MetaVR. Right - US Navy/Kaleb R. Stapleseased.

At the subsystem level, MetaVR is expanding its presence across warfare domains for conventional and special forces. The US Navy at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland is operating multiple portable, ship-based MQ-8B/C Fire Scout UAV simulators using the MetaVR Virtual Reality Scene Generator (VRSG) with 3D ocean states. In the ground warfare domain, a large installed base of VRSG licenses (at Fort Huachuca, Arizona and other sites around the US) support US Army training for its Shadow, Grey Eagle, Aerosonde and Hunter UAS fleets. MetaVR had a long heritage of delivering VRSGs to the former AAI (now part of Textron Systems) for these Army programs. A third development for MetaVR has VRSG used in the US Air Force Special Operations Command’s Reaper Extended Range Simulator, also known as the MALET [Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical] JSIL [US Army Joint Systems Integration Lab] Aircrew Trainer system. The simulator is a plug-and-play training capability that converts a current tactical MQ-9 Reaper ER ground control station into a training simulator. This is “being rolled out at USAF bases across the US,” said Garth Smith, the company’s CEO and co-founder.

No Room for Error

UAS training systems must literally allow pilots and operators to train and rehearse for missions as they will fight – there is no room for error. Current rules of engagement and other operational constructs have strict guidelines to prevent collateral damage and other adverse outcomes during UAS weapons engagements and other missions. As a result, training systems are receiving more complex technology insertions and achieving concurrency with the supported platforms.

Military services are placing more, and increasingly capable, payloads on their unmanned airframes. MetaVR’s Smith pointed out the number of his company’s UAS/RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) training customers who require SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) simulation capabilities has increased recently as more sophisticated sensors are being added to UAVs/RPAs. Accordingly, “We provide a low-level radar simulation that provides radar range bin returns using the same database as is used for the EO [electro-optical] and IR [infrared] sensors. Our users have been able to stimulate real SAR systems by providing them with our simulated radar range return data. The result is a simulated SAR image which is correlated to the EO/IR sensors.”

Smith said, “We provide a plug-in capable of streaming H264 video with embedded KLV [Key-Length-Value] metadata, so this simulated sensor video is capable of stimulating tactical imagery exploitation systems. We routinely update our KLV metadata to stay current with the latest STANAG and MISB [Motion Imagery Standards Board] standards.” Further, “A number of our UAS/RPA training customers are increasingly adopting our CIGI [Common Image Generator Interface] interface to support their simulation, which ensures a smooth integration.”

L3 Link’s focus in recent years has been “to build a capability to create a complex operational environment so MQ-9 crews can train to the highest demand mission areas,” Genna explained. That means adding – via role-playing, “white cell” and automated systems – the ability to provide the same types of interaction with command and control, intelligence, ground forces and other fixed-wing assets that are part of routine MQ-9 mission integration. The Texas-based executive pointed out: “With the latest contract for PMATS, we are upgrading the legacy system to the new Blue Box High-Definition configuration. This adds networking, role-playing capability, weaponeering tools, an improved instructor console, and a new and highly capable brief/debrief system to PMATS. We also added a maritime environment and a wider array of complex terrain, along with improved physics-based modeling of datalinks and electronic warfare effects. Now instructors can create scenarios and environments that come very close to matching the level of complexity of a large force operation – scenarios that would be very difficult to recreate on the range with live assets.”

UAS - S&T Teaming

Another sector trend is the scope of close collaboration between the S&T community and UAS industry teams – enabling a more rapid response to new customer requirements and establishing high levels of concurrency and fidelity between the training system and supported air vehicle.

For its part, CAE has a global relationship with General Atomics as a training partner for GA-ASI’s family of Medium Altitude Long Endurance remotely piloted aircraft platforms. Chittenden said, “We have worked closely with General Atomics on the programs we are doing for Italy and the UAE and are part of General Atomics’ industry teams pursuing key RPA programs in countries such as Australia and Canada.”

L3 Link also teams with General Atomics to integrate the operational flight software with PMATS and achieve true concurrency. Genna noted his company’s additional reliance on Akron, Ohio-based BGI to provide subject matter experts with vast operational experience to work with its engineers and ensure L3 Link builds capability that will be of high value to the MQ-9 community. “And we work closely with other L3 divisions including L3 Comm West to help model datalinks and other elements of the system and make them match the real world. Additionally, we collaborate with Raytheon and Boeing on weapons and sensor models. We work with Northrop to integrate PMATS onto the Air Force DMO [distributed mission operations] network,” he added.

Simlat similarly collaborates with leading UAS platforms manufacturers as well as subsystems providers. A partial list of Simlat’s industry partners includes Lockheed Martin, Insitu (a Boeing company), Micropilot and others.

MetaVR’s Smith noted his partners include Battlespace Simulations, Inc. (BSI), which brings substantial EW capabilities, unique for unmanned air vehicle simulation and becoming increasingly important in training. He added: “ZedaSoft develops a reconfigurable, open-architecture UAS/RPA simulator, Mockingbird, which can be configured to simulate various UAS/RPA Ground Control Stations and includes pilot and sensor operator interfaces.”

CAE Defence & Security has been delivering a comprehensive training program for the UAE Air Force’s RQ-1E Predator remotely piloted aircraft. Image credit: CAE. drones
CAE Defence & Security has been delivering a comprehensive training program for the UAE Air Force’s RQ-1E Predator remotely piloted aircraft. Image credit: CAE.

Tech and Business Innovations

CAE will be expanding its offerings in UAS/RPA simulation and training – and promises to field at least one new technology of importance. Chittenden said, “One of our most exciting products reaching the market is the delivery of the first-ever Level D equivalent RPA simulator. This is the Predator Mission Trainer for the Italian Air Force, and it will provide customers the ability to truly realize zero-flight time training where a student can achieve aircraft qualification entirely in a high-fidelity synthetic environment. This certification will become even more important as countries develop and codify policies and training requirements for flying UASs in civil airspace.”

While MetaVR has a number of technology thrusts in progress, including expanding VRSG’s technology baseline, it is also involved in the ongoing Project RACER (Rapid Action Combat Environment Recreation), a joint effort with the Air Force and General Atomics, and part of the AFWERX initiative (AFWERX is a USAF program to foster a culture of innovation within the service – http://afwerxdc.org/). Smith explained: “As part of this project, General Atomics is working on configuring camera pods that will collect high-resolution, geo-referenced imagery that can be rapidly ingested and rendered as 3D terrain in VRSG for use primarily in mission rehearsal. Geo-typical, procedurally generated terrain, rendered in a game-based simulator, has virtually no value for mission rehearsal.”

With respect to the USAF PMATS contract, Genna noted that, with the next round of the Sensor Operator Fidelity Improvement program, L3 Link will add a new scenario generation system along with a virtual Link-16 capability so when instructors create the scenarios, students get the same tactical datalink picture they get in the real world.

More significant, from a business model perspective, L3 Link’s Arlington Training Center in North Texas opened its doors for business in October. Along with providing training capacity for multiple manned air assets, it also provides MQ-9 training using L3 Link’s own PMATS. Genna said the focus is on initial qualification, re-qualification, currency and upgrade training for pilots supporting Government Owned Contractor Operated (GOCO) MQ-9 contracts for the USAF. He continued: “We also offer additional capacity to the Air Force for instructor training, advanced tactics and emergency procedure training. The facility includes a PMATS, classrooms, and a brief/debrief room that features Link’s new PMATS Debrief System and a full Live/Virtual/Constructive white cell that integrates all elements of a large joint or coalition operation into an MQ-9 training event. With L3’s Arlington Training Center, we are able to expand the pool of MQ-9 aircrews to meet GOCO requirements and to provide the DoD greater value for its investment in PMATS.”

More, Please

The S&T industry is applying numerous competencies to better enable UAS pilots and operators around the globe to train and rehearse for missions. Beyond the number of systems and other learning devices certain to increase through the next decade, more capable technologies will also continue to be introduced to support UAS fleet mission sets in training and mission rehearsal events. 

Originally published in Issue 6, 2018 of MS&T Magazine.