MS&T Europe Editor Dim Jones visited the BAE Systems Training Simulation Integration Facility (TSIF) at Warton Aerodrome factory in Lancashire, northwest England, to learn more about the company’s future-focus developments.
A subtle change of emphasis is taking place within BAE Systems’ Military Air and Information Division, according to Archie Neill, Director of Operational Training. While Maintenance and Manufacture remain core business skills, increased attention is being paid to the delivery of Military Effect, and hence to Synthetic Training and Mission Data Support. Notwithstanding the multiple operations in which their aircraft are involved, Neill points out, the vast majority of the flying which these aircraft and aircrew undertake is everyday training, and concentrating on getting training right will, of itself, ensure that their operational effectiveness is maximised. It is also a fact of modern air operations that synthetic training has become, and increasingly will be, an important element of operational training.
Live training, while irreplaceable as a source of real experience, has its limitations and adverse effects: financial – it costs a lot of money; environmental – fast-jet aircraft burn fuel and make a lot of noise; but, most critically, operational. New generations of weapons have longer ranges, and their tactical employment requires increased training airspace at a time when space is facing continuous pressure from civil aviation growth. Live training is subject to surveillance from unfriendly agencies, and operational security demands that high-end activity is kept as covert as possible. For most nations, and even coalitions, the assets simply are not available with which to create a representative high-threat training environment. For these and other reasons, simulation will play an increasing role in future operational training; the UK Ministry of Defence’s stated target is a 50:50 live / synthetic mix and, for the F35 and future aircraft it may be even less than that.
Simulation, therefore, has become a vital part of BAE Systems’ work, not only in providing Synthetic Training Devices (STD) to the front line, but also in carrying out research and development into how to improve operational training, how to make better simulators, and how to improve the effectiveness of current and future aircraft. The company’s Training Simulation Integration Facility (TSIF) at Warton, therefore, is a research rather than a training facility. There are multiple and seemingly disparate strands of work going on, a few of which are described here.
Simulation: Maximising Mission Data
Aurora is the BAE name for an Air Service facility which encompasses mission planning, electronic warfare, operational training and mission support. It employs a cycle, beginning with the Commander’s Intent (ie, the directive to prosecute a mission), through the gathering of geospatial, surveillance and electronic warfare (EW) information. An operational scenario can then be replicated and flown synthetically to create electronic targeting and Air Tasking Orders (ATO). The results are displayed on an electronic mission planning table and the data fed into an information data portal; the product is recorded on disc and can be transferred to either an aircraft or a simulator.
Aurora will include a small-dome simulator to support the synthetics, in which the mission can be rehearsed, such that when engaged by a threat, the appropriate information and defensive action to be taken will be displayed in the cockpit. The mission will be debriefed, and the loop closed by feeding the results back into the Commander’s area to inform subsequent action; the critical requirement is to complete the process quickly, thus ‘getting inside the enemy’s decision cycle’. Aurora can either produce mission data for a customer or provide the customer with the tools to do it himself.
Much of TSIF’s work is centred on cockpit environment and information displays, tying in work in various areas, such as Future Hawk, developments in Typhoon, and Tempest, the future stealth fighter concept. Work in these areas is carried out using two devices, the first a demonstration cockpit with no physical displays, the second a fully equipped Typhoon cockpit. The concept is for a 2040 cockpit, but any technology which is found to be of utility can be retrofitted into existing systems. The first level of work is low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) and is often carried out in conjunction with SMEs and universities, acknowledging that now, more than ever, developments are to be found in the commercial sector, such as gaming, entertainment, and the National Health Service (NHS).
The work is largely in the form of small experiments, often cockpit tasks such as function selection, and the demo cockpit can be used to test ideas. If validated, the technology can be transferred to the next-level cockpit. Ideas which will not work can be eliminated without undue expense; for instance, vibration resistance testing can be carried out in a car rather than an aircraft; the vibration is different, but if it will survive a car, it will survive an aircraft. Other parameters, such as G forces, need to be tested in a purpose-built device.
The main hardware feature of the demo cockpit is the Striker II helmet, shortly to enter Royal Air Force service in Typhoon, and HOTAS. (Striker II has a full-colour display, and TSIF is also experimenting with head- and eye-tracking.) The goal is to develop a software-reconfigurable cockpit, which will be easier, faster and cheaper to upgrade. This can incorporate such technologies as gesture control, intuitive voice, touch, and head- and eye-tracking. There is already Augmented Reality (AR) in cockpits – such as flight reference data in HUDs – the next step being to display the critical information where the pilot is looking. Ground and air threats are displayed with detection and engagement zones and threat information. The head-down Large Area Display (LAD) can then be used for Battlespace Management and Situational Awareness (SA). Information for specific tasks, such as air refuelling, can be shifted from head-down to appear head-up where needed, and returned when no longer required. The display recognises the pilot’s ‘virtual hands’, and there may no longer be a need for hardware switchery – cockpits can be task- or user-customised. Control options, such as voice, gesture and manual, can be blended; a pilot cannot effectively speak and listen at the same time, but audio and visual can be used simultaneously.
The HMD can recognise wearable displays on the pilot’s ‘virtual body’. Displays can be positioned on the forearm, and sub-displays drawn from them as required. A wristwatch on the other wrist can display time, but also pilot psychophysiological data, and could detect such conditions as G-LOC and hypoxia. The system could also detect workload factor: with increased system automation, the pilot still needs to be ‘in the loop’, as opposed to merely monitoring, but automation can be increased as workload rises, and reduced as it drops. It is important that the autonomy level is intuitive; constant announcement of status would be annoying and counter-productive. Above all, the pilot must be able to trust the system for it to be effective.
The TSIF’s Typhoon cockpits are also engaged in development work for advanced weapons, both air-to-air and air-to-ground; the Typhoon has recently been equipped with the new Meteor BVR air-to-air missile. Meanwhile, in one of the halls sits a new two-seat development cockpit, developed in conjunction with Williams Advanced Engineering (of Formula 1 racing fame). This is being used to test LAD technology; at some point, the RAF’s Typhoon aircraft will almost certainly undergo some form of mid-life update – often referred to as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) – and it is quite possible that this could include a new cockpit, not least because the cost of a single new LAD is significantly less than the replacement of the current three large Multi-Function Displays (MFD). Meanwhile, the old Hawk cockpit is being put to good use.
Pilot Pipeline Solution?
It is fair to say that, at present, the RAF’s pilot training pipeline is in a parlous state, with significant delays between courses, leading to ab initio pilots arriving on the front line at far too advanced an age. The RAF, like almost every other leading air force, is suffering from a manning shortfall, and this is exacerbated by the fact that the advanced pilot course in particular is very instructor-dependent, and these experienced aircrew are exactly the same people whose services are badly needed on the front-line squadrons. Due in no small part to the fact that the Hawk T2 aircraft is so capable, qualifying an instructor in all the disciplines can take anything up to a year – a third of a standard three-year tour – and this takes no account of the demands on those instructing the instructors. It also impacts adversely on the availability of aircraft for ab initio student training,
Instructor training consists largely of taking representative exercises, and flying each twice, the first with the qualified instructor demonstrating the teaching techniques – briefing, flying and debriefing; this is known as the ‘Give’. The exercise is then repeated, with the student instructor acting as the instructor, and the qualified instructor as the student – complete with typical student errors for analysis. What if some of these exercises could be flown in the simulator? At present, all Hawk simulators represent the front seat only; however, BAE recently invited the RAF’s Central Flying School (CFS) to try out a low-fidelity concept demonstrator at Warton; this had a limited visual system and lacked full functionality in the rear cockpit. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the potential of such a system, and indeed highlighted some areas in which the simulator is better than the aircraft, such as the ability to freeze, debrief and replay. The company subsequently submitted a paper to the MoD, offering a bespoke two-seat, high-fidelity simulator with a dome visual system, which they envisage becoming an integral part of the Hawk T2 STD suite. This bid is being considered; there is rarely room in the UK defence budget for unplanned or short-notice purchases but, given the cost of instructor training, this might be a shrewd investment.
In the interim, the company have taken the twin-cockpit rig which was replaced by the TSIF-Williams device and at very low cost are fitting it with an improved wrap-around visual, two Martin Baker Mk 10 seats, commercial glass MFDs and full two-cockpit functionality using the TSIF database. This ‘90% solution’ will then be offered for evaluation by CFS, with a view to using it to train instructors from the RAF / Royal Navy, and potentially from other Hawk-user nations. Hitherto, one problem with dome-visual two-seat simulators has been that the visual system is has to be optimised for a single design eye position; having another position six feet in tandem could introduce ‘parallax’ errors. This could be solved by using two VR helmets, each set to its user’s eye position. Although it is generally felt that VR is the future, there are currently issues of fidelity and haptics. While cockpits are still manual / hardware, how can you make a virtual switch selection look and feel right? The ideal technological solution would be a Striker II-type helmet where the virtual display would be limited to areas of the field of view outside the cockpit, with the interior visible as is. This is the sort of work which could be taken forward in TSIF’s future cockpit.
These apparently disparate workstrands do not represent what BAE Systems intend to do in any particular field, but represent the need to keep abreast of developing technology and evaluate what might be of use. Neither does the platform necessarily reflect where the technology might be used; work funded by the Tempest project could easily find utility in the Typhoon programme, while a derivative of Sceptre is likely to form the core of Tempest mission planning. The company‘s view on Tempest itself is that it will be ‘optionally manned’, dependent on the constraints of the mission; therefore the information required could need to be displayed on the ground or in the cockpit, and the ability to achieve the latter could be a discriminator. Connectivity, both internal and external, is another strand of TSIF work, as is system architecture. The Hawk and Typhoon devices run on Goldbox simulation software; a prototyping architecture is used for technology evaluations.
One milestone for me: I have never before in my life flown that many synthetic training devices in a single day.
Commonly understood ACRONYMS used in these features: BVR – Beyond Visual Range; G-LOC – G-force induced loss of consciousness; HOTAS – Hands On Throttle and Stick, HMD – Helmet-Mounted Display; HUD – Head Up Display, SME – Subject Matter Experts.
New Hope for the Advanced Hawk?
While the Hawk T2 was withdrawn as a contender part-way through the USAF’s T-X competition, and the winner of that event, Boeing / Saab’s T-X BTX, might be thought to be the answer to all future advanced trainer requirements (see “The Envelope, Please” in MS&T 2018-6), BAE have an alternative view.
First, T-X will not start coming into service until 2023, and final delivery of the 351 aircraft will not be complete until 2034. It is reasonable to assume that orders from other nations would not be entertained until after that time. Secondly, although the Boeing / Saab bid was very low ($9.2bn against a programme ceiling of around $16bn), it is not a given that international sales would be at that price. And third, the US requirement was for a significantly more sophisticated aircraft (reheated / supersonic) than some nations might require and, although the through-life cost must be very competitive in that class of aircraft, it may not be as low as for a less-capable alternative.
Following their withdrawal from the T-X competition, BAE considered which developments in the configuration of their existing advanced trainer, the Hawk 128 series, would be necessary to attract future customers. Among those identified were:
- a reduction in weight and an increase in power;
- an air-to-air refueling capability;
- carbon brakes;
- enhanced sensor simulation, including ground-mapping radar and a targeting pod;
- a large area display (LAD) cockpit; and
- a better wing.
The majority of these had been tried before in one form or another, and only the LAD and the wing were considered high-risk. The plan was to build an Advanced Hawk Demonstrator Aircraft (AHDA), using an existing Hawk 100 Series airframe, ZJ951; it was emphasized that this was to be a concept demonstrator, not the next-generation Hawk. Flight trials would be carried out under the supervision of the Military Aviation Authority (MAA), and each step would be tested in wind tunnel and simulator prior to the flight trials. As regards the cockpit displays, the front cockpit of 951 was fitted with a four-portal LAD and the new Light HUD; side-panel switchery was left in place, although the LAD duplicated the functionality. The rear cockpit was left in standard 128 configuration, and the aircraft could be captained from the back, with the front cockpit empty if desired. This mismatch in avionics required, inter alia, new mission computers.
The new wing features trapezoidal wing tips, which increase the wing area. The aim was to test its performance in three main areas: high speed sustained turn rate; low speed, high angle-of-attack (α); and sustained G. For the purposes of the flight trials, the wing would be fitted with leading-edge slats, fixed at either 6o or 16o (although in any production aircraft, they would be fully variable in flight). To maintain flight control authority, the aileron movement was increased from 12.5o to 15o; for increased directional stability, the height of the fin was increased by nine inches; and, for high-α manoeuvring, a Control Stability Augmentation System (CSAS) was fitted. Hawk flight test programmes being a less frequent occurrence than in previous years, the MAA deemed a spin-recovery parachute to be necessary. This required testing for deployment and separation; the normal jettison system had both explosive bolts and a weak-link release as back-ups.
As target performance values, the test team took the published USAF T-X requirements as a benchmark. These required an instantaneous turn rate of 20o per second at corner velocity, and a sustained turn rate of 14o per second. The aircraft was also required to sustain a 6.5G turn through 140o with a maximum height loss of 2000 ft from a start at 15,000 ft. At low speed and high angle of attack, the aircraft was required to demonstrate both pitch and roll control. All the turn rate and G parameters were achieved comfortably and, although the aircraft was power-limited to 24α, 25+ was achieved in the simulator, with only minor (and expected) instability around 18α. The LAD and HUD performed well under all flight conditions, with only minor observations, such as the size of the icons in some display configurations. The LAD was developed from F35 technology and has some functions not available even on that aircraft.
In sum, this was a concept validation, not the dawn of a new aircraft. BAE see themselves as being in the light advanced trainer market for the foreseeable future, and the ADHA has demonstrated that the necessary developments are both feasible and affordable. It now remains to be seen whether there is customer interest. – Dim Jones
Originally published in Issue 2, 2019 of MS&T Magazine.