Group editor Marty Kauchak reviews S&T trends and developments in Asia Pacific.

There are rare moments in the defense training and simulation community when programs are reconfiguring themselves beneath our feet. Such is the case in the Asia Pacific region. To place these developments in perspective, APAC’s S&T program investments are not on the scale one finds in the US. And while innovation and new programs are not occurring in this region in startlingly fast bursts, there is sustained, quickening pace of innovation across APAC and the S&T sector – helping to elevate training readiness programs to new levels.

Requirements-Driven Innovations

S&T advancements in this defense market are occurring from the component and system levels, up through complex training events, to match rapidly maturing end user requirements.

Left: Ton Stam, sales director at E2M Technologies B.V. (an MTS company). Image credit: E2M 

At the component and system levels, Ton Stam, sales director at E2M Technologies B.V. (an MTS company), said robustness, reliability and the ease of integration are the main reasons why customers in APAC choose E2M. “Of course, flexibility in terms and conditions and pricing also play their part in the decision-making process. With the acquisition of E2M by MTS, we can now offer our customers local presence and support, which are also important, as in some cases it may be quite difficult for non-residents to enter military bases.”

Beyond life cycle considerations, Stam recalled technology requirement that came up in several programs – a reduced simulator envelope, due to installation in existing buildings or in mobile trailers. “This has led to the development of the smallest hexapod in its class, the eM6-200-1500. With a settled height under 500mm [19.7in] and 200mm actuator stroke, this system still provides realistic cues in 6 degrees-of-freedom but can be fitted in much smaller rooms or trailers.”

E2M’s electric motion systems and control loading products can be found in numerous simulation programs in this region, with a number of the company’s level D electric motion and control loading systems used for fixed- and rotary-wing full mission trainers in India, Thailand and other nations. The corporate executive added, “Smaller E2M electric motion systems for driver training can be found in Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and other nations.”

In the adjacent visual systems sector, Barco projectors are in service in both military and commercial training simulators throughout the APAC region, to include China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and India.

Dave Fluegeman, vice president of Barco Simulation, provided an unexpected requirement at the top of the company’s list, when he noted, “We see that language is becoming an important requirement and we’re implementing Chinese as part of our OSD [on-screen display] in our next software release for our projectors. Otherwise, requirements are more or less the same across the world, although we see an indication that overall visual systems requirements are staying in the ‘sweet-spot’ of budget-driven performance, resulting primarily in demands for WUXGA and WQXGA [two resolution standards] projection products.”

At the system level, Kevin McNaughton, Managing Director for Meggitt Training Systems Australia, advised that Meggitt has a strong and ongoing presence in the APAC region. “For many years, Meggitt has formed strong customer relations with countries in the region including Australia, Singapore, Brunei, Thailand and Indonesia. In the past 18 months, Meggitt worked with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to deliver a comprehensive digitized upgrade for the bulk of its Weapon Training Simulation Systems (WTSS). In addition, Meggitt installed an upgraded version of the FATS 100MIL virtual training system for the Brunei Army at Penanjong camp.

In the past 18 months, Meggitt worked with the Australian Defence Force to deliver a comprehensive digitized upgrade for the bulk of its Weapon Training Simulation Systems (WTSS). Image credit: Meggitt Training Systems.

Other regional requirements are shaping the firm’s portfolio. “Meggitt Training Systems has observed a heightened need for small-group tactical training for military and law enforcement applications, increasingly in urban and complex terrain in the virtual space,” said Steve Klüver, Meggitt’s Asia-Pacific business development manager. “This evolving requirement for dynamic training, combined with shrinking real estate in most APAC countries for large firing ranges, is driving increased interest in our solutions. Meggitt Training Systems’ customer base in Asia-Pacific for virtual and/or live-fire products is supported by the company’s regional office in Australia, as well as six other locations around the world.”

At a higher level of the training continuum in APAC, Mark Horn, Cubic Global Defense’s director for Strategic Development, Oceania, told MS&T his company is increasingly seeing a demand for complex collective training to include joint, multi-domain, and multilateral capabilities. The community expert noted “Joint effects are intrinsic to warfighting in all domains and are the most in-demand simulation requirement. Multi-domain effects (such as electronic warfare and cyber), and particularly the impact at the tactical level of battle, are experiencing rapidly growing demand. Multilateral training is driving the requirement for interoperability between training systems and exercise control and planning processes.”

Beyond responding to training requirements linked to doctrine and readiness, Cubic is also focused on advancing the technical underpinnings for training events. Horn summarized this challenge, noting “the presence of high capacity networks in our daily lives is driving demand for high speed, low latency networks with increasingly sophisticated commercial and military encryption, resilience and information assurance standards.”

Indeed, Cubic has observed the modern battlespace is becoming more complex and it is increasingly hard to realistically integrate battlespace systems to achieve exercise aims. Horn continued, “There is a strong demand for tangible blended or live, virtual and constructive (LVC) simulation to assist in achieving training outcomes and readiness. However, there is also a significant degree of LVC ‘lethargy’ out there, due largely to over-statements relating to LVC readiness and the practicality of delivering relevant LVC in military training environments. Providers with appropriately secure solutions that are well-tailored to the desired training outcomes and do not encumber or distract the warfighter are likely to be very successful.”

Elsewhere in the region, Plexsys has seen broad requirements for all aspects of modeling and simulation (M&S) to provide realistic and immersive training experiences for all branches of service. These training experiences include features and benefits from the Plexsys-developed M&S simulation training solutions, including Advanced Simulation Combat Operations Trainer (ASCOT); Plexsys Communication (PLEXComm and sonomarc) products; Plexsys System Interface components; diagnostic applications; and after-action review capabilities.

A corporate spokesperson pointed out, “These features make up a complete end-to-end training solution. The unique capability of these Plexsys solutions enhances a customer’s ability to replicate any contingency by providing a near real-world training environment.”

Plexsys products can be found in the APAC region at several locations, including Australia, Singapore and Japan.

A Vital Region and its Maturing Industry Base

Barco’s Fluegeman set the tone for this topic, when he emphasized “This entire region is vital to our long-term growth plans and the industry will continue to see growth in presence, partnership, and investment here. Barco will leverage even more, with our strength coming from our APAC headquarters in Singapore, our HQ and multiple joint-ventures in China, and through our regional presence that we have in most APAC countries.”

While other S&T companies and industry teams doing business in APAC are an interesting mix from many perspectives, they are commonly focused on building on current programs and seeking emerging opportunities.

In one case, Meggitt’s McNaughton reminded MS&T his company’s Australian operations have been established for more than 20 years, “with an enviable reputation for the delivery of advanced virtual and live-fire solutions to a very satisfied customer base within the region.”

For its part, Cubic is working with an ecosystem of companies in the S&T domain, including, but not limited to, Bohemia Interactive Simulations, KPMG, SimCentric Technologies, Argon Electronics, Australian Target Systems, and GaardTech Military Targets and Training Systems – familiar brands to regional end users.

A “true” Australian-based firm which, through the last several years, has caught the attention of MS&T and CAT, its sister publication, is Ryan Aerospace.

Chris Ryan, the company’s managing director, noted that in one recent program, Ryan Aerospace was extremely proud to be selected (and trusted) by the US Army. “We delivered more than 30 HELIMOD Mark III Virtual Reality Helicopter simulators to the US Army’s Aviation Center of Excellence (USAACE) in 2019 as part of the Aviation Training Next (ATN) Program,” he said and explained, “ATN is an experiment in the primary flight training phase to see if there’s a way of training pilots more effectively, more quickly and more cost-effectively. The program seems to be running very well. All delivery milestones were met and reliability of the HELIMOD Mark III has been excellent with virtually no down-time. The system is supported by an after-action review software package that automatically assesses, grades and logs the student’s performance. “

US Army Aviators using the Ryan Aerospace HELIMOD Mark III virtual reality helicopter simulator as part of the Aviator Training Next (ATN) program at Fort Rucker, Alabama (US). Image credit: Ryan Aerospace.

The project is multi-faceted, and many teams are working together to ensure the best possible outcome. A dedicated team based at West Point (the United States Military Academy) will be conducting a thorough research project to objectively assess the outcomes of the project and report back on ways to improve it even further. The experiment will run until mid-2020, upon which the US Army will decide if this is a valid means of training.

Ryan said his company was delighted to partner with the US Army and prime contractor SAIC to work on this ground-breaking project, and emphasized, “Earlier this year, we delivered another ten simulators to the US Navy for a similar purpose and they, too, were shipped a month ahead of schedule.”

Elsewhere in APAC, Plexsys has an office located in Williamtown, New South Wales, Australia, hosting its Plexsys Australia entity. This location was noted by the company to be “critical in serving the needs of the Australian Defence Force, as well as enhancing and enabling the best readiness for the warfighter by making training better and by continuing to assist in inspiring future growth in live, virtual and constructive training technologies.”

Also in Australia, ImmersaView’s (a Plexsys Company) main demonstration and development facilities are located in Brisbane. A corporate spokesperson added, ImmersaView develops advanced software solutions for complex visualization applications in the defense, simulation, audio visual, education, energy, and emergency services industries.

Give Us More, Please

Beyond the legacy and recently delivered technologies and systems previously noted, APAC defense departments are casting their glance at emerging technologies.

John Burwell, global head of Simulation and Training at Varjo, further emphasized, that faced with ongoing budget challenges and readiness gaps, defense organizations worldwide have long attempted to leverage virtual reality technologies to support simulation and training.

The Varjo executive further noted, because of the large amounts of funding flooding into VR ventures, VR technologies continue to improve, and as they do, hurdles to the mass adoption of the technology are overcome. For its part, Varjo is now delivering HMDs that match human visual acuity that enable pilots to read text on cockpit displays and HUDs and to see objectives at realistic visibility ranges.

“This has truly been a game changer for many who questioned the viability of VR,” he offered and continued, “Varjo’s release of the XR-1 which provides high-resolution video seamlessly combined with virtual content is ushering in a movement toward mixed reality solutions where real cockpits and controls can be used in conjunction with virtual content. Examples are the mixed reality AH-64 flight trainer developed by Bohemia Interactive Simulations and the T-6 trainer developed by FlightSafety.”

With proven user cases then, non-US military organizations are closely following the US lead on the adoption of VR technologies for military training. Burwell observed these services face far greater budget challenges than the US, so they stand to benefit by the availability of high-fidelity, low cost VR/MR devices. “In many countries in the Asia Pacific region, they may only be able to afford a single high-fidelity simulator which rapidly becomes the bottleneck for training,” he noted and offered VR/MR based devices provide a cost-effective supplement which increases training efficiencies. “As many train side-by-side with US forces, they are beginning to see the incursion of VR technologies into the training curriculum and are starting to look into targeted solutions themselves. Varjo is seeing particular interest in countries including Japan, Korea, Singapore and Australia. In time, we believe these nations will rapidly move to VR/MR technologies either as a supplement or replacement for traditional training systems because of the incredible value provided,” he concluded.

Cubic’s portfolio of products and services for APAC training audiences will continue to expand.

In one part of the business, the company’s training systems will play a major role in exercises in Australia though 2021. Horn noted in particular, Cubic training systems in the air, land and joint environments will be supporting multinational exercises HAMEL in Townsville, North Queensland, and Exercise PITCH BLACK in the Northern Territory. “Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2021 involves Cubic training systems and services support across all three Australian Defence Force services as well as support to rotating US Army and USMC elements and support to the ADF’s Joint Combined Training Branch (JCTB) (formerly Australian Defence Simulation and Training Centre).”

During this year, Cubic is further looking forward to delivering a secure wideband terrestrial network for training - the first private 5G LTE simulation network in the region, for Exercise HAMEL 2020.

Supporting the RAAF and JCTB, Cubic is also seeking to enhance the way debriefs are performed with better data backhaul and distribution capabilities.

In 2021, Cubic will be delivering a large-scale chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense (CBRND) training system, that enables large exercise areas and large-scale forces to deal with CBRN effects during complex collective training exercises. “This CBRND capability, with the capacity to support thousands of live instrumented soldiers and specialist responders, will be world-leading,” Horn concluded.

Back in the visual display sector, as MS&T reported at I/ITSEC 2019, Barco introduced its direct-view technologies for the first time to the S&T industry. Fluegeman recalled his company has long been in the liquid-crystal display and light-emitting diode panel business, and the levels of performance have improved dramatically over the last few years. “With our industry-leading image processing capabilities, we can enhance what is widely viewed as a commodity product and bring world-class performance and durability to an industry which puts added demand on visual systems. We rise to the task put to us by our customers in everything we do, and now our LED and LCD products fit into this space.” More specifically, Barco’s customers can look for performance enhancements to several of its main products in the coming months, including a brightness boost for the FL/FS40 projector product lines, and enhanced color performance in the F70 projector line.

Back in Australia, Plexsys Australia is continuously seeking out and partnering with other companies from that nation that provide complementary capabilities and technologies. “We expect to install our simulation technologies into the state-of-the art simulation environment aimed at supporting the training needs of RAAF 42WG [Wing] by the end of 2020,” the corporate executive added and concluded, “We continue to seek and expand our footprint in the Australian and wider Asia Pacific market.”

An Increasingly Vital S&T Market

S&T companies will continue to deliver more and increasingly advanced technologies and services into APAC thought this decade. While defense departments will continue to rely on more complex versions of currently fielded systems, ranging from weapon training devices to driving simulators, they are similarly casting a wide net to obtain forward-leaning technologies, including VR/AR/MR. At the same time, training events in the region will grow increasingly complex. Event scenarios will include 5G-enabled simulation and other evolving technologies, as well as more rigorously scripted events to accurately reflect the near-future operating environment.