The US Air Force is working to develop its Operational Training Structure (OTI) through the incorporation of LVC. Chuck Weirauch takes a look at the latest efforts to integrate the Live element into the LVC environment.
While US and joint training demonstrations have validated the concept of blended live-virtual-constructive (LVC)-based air combat training, the primary remaining challenge is the integration of virtual and constructive entities with front line aircraft Operational Flight Programs (OTFs) according to Michael Aldinger, Northrop Grumman manager of LVC Mission Integration.
Just how to “spoof” blue aircraft sensor systems into “believing” that the projected virtual and constructive entities they “see” on the training range are real adversary aircraft, missiles and ground elements and then showing them to the pilot of the aircraft on its screens and displays is the key to adding the “live” component to air combat LVC training. The means to accomplishing this goal is to modify the aircraft’s OTF so that it recognizes those projected false adversary virtual and constructive entities as what they were made up to be, rather than what they actually are. Multiple sources sending virtual and constructive false electronic entities into the range environment as adversaries can be added to increase the complexity and realism of the training exercise.
Major LVC Players
Along with the AFRL and the US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), several major defense and aerospace companies, including Northrup Grumman, Collins Aerospace, and Cubic Defense Systems, are working towards the goal to achieve that true blended air combat training LVC solution that Aldinger points to. For its part, Northrop Grumman has developed its standards-based modular Live, Virtual, Constructive Experimentation, Integration and Operations Suite (LEXIOS). According to Aldinger, “the LEXIOS interface is already able to accommodate this future data feed.”
LEXIOS has supported numerous US forces and other participating countries’ Exercise Northern Edge and Red Flag-Alaska joint training exercises since 2015, providing the V and C elements of the LVC capability so far. There has been substantial evolution of LEXIOS capabilities through both native enhancements and Government Off-The-Shelf/Commercial Off-The-Shelf (GOTS/COTS) upgrades, and evolution of its unique supporting global architecture, along with end-to-end integration of the virtual and constructive elements into the full operational event life cycle.
Northrop Grumman also provides the USAF’s Distributed Mission Operations Network (DMON) and as LEXIOS is fully integrated, every DMON site has seamless LVC capability. DMON has also evolved to encompass electronic warfare ranges.
In 2015, the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) awarded Cubic a multi-year contract to develop and demonstrate an LVC system for air combat training. After 40 months under the contract, the capstone Secure LVC Advanced Training Environment (SLATE) Advanced Technology Demonstration (ATD) was conducted at Nellis Air Force Base in September 2018, with Cubic serving as the industry integrator. The event included Air Force F-15E and US Navy F/A-18F aircraft, along with F-16 and F/A-18 simulators and numerous computer-generated constructive entities. The Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) was the other major service agency participating in the SLATE ATD.
The adversary aircraft involved in the SLATE ATD carried wing-tip mounted pods built by Cubic that sent signals on the electronic range that would be received by the “blue” aircraft OTF sensors. Cubic took previous such pods and put in new components that handle a new waveform and added an LVC processor, Welde said.
The Blended Solution
“The LVC processor working in the pod injected (adversary) synthetic entities (into the SLATE range environment) and it fooled the (blue) aircraft,” Tim Welde, Cubic Defense Systems’ Development Director for Air Force Air Training Systems explained. “Once you “fool” the aircraft, you “fool” the pilot. So now beyond visual range, a pilot is looking in their sensors and cannot tell if those air or those ground entities are real or synthetic.”
“The bottom line when it comes to LVC is that you have to have a blended solution,” Welde continued. “So, you want to have those synthetic injects into the live aircraft. Once again, that’s beyond visual range. You want to have a mix of both live and synthetics so that when you do engage with an adversary, you actually have something that you can prosecute with your eyeball in dogfighting and basic maneuvers.”
The solution should never be that you have all live, unless you have adequate adversaries, Welde summed up. That is because there currently are not adequate adversaries for both for ground or air threat in air combat training exercises to provide adequate training. “Sensors are the biggest threat today,” he concluded. “If we get within visual range, things can go horribly wrong. But if we can have live and synthetic players in the environment, training greatly improves. The bottom line is that when we were done with this SLATE at Technology Readiness Seven, we had real hardware in a real operational test environment, which was Nellis. We created a large adversarial force with a handful of aircraft, and that improves cost savings and training efficiency, but more importantly, the training effectiveness.”
The AFRL 711th Human Performance Wing is the lead service agency involved in air combat LVC. This Air Force research and development entity with a focus on training has conducted numerous LVC demonstrations and exercises to advance and promote LVC training as a part of its goal to enhance the service’s training and education efforts.
“The ATD was conducted to really demonstrate the art of the possible, technologies that are near-ready for prime-time to show new capabilities,” Winston (Wink) Bennett, Technical Advisor for AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing summed up. “And our goal was to demonstrate a very high-fidelity, realistic, LVC integrated environment for tactical combat training. It was a huge success. It demonstrated that for a very small amount of resources, we could modify the airplane code (OTF) and get aircraft flying in a much more realistic environment.”
“So, the airplanes would actually be on their modified operational systems to detect threat aircraft,” Bennett continued. “The (OTF) systems were processing the data as if it were coming from an actual treat aircraft out on the range. It was very realistic, the way we presented the data. When the airplanes saw a virtual and constructive airplane on the network, they recognized them as whatever we proclaimed them to be. And it was a very realistic fight.”
Since the SLATE capstone event, Cubic has received a $90 million Blanket Ordering Agreement from the Navy to continue advanced LVC-based air combat training development. The first awarded task order of that contract was for engineering studies and support for the Trident Warrior 2021 validation of afloat advanced LVC training range capabilities.
“So as the next step from the Nellis ATD, we are moving out with a Trident Warrior evaluation of the system’s performance in an air-type environment,” said Paul Averne, Cubic’s Development Director for Navy Programs. “We need to be able to run a full LVC training range, with live players and man-in-the-loop simulators, while connecting to the Navy’s Continuous Training Environment, or NTE.”
“We also need to enable simulators that are ashore to participate in a much larger force-on-force configuration from the sea,” Averne emphasized. “That is very appealing to the Secretary of the Navy and combatant commanders by being able to have our forces ready and able to train in that environment. We are bringing the F-35 sims into play into the Trident Warrior and validating the performance of the system so that we can conduct the same type of training that is unique to the maritime environment.”
While funding and other priorities have kept the AFRL from creating another full-scale SLATE-type effort to further refine its validated proof-of concept, the agency is pursuing several other avenues towards that goal.
“We had lots of very positive feedback to SLATE,” Bennett reported. “All of the operators on the Air Force and Navy side were fascinated by the capability and wanted to field it as soon as they could get it. We built out that capability for a couple of representative sites in the F-15 Strike Eagle community, and actually had operational fielding for a couple of units in the Air Force. We have worked very closely with the F-35 office to determine what if any SLATE approach could be done on that aircraft, as well as Lockheed Martin.”
The AFRL also has a couple of proposals under consideration for its upcoming Joint Technology Capability Demonstration and wants to bring SLATE technology to other demonstrations to bring in other vendors, capabilities, and platforms,” Bennett added.
“We want to conduct another SLATE ATD to demonstrate that we can do SLATE on other airplanes, such as transports and tankers, for example,” Bennett summed up. “That’s because those guys have much more capacity to not only benefit from the LVC more directly, but they could also be hosts. And we continue to talk with the Air Force Test Center to continue to do SLATE work ... space guys, command and control guys, have all been very interested, and in some cases are working off different variations on the LVC capability.”
Collins Aerospace SLAAM
Working in collaboration with the University of Iowa’s Operator Performance Laboratory (OPL), Collins Aerospace displayed its blended LVC Air Combat training capability though its Secure Live Air-to-Air Mission (SLAAM) demonstration conducted last April. During the demonstration, the company’s Joint Secure Air Combat Training System (JSAS) interfaced with ground systems running DoD-approved Next Generation Threat System (NGTS) and a Modern Air Combat Environment (MACE) software, while the university provided aircraft equipped with LVC pods.
“The ability to inject synthetic combatants in the LVC system is ready today with hardware that is in production today,” said Chip Gilkison, Collins Aerospace Director of Business Development, Live/Blended Test & Training. “Up until the SLAAM demonstration, any earlier experiments or demonstrations with aircraft had used hardware that was prototype – and had to do some proving-out of some theories in how air combat training is conducted in an LVC ecosystem. Now there is the capability to remotely key all of the aircraft-mounted pods so that you can go from an air-to air scenario, take a couple of minutes, and conduct an air-to ground-scenario in a completely new simulated geographic area. Because of this, you can accomplish a lot more training.”
Collins Aerospace has several air combat LVC training experiments planned in conjunction with the Navy over the next two years. But the company will also be conducting its own development tests within the next two months with several different aircraft, including the 5th generation F-22 and F-35 aircraft with external LVC pod mounts. Collins Aerospace hopes to have a true blended JSAS air combat training system operational by 2022.
Gilkison noted “today our customers just can’t train like they fight with the systems they currently have. Today, all they can do is transmit their position that is unencrypted, and then three or four hours later after they land, they get a debrief of what happened. So if you really want to start training for the next-generation fight with your peer adversaries, you are going to have to make some decisions that will allow you to accelerate your training against those new adversaries as quick as possible.”