With one eye on probable decreases in defense budgets for European forces, government-industry teams continue to quickly increase the breadth of technology offerings for military training audiences. Group Editor Marty Kauchak reviews S&T trends and developments in Europe.
Learners and training audiences in European military services are receiving increasingly capable technologies to help meet ever more demanding individual, unit and staff readiness requirements. In one instance, the S&T industry is delivering training system content and services, for fifth-generation aircraft and the notable upgrade of legacy-era training devices. At the same time, suppliers are enabling the advancement of the Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) environment, the SERAPIS framework and other activities in the region. Five diverse S&T companies provide their selective insights on current and near-term European defense community trends and activities.
An Evolving Business Environment
The S&T sector in Europe is moving beyond the Covid-19-related closures and slowdowns of earlier this year, with corporate sights fixed like a laser on delivering content and services for current contracts. In one sector, Dave Fluegeman, Vice President at Barco Simulation, reported his company continues to have strong success in the defense segment of the European, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) simulation market, as customers acquire cutting-edge technology.
Yet, beyond 2020, there are gathering storm clouds on defense departments budget horizons. Nations in Europe, similar to the US, dramatically increased their budget deficits to spur economic activity during the pandemic. As this article was submitted for publication, no senior civilian or defense leaders in Europe had been as transparent and prescient as was US Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper, who this 3 May, warned the US services to prepare for imminent budget reductions as early as fiscal 2022 to help right the mismatch of macro-economic forces in play.
These developments had the attention of Jakub Welna, Sales & Marketing Executive at Cobra Simulation, who noted reduced budgets in smaller NATO countries is the single biggest challenge this industry faces. Cobra is facing down the probability of reduced budget toplines, Welna said, as the company “has positioned itself to deliver capability and volume by productizing its technology. It has also recently launched its software division as the demand for virtual training is set to increase as training budgets are in decline post Covid. Building on eight years of immersive hardware knowledge, it is committed to bringing further integrated innovation to its product line.”
Cross-Pollination and COTS
While near-term defense budgets are finalized, S&T companies are responding to the military services’ evolving requirements and attempt to stay ahead of technology trends. Back at Barco, Fluegeman said his company is seeing fewer and fewer unique, regional requirements as the interoperability of allied forces training becomes increasingly important and ever-present.
Fluegeman explained, “Lead/prime systems integrators are a truly global customer base, where a prime in western Europe is winning business in the US and Europe, and US-based contractors are winning business in APAC [Asia Pacific]. From the perspective of our technology, we are driven to and deliver to the same high-performance standards no matter the geographic region.” Asked for insights beyond the company’s current customer base, on new programs, contract deliveries and other forward-leaning benchmarks in this market, the corporate executive, responded, “The granularity above is about as good as I can provide given confidentiality conditions in place. Suffice to say, that with the most scalable visualization product line in the industry, we find ourselves in a strong position competitively to meet or exceed end-customer requirements.”
One defense-wide trend MS&T has been observing with increasing frequency is the “cross-pollination” of use cases and their technology underpinnings among the military and adjacent high-risk training sectors. Urbana, Illinois-based Frasca International is one company leading this development, as it continues to bring to bear its long heritage of advancements in the civil aviation training market, regularly noted in MS&T’s sister publication CAT, into the military space.
Randy Gawenda, Business Development Manager, at Frasca, built the business case for his company being able to compete in global defense markets, and specifically, for the purpose of this article, in Europe. First noting, “the push in the military is to adapt COTS platforms, because the services have neither the budget nor timeline for development,” he further emphasized, “It is something we are very well suited for, since those supported platforms are militarized civilian aircraft, like the EC 725, the flight systems are already there – that is something we’ve already done. There may be some mission-specific content we have to add on, but the bulk of that effort is well understood here. And that is where Frasca fits in – we’re not charging a larger S&T OEM’s prices for materiel, but we can deliver the same quality and fidelity at a much more attractive price point.”
Frasca has delivered flight training devices (FTDs), full-flight simulators or underlying content to 29 military services outside the US, eight of which are in Europe. One program of particular note, is Frasca’s supply in its capacity as a subcontractor to CAE, of eight H135 Cockpits (cockpit and select hardware), for the UK Military Flying Training System program. As many MS&T readers are aware, Ascent, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Babcock, is the overarching Training Service Partner responsible for delivering the UK MFTS program in partnership with the UK MoD. Elsewhere in the region, Frasca also has a long-term agreement to deliver FTDs to an unspecified European-based aircraft OEM, which, in turn, supplies fleets of a family of aircraft to military services in Europe and elsewhere around the globe.
In terms of business development, Frasca is further tracking the development of unspecified, multiple, possible opportunities in an Eastern European nation. Of relevance to Halldale Group’s additional editorial focus for Safety Critical Training, Frasca’s European customer list further includes the German Federal Police (through NATO Supply and Procurement Agency), which has three Frasca FTDs, one for each of its EC135, EC155, and AS332L fleets. Of note, Frasca’s burgeoning work list in Europe includes the upgrade of the German Federal Police’s AS332 FTD, from “an old steam-gauge, analog panel to the outfitting of the Universal Avionics Systems Corporation’s EFI-890H avionics.”
In an adjacent technology sector, S&T European defense forces and their industry partners are accelerating their pace to include technology thrusts (augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR)) under the increasingly popular, overarching “umbrella” term extended reality (XR), in their training programs of record. Long-time MS&T contributor John Burwell, Global Head of Simulation and Training at Varjo, observed the European defense establishment is closely watching the training transformation happening in the US where immersive AR/VR/MR/XR solutions are rapidly moving from prototype efforts into full programs of record. “A good example is the US Army’s Synthetic Training Environment. This program is revolutionary in many ways including the widespread use of VR/MR technologies. VR/MR technologies are necessitated by the requirement for the training systems to be mobile to support training at the point of need.”
The sector expert added that following the on-going US transformation, many European military services are looking internally to see where they might benefit from these same emerging technologies. He further offered, one of the best examples is the British Army’s Collective Training Transformation Programme (CTTP) and the VR in-Land Training (VRLT) pilot.
“This program, supported by Bohemia Interactive Simulations, is looking at potential benefits and effectiveness of VR for land warfare training,” he explained and added, “As the effort moves into its second year, Varjo looks to support the program with advanced VR headset technologies.” Burwell further pointed out European air forces are looking at ways to replicate what the US Air Force is doing with the Pilot Training Next effort. As a result, Varjo is actively working with many European defense labs and system integrators including TNO, Sogitec, Saab, BAE, and Thales who are experimenting with the technology to see where it can provide enhanced training value. The industry expert concluded, since Varjo is based in Finland, “we’re heavily involved in the HX program. Finland will replace its Hornet fighters 2025-2030 in the HX program.”
Domes Continue to Prosper
Cobra’s Welna noted his company had products in service with NATO forces across the region. Three of many user cases support Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) simulators for the British and Italian armies, and the training program for Royal Norwegian Air Force’s Lockheed Martin F-35As. The corporate executive added, “The Norwegian Armed Forces already have Cobra single channel dome displays in service with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and now the Royal Norwegian Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine has ordered two F-35 pilot training simulators, consisting of Cobra Simulation's Cobra150 AV Pro immersive display systems integrated with F-35 cockpit simulators supplied by Bugeye Technologies Inc.” The fifth-generation aircraft training solution also includes image generators from Novatech running Cobra True Dimension warping software. The two simulators are expected to be in service this autumn.
While Cobra Simulation’s European customer list increases, the company also finds itself in expanding industry ecosystems, which in part, utilizes “Scalable Display’s auto camera-calibration tools, the new Bohemia Interactive Simulation, VBS4 and VBS Blue IG content platform, Novatech’s state- of-the-art IGs built to Cobra’s strict specifications and Sony's unique native 4k projectors” with the intended outcome of providing “a unique capability to deploy large volumes of cost-reduced domes solutions to NATO clients with a fully integrated technology suite.” The Cobra executive emphasized, “Cobra Simulation works with a wide variety of partners in the industry depending on the client needs. However, it has recently formed several key strategic partnerships with specialists in the industry who recognize the benefits of our platform for future growth,” and concluded, “Our most recent research and development project focused on the deployment of Cobra displays to NATO clients with out of the box support for both our Cobra150 and Cobra180 products.”
Integration and Interoperability
Plexsys is providing is expanding its offerings of S&T products and services to help the region’s defense-industry team advance the Live, Virtual, Constructive environment, the SERAPIS framework and other capabilities. At one level, the company’s projects include the E-3D Rear Crew Trainer at the Air Battlespace Training Centre housed at RAF Waddington, United Kingdom; and the E-3A Mission Crew Trainer for NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force at Geilenkirchen, Germany.
Sanjay Khetia, Director, Strategic Alliances & Director, Plexsys UK, explained, “These multi-year programs are a testament to Plexsys’ investment and dedication to the region and a catalyst for providing supporting M&S tools to enhance the training experience for all military personnel. At both locations, Plexsys offers the complete training solution from the emulated consoles through to the communications suite powered by sonomarc, and finally the After Action Review powered by Video Audio Data After Action Review (VADAAR) and the complex simulated environment powered by Advanced Simulation Combat Operations Trainer (ASCOT).”
Beyond these projects, Plexsys is a supplier to many of the major prime contractors supporting them with its tools to enable test and evaluation, experimentation, and training across the whole LVC spectrum. “Our SimVisuals product is deployed with many simulation manufacturers across the region,” the corporate executive added. As significant, Plexsys is a member of the SERAPIS framework, which looks at the emerging trends in simulation and training. Khetia further explained, “The long-standing challenge in the region is to achieve a common and open architecture across the defense system—the use of standard components and utilizing OTS [off-the-shelf] technology to avoid vendor lock-in. Service Delivery models are another area of interest, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS), and Software as a service (SaaS). Plexsys, through our ENGEN product, is well placed to inform this.”
Plexsys’ newest product solution, Common Architecture for Secure Environments - Virtualized (CASE-V) will be included as part of the technical refresh of any training service in the region. CASE-V is a common framework designed to solve the most stringent compliance and integration challenges in today’s modern datacenter and training environments. Khetia concluded, “Also, we are looking to migrate customers over to SimVisuals 2. ENGEN is another in support of the Platform as a service (PaaS). Similarly, down at the individual product level, Barco’s Fluegeman provided his “teaser”, offering that Barco has “some exciting developments to talk about as we head into next year with regards to our roadmap and what might be over the horizon.” When this article was submitted for publication, it had yet to be seen precisely what vITSEC 2020 will look like for the industry at large compared to the traditional live event. Observing this conference is where Barco usually kicks off its program roadmap discussions, Fluegeman added, “With everyone exercising an abundance of caution surrounding travel, I encourage our customers in EMEA and around the world to contact their Barco simulation account manager and schedule a virtual product roadmap briefing with our technical and management team.”
Glimpse of the Future
European defense forces are on the cusp of expanding their training readiness profiles well into the future. As the services selectively invest in XR learning tools, S&T companies are also setting the stage for training audiences to more fully prepare for missions in the LVC environment, learn and rehearse skills in training systems for F-35s and upgraded legacy-era weapons platforms, and achieve other competencies. Yet, as Cobra Simulation’s Welna noted, European military departments are facing the specter of reduced budgets. This outcome will compel the services to more carefully chart their S&T portfolio investment strategies.