As new and upgraded platforms come into service in India, training systems and services are also being enhanced, but the sourcing of equipment from a variety of nations has its own integration challenges. MS&T’s Asia and Pacific correspondent Atul Chandra reports.

India’s armed forces are accelerating their shift towards synthetic training with the continued induction of modern of Western military platforms. The growth of synthetic training is being led by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN), which have a greater percentage of military equipment from the West, as compared to the Indian Army (IA), which has a preponderance of Russian sourced equipment. However, India’s continuation of a procurement policy that sources major defence equipment from Russia, France, USA, Israel and the UK; each with their own operational and maintenance philosophies, places real challenges in the creation of cohesive and integrated simulation and training infrastructure, in the short to medium term.

At present, the most advanced simulation and training facilities within the armed forces rest with the IAF, while the IN and IA, are in the process of upgrading their infrastructure. The adoption of state-of-the-art simulation and training technologies within these services is leading to reduced training times and lower training costs, while ensuring a greater number of assets remain available to meet pressing operational requirements, as against being utilised for training related activities.

The IAF leads its sister services in modern synthetic training facilities, which are already in place for Western-origin platforms such as the BAE Systems Hawk Mk132 and Pilatus PC-7 MKII which handle advanced jet training and basic, intermediate training respectively; Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, Lockheed Martin C-130J transport aircraft followed by the Mirage 2000 and new facilities now being created for the Dassault Aviation Rafale F3-R. All recent IAF procurements for fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms now cater for contracts for Fixed Base Full Mission Simulators (FBS), Cockpit Procedure Trainers (CPT), Avionics Part Task Trainer (APTT), Flight Training Devices (FTD) and computer aided learning systems.

Next Gen Training

The newly acquired Rafale F3-R multi-role fighter aircraft will have access to the most sophisticated synthetic training facilities within the IAF and will likely be the template for its future fast jet training needs. All 36 aircraft ordered in September 2016 are slated for delivery by end 2021. The Indian contract is comprised of six different packages - Flyaway aircraft, maintenance, Indian Specific Enhancements (14 items), weapons, associated services and simulators.

The first batch of five aircraft (three single seat and two twin-seaters) were inducted into service in September with No. 17 Squadron ‘Golden Arrows’. A fighter aircraft squadron in the IAF consists of 16-18 aircraft with two trainers. IAF personnel will continue to receive training in France for the next six months.

The scope of training contracted for by the Air Force, is thought to include 27 pilots, 146 technicians and two engineers. Dassault Aviation also proposed to undertake advanced training for three pilots, one engineer and six technicians.

The arrival of the Rafale, marks a paradigm shift in the use of synthetic training within the IAF. According to a July 2017 report by Shiv Aroor on his authoritative Indian defence website Livefist, the IAF will setup two fully-fledged Rafale training centres with Level D simulators at Air Force Station (AFS) Ambala and Hashimara. It will also receive a Weapon Delivery and Navigation System (WDNS), two Unit Level Instruction System (ULIS) self-service trainers and one Part Task Trainer (PTT). The IAF is also acquiring a Rafale maintenance trainer and computer-based trainer rooms. In addition to the initial warranty of two years, Dassault has been contracted to provide 10 years of additional simulator maintenance support. The IAF also plans to link its Rafale simulators at Ambala and Hashimara with its Mirage 2000 simulators, thereby affording it the ability to undertake training in live, synthetic and blended environments for the first time.

The prime contractor to provide simulators for all French export Rafales is Sogitec Industries, a fully-owned subsidiary of Dassault Aviation. It was awarded Rafale simulation and training deals for French and export customers in 2015. The deals called for the upgrade of French Rafale simulation centers at Saint-Dizier and Landivisiau to the new F3-R standard. India’s Rafale simulators will also need to be upgraded within a few years to cater for training on the 14 Indian Specific Enhancements (ISE), which are to be retrospectively integrated on all 36 aircraft. As per the contract, the ISE for the first aircraft is to be completed by December 2021 and integration on the remaining 35 aircraft is slated for completion by August 2021.

The IAF’s Mirage 2000 fleet is being upgraded to the new I/TI standard by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bengaluru as part of a July 2011 contract with Dassault. 10 upgraded aircraft (out of a fleet of 49) have been delivered so far. As part of the Mirage 2000 T/TI upgrade programme, Sogitec was contracted to develop a Weapon System Maintenance Trainer (WSMT). Delivered in July 2015 to the IAF’s Technical Type Training (TETRA) training center at Gwalior, the WSMT was made operational that same year. The WSMT includes 100 basic exercises (75 WDNS failure scenarios and 25 ground procedures) which can last up to four hours. Sogitec has also provided the IAF with an authoring tool, which allows its maintenance instructors to modify any of the 100 initial exercises or create a new one. The IAF also has an older fixed base full dome Mirage 2000 mission simulator supplied by HALBIT.

Legacy Upgrades

Two other important fighter aircraft types within the IAF, are its fleet of 272 SU-30 MKIs and an estimated 60 MiG-29s. 222 SU-30 MKIs have been built under license by HAL at Nashik. India contracted Rosoboronexport for one full mission simulator (FMS) and three PTTs under a 2007 contract worth US$18.76 million. Forecasting the growth of its SU-30 MKI fleet, which today stands at approximately 13 squadrons worth; the IAF put forward a case, as early as January 2012 for the procurement of five FMS and upgrade of three existing PTTs to FMS standard. This eventually led to an order for five SU-30 MKI FMS worth US$53.3 million placed in January 2016. Deliveries were slated to take place between June 2018 to November 2019.

The MiG-29 UPG modernisation effort is being undertaken by the IAF at 11 Base Repair Depot (11 BRD). The last two legacy MiG-29s remaining with the IAF, entered the upgrade programme in September 2019. The IAF is upgrading its MiG-29 Fixed Base FMS at Adampur AFS and these will be operated by Bengaluru based Alpha Design Technologies Ltd. (ADTL) under a Build, Own and Maintain (BOM) contract. The initial contract is for a period of two years. The IAF is also looking to acquire two FMS for its upgraded Sepecat Jaguar Display Attack Ranging Inertial Navigation III (DARIN III) strike fighters, along with a single FMS for the older Jaguar DARIN II variants. The existing Jaguar simulators at AFS Ambala and Gorakhpur were supplied by CAE.

Advanced Jet Training Gets Upgrades

The IAF and IN both use BAE Systems Hawk Mk 132s for advanced jet training at AFS Bidar and Naval Air Station INS Dega located at Visakhapatnam respectively. The Air Force also operates the type as part of an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) based at AFS Kalaikunda. As per 2010 figures provided by the IAF to the Ministry of Defence, the cost of basic training of a pilot for through Stage I, II and III was Rs 95.3 million (Fighters), Rs 75.4 million (Transports) and Rs 29.2 million (Helicopters).

The IAF undertakes all its advanced jet training at AFS Bidar, which has one fixed base FTD, two APTTs and one CPT. Hawk FTDs are also present at the other two locations supplied by HALBIT (a JV between HAL and Elbit of Israel). Maintenance and support for the FTD at Bidar has now been contracted to Tata Advanced Systems Limited. “During peak training season, the simulator devices at AFS Bidar are operational 14 hours every day. We are delivering availability rates of 99% as against the 95% we were contracted for,” says Air Cmde (retd) Ashit Mehta, Business Development Head (Air) at BAE Systems India

As part of the modernisation plan for its training facilities, the IAF issued a Request for Information (RFI) in 2016-17 for twin-dome simulators to be located at AFS Bidar and Kalaikunda. The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) led by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved the acquisitions in March and the proposal now awaits approval from Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). “The Request for Proposal (RFP) is expected by end of November,” says Mehta on the IAF tender for the twin-dome simulators. CAE India had led the RFI submission with support from CAE Montreal, CAE UK and BAE Systems. Delivery of the first twin-dome simulator, is expected to take place within three years of contract signature.

Large Fixed-Wing Aircraft Training

The IAF is already experiencing the benefits of high-end training and simulation with its C-17 Globemaster III simulator, which was Inaugurated in July 2016. The training facility located at the Flight Simulation Technique Centre in Gurgaon, New Delhi, is operated jointly by Boeing and Mahindra Defence Systems.

“Our in-country C-17 training centre has completed thousands of training hours for aircrews and loadmasters. India signed a three-year training renewal agreement in 2019 for C-17 training services for the Indian Air Force,” Surendra Ahuja, MD Boeing Defence India tells MS&T.

The IAF utilises the C-17 training centre to undertake the entire lifecycle of aircrew training including Initial Qualification, Quarterly Currency, and Crew Upgrade training, among others. The Weapons Systems Trainer and Loadmaster Station trainer at the facility can be used either individually or networked together, allowing training on pilot and loadmaster interactions. India operates a fleet of 11 C-17s, 10 of which were delivered between 2014-15 and a final example delivered in August 2019. An IAF transport aircraft squadron consists of 10-12 aircraft.

The IAF’s C-130J Super Hercules simulator training center at Hindon Air Station is another modern training facility operated by Mahindra Defence Systems and Lockheed Martin. CAE built the IAF’s C-130J simulator under subcontract to Lockheed Martin and delivered it to Hindan AFB in 2012. The Canadian training services provider has built every C-130J full-mission simulator ordered till date. With a FMS and a cockpit multi-function training aid, the facility undertakes training of pilots, combat system operators and loadmasters.

“Through a building-block approach, students’ progress from knowledge-based instruction to part-task instruction focusing on familiarization and crew resource management and culminating with full weapon system operations and employment training in the Full Motion Simulator,” says William L. Blair, Vice President and Chief Executive, Lockheed Martin India.

The IAF operates a fleet of five C-130Js and has six additional examples on order.

New Acquisitions Drive Naval Aviation Training Upgrades

The IN operates a fleet of eight P-8Is, inducted into service starting 2013 for the Long-Range Maritime Reconnaissance Anti-Submarine Warfare (LRMRASW) role. Four more are on order. The P-8I fleet which is based at INS Rajali at Arakkonam has now surpassed 25,000 flight hours. As the most modern aircraft in its inventory, the state-of-the-art maritime patrol aircraft will lead the modernisation of synthetic training facilities within the service.

A new 60,000 sq. ft. ‘Training Support and Data Handling Centre’ now under construction at INS Rajali, is due for commissioning in March 2021. “The centre at INS Rajali will be comprised of a Flight Team Training Device, a Mission Team Module, an Ordinance Team Training Device, a Virtual Procedure Trainer, a data management and training console, five electronic aircrew classrooms and an electronic maintenance classroom. The centre at Kochi will include a Virtual Procedure Trainer and two electronic maintenance classrooms,” Surendra Ahuja, MD Boeing Defence India tells MS&T. A dedicated maintenance simulator for ab-initio training of technical personnel is also being setup at the Naval Institute of Aeronautical Technology (NIAT), Kochi. Boeing has also inked a 10-year Comprehensive Annual Maintenance Contract with the Navy.

CAE is developing the simulator under subcontract to Boeing, “The P-8 simulator for the Indian Navy specifically representing the P-8I variant is scheduled for delivery to INS Rajali in 2021,” a CAE spokesperson tells MS&T. In addition to the Indian P-8I simulator, CAE has completed 18 P-8A operational flight trainers for the US Navy, two for the Royal Australian Air Force, and two more now under development for the Royal Air Force (under subcontract to Boeing). The company provides the 737-800 simulator software baseline and simulation-based software lab environment used for P-8 development and integration tasks. The simulators are then delivered to Boeing, for design, installation and integration of software specific to the P-8 aircraft, following which it is responsible for final delivery to the customer. As part of the P8I training simulator contract, Boeing will also provide all the associated courseware to support training activities at the centre and undertake training of the P8I pilots, observers, ordnance and technical personnel.

Rotary Wing Aircraft Training

The IN is also acquiring 24 Sikorsky MH-60R ‘Romeo’ (also called the Seahawk) Anti-Submarine/Anti-Surface Warfare (ASW/ASuW) helicopters. Under the terms of the Foreign Military Sale (FMS) contract inked in February, deliveries will commence in 2021 and conclude in 2023. India is yet to sign a MH-60R training systems contract and it is unlikely to be finalised before 2021.

“To provide all the information required to procure the appropriate training systems, CAE has been actively engaged in briefing the Indian Navy as part of the US Navy foreign military sales team,” a CAE spokesperson tells MS&T. “CAE is keen to develop MH-60R training systems for the India, so that they take advantage of past developments done for the US, Australia and Denmark which would translate into lower cost, better schedule and much less risk.”

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) operates what is generally considered as the most comprehensive simulation and training facilities for the MH-60R, at HMAS Albatross. This provides it with significant capability for training pilots, co-pilots, rear crew sensor operators and maintainers while ensuring the actual fleet of helicopters remains available for operational use.

CAE USA has been the prime contractor for US Navy MH-60R Tactical Operational Flight Trainers (TOFTs), which include an Operational Flight Trainer (OFT) and a Weapons Tactics Trainer (WTT) that can operate independently or jointly. CAE is also the provider for Avionics Maintenance Trainers (AMT) for the US Navy.

The company continues to support the US Navy MH-60 programme as part of the MH-60 Technical Refresh and Procurement of Simulators (Tech Refresh) programme. Under the Tech Refresh program, CAE USA is not only designing and manufacturing new fixed-base MH-60R TOFTs, but also refurbishing a fixed-base SH-60B TOFT, so that it can easily be converted to an MH-60R TOFT. It is also upgrading the hardware and software on existing MH-60R TOFTs. In addition to the new MH-60R training devices, the Tech Refresh program involves CAE providing hardware and software updates for existing MH-60R TOFTs.

The Mi-17/Mi-17V5 medium helicopters are the workhorses of the IAF rotary-wing fleet. The IAF inducted a total of 139 Mi-17V5 helicopters, ordered in two batches and delivered between all September 2011 to September 2015. The first contract worth US$1.34 billion was placed in December 2008 for 80 Mi-17 V5 helicopters. This was followed by a December 2012 order for 59 additional helicopters worth US$1.08 billion. The purchase of an additional 48 Mi-17 V5 helicopters has been approved though a formal contract, could yet be some time away. The contract to provide modern simulation based training for the IAF Mi-17 V5 has been awarded to Bengaluru based ADTL, which has received a BOM contract to manage these simulators at Sarsawa AFS, which is near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh and Bagdogra AFS near Darjeeling in West Bengal. ADTL is to provide 1,200 hours of training per year, at each of these training facilities.

Pioneers and New Training Philosophies

Simulator training for helicopters in India was pioneered by the Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF), a joint venture between HAL and CAE. Located at Bengaluru, HATSOFF commenced training on HAL Dhruv and Bell 412 Level D Full Flight Simulators (FFS) in 2010 and Airbus Helicopters Dauphin FFS in 2011.

“When HATSOFF began offering training on its Dhruv ALH FFS in 2010, while some branches of armed forces had in house simulators, they were of older technologies, and the realism may not have been sufficient to give confidence to them on the value of simulator training. Our challenge was to demonstrate to the pilots that hi-fidelity FFS such as those at HATSOFF could contribute realistically in enhancing safety,” says Wg Cdr (retd) Krishna Neti, CEO of Helicopter Academy to Train by Simulation of Flying (HATSOFF). “Over the years, the value of our training has been recognised by the armed forces pilots, resulting in simulator training being firmly incorporated into their training philosophies.”

Krishna who spent 22 years in the IAF and has more than 6,500 hours of flying experience, places special emphasis on training for avoidance of dangerous weather-related situations and handling adverse weather situations in case of inadvertent entry. HATSOFF has also built up an extensive visual data base representing actual Indian operating conditions, with hills, high altitude mountains, oil rigs, deserts, jungles etc. The training provided to students typically relates to Type Rating and practice of emergencies and instrument flying which takes 8-10 hours per pilot.

The development of a high-end FFS for indigenously designed Indian aircraft and helicopters, presents another challenge, which is the development of the flight model needed for the simulators. For Level D simulators, validation data needs to be gathered from flight trials on the aircraft/helicopters (a costly and time consuming exercise); especially so for India, which does not have export markets, that allow these costs to be amortised. Since HAL is the sole Indian producer of indigenous military aircraft, the quality of data obtained in flight trials by it are of paramount importance for the fidelity finally achieved in the simulator.

Upgrade and Utilisation Challenges

Hence close coordination and iterative interactions between simulator OEM and HAL are a must. Military operators seeking to develop their own training centres must also be aware that upgrading high-end simulators is particularly challenging, as any changes/upgradations that involve software modifications and changes in code can affect the programming in seemingly unconnected areas of simulation.

“Upgrading only a part of the software is more complex and costly than one would think. Hence, while opting for upgradations, cost benefit analysis needs to be done, taking into account the actual addition of training value provided by any upgradation, compared to what such an upgradation would cost,” Krishna cautions.

Obsolescence is also a major challenge especially with regards to the high-end projection and motion systems of the simulators. Image projection systems are particularly expensive to maintain due to their rapid obsolescence, coupled with difficulties in access to spare sparts, 3-4 years after a product is discontinued. In some cases, the only option available to the training centre is to replace the entire projection system at great cost. As has been the experience world over, the setting up of a simulation training centre with associated infrastructure are capital intensive and require decades of operations to recover costs and generate profits. The rapid pace of technological innovation also means that the spectre of obsolescence is always around the corner, and hence investments in large inventories of spares to support the entire expected period of operations, is a costly but sensible precaution.

Considering the expenses in setting up training centres and their operation and maintenance costs, Krishna says that training centre should either be funded by armed forces themselves or must be provided with a firm commitment to its utilisation in required numbers at justifiable rates before investments are committed to the programme. Greater use of simulation in training is clearly the way forward but for military operators and their training providers, early and sustained interactions are key to define the training capabilities they require along with their intended usage, followed by the correct choice of the level of fidelity for realistic training to be delivered at affordable costs in a sustainable manner.