Group Editor Marty Kauchak spoke with Brad Thress, President and CEO, FlightSafety International, and Dan Davis, President, FSI Defense, on a range of issues.
MS&T: As we meet, FSI Defense and the rest of the S&T industry are facing a number of challenges, from cooling, yet still high, inflation rates, supply chain disruptions and other adverse macro- and micro-economic forces. Highlight how these trends and market conditions are impacting FSI’s business model.
Brad Thress (BT): The supply chain disruptions have caused delays for some of our projects, but they have not had major impacts on our ability to deliver high-quality training. Most of our materiel spend is on long-term agreements so we have been somewhat protected against inflation as well. The biggest impact from economic forces has been the scarcity of talent to support our growth. From instructor pilots to software engineers, we are facing similar challenges to those of the airlines and other industries. We have still been able to grow but not as quickly as we would like.
Brad Thress, President and CEO, FlightSafety International. Source: FlightSafety International
MS&T: We’re about one year into the formal announcement that had Frasca join forces with FlightSafety International. Update us on some of the early outcomes FSI and FSI Defense has realized from this partnership.
BT: Frasca is a great company with a 70+ year history. Very similar to FSI. Because customer bases are very different, there is very little market overlap, and the two companies’ customer bases and manufacturing capabilities are very complementary. By joining forces, we can more intimately drive development and future training and simulation solutions by leveraging our respective strengths. As is typical with most business combinations, the plan is an aggregation of a host of detailed projects. Overall, the combined team is on target to meet the objectives of our best-case plan.
MS&T: In the last year we’ve watched FSI establish a partnership with Dronamics for drone pilot training and sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Lilium and NetJets for a proposed strategic partnership. How are these and other activities influencing FSI Defense’s S&T activities in the broad and expanding Advanced Air Mobility market for defense?
Dan Davis (DD): So much of the emerging technology crosses between civil and defense market segments. The great value in being part of the FlightSafety International family is our internal access to the skills and resources that are driving these emerging capabilities. For our part, the focus is to create new, advanced capabilities and solutions that meet the specific and different needs of our defense customers.
MS&T: When we spoke about one year ago, you stated your intentions to broaden your
portfolio – maintaining your competencies in the air transport and cargo sector but expanding your market share into fast jets and other aviation programs. How is FSI Defense progressing to broaden its air customer base?
DD: The key is in understanding the unique needs for each of these different market segments. For example, the training needs of the air transport and aerial refueling communities are not necessarily the same as the fighter and bomber community. By partnering with the combat and mobility air forces we can better understand and collectively team with them to provide a baseline of common solutions while offering unique mission training that will resolve many of their challenges. In general, we’ve become much more closely aligned with the various service staffs, warfighters, and acquisition experts to achieve my vision of putting the customer first.
MS&T: This August, the US Navy selected FSI Defense to participate in the Fielded Training Systems Support Five contract for training and instructional services. This is another indicator of FSI Defense’s successful focus on the US military market. Are there any non-US defense contracts or programs FSI is eyeing to pursue or join?
BT: The Navy’s Fielded Training Systems Support Five (FTSS 5) is an indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract that positions us to respond to a variety of training RFPs over the next five years. The defense training market is a significant portion of our business which we’re committed to growing. A good balance of commercial and defense business can have a beneficial balancing effect. We always keep a close eye out for requirements that fit our strengths and give us the ability to help prepare our warfighters.
DD: While our priority remains on the US defense sector, we clearly see opportunities to meet the growing needs of our allies and coalition partners through support of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases generated by the respective program offices or through Direct Commercial Sales (DCS). We’re also seeing an immediate and expanded number of opportunities from the Frasca acquisition that leverages their already significant international presence.
MS&T: At this I/ITSEC we’re again seeing the military services’ interest in forward-leaning technology enablers – AI, big data, VR and many others, for their training and education programs. Provide a few instances of FSI Defense bringing to bear these new technologies in its current and future programs of record.
BT: Frasca has developed what many are rightfully describing as leading-edge Mixed Reality (MR) capability and we’re in the process of delivering two of their devices to support the Navy and Marine Corps’ helicopter flight training in Pensacola, Florida. We’re displaying two networked TH-73 MR devices here at the show and encourage you to come by and see for yourself. At show completion these devices will be crated and shipped directly to Whiting Field in Pensacola for acceptance by the Navy. Delivery of additional devices will closely follow.
DD: We’re also amidst an effort to contribute to the developmental efforts of the synthetic training environment. We’re collaborating with military and industry experts to solve for a very real training inadequacy. For instance, the recently released National Defense Strategy (NDS) clearly identifies a peer competitor that is causing the Department of Defense to seek new ways to rapidly prepare for a future fight.
The synthetic environment enables all participants (“players”) to test and train with unlimited virtual air and range space. Furthermore, the use of the virtual, or synthetic environment, will save flight hours, reduce wear and tear on our war machine, and provide a closed eco-system where our forces can “train like they fight” without divulging tactics, techniques, and procedures to our adversary.
On the topic of train like they will fight, you’ll recall US Air Force KC-46s were operating over the skies of Poland and Germany earlier this year. The level of professionalism they were able to operate at, I think, was a direct reflection on the level of training we provided. Recently there was an article about a KC-46 in training that had to land with its boom deployed. That’s a direct reflection of some of the training we were able to provide in a simulated environment. As a company we’re very proud of when we see that kind of success in pilots we have had the opportunity to work with.
The same with Air Force C-17s, looking at the successes they had in last year’s Afghanistan airlift. Look at how many of those pilots who came out and were recognized and decorated for their heroic flying can attribute some of their successes to their training. We didn’t have a simulation for all of the circumstances they found themselves in. For a vast majority of the mission tasks, they were able to go back to the training. Just like the KC-46, we’re very proud of the pilots we trained in the past.
We’re confident that FSI Defense is uniquely qualified to continue to help our industry partners and the DoD navigate this challenge.
Dan Davis, President FSI Defense, a FlightSafety International company. Source: FlightSafety International
MS&T: Highlight some of the new products, contract starts and other major activities Halldale readers will see from FSI Defense in 2023.
DD: 2023 stands to be an exciting year for FSI Defense as we build upon recent successes with a clear focus on continuing to advance training capabilities and performance. One of our top priorities is to modernize our C-17 Aircrew Training System to better align with Air Mobility Command’s (AMC) mission – in particular, to make General Mike Minihan’s (AMC Commander) vision and mobility manifesto a reality. In other words, we’ll ensure C-17 aircrew can train to safely operate their aircraft while effectively employing the weapon system to close the four gaps identified by General Minihan – command and control, navigation, maneuvering under fire, and tempo.
We’re equally committed to delivering outstanding training to the Navy and Marine Corps. In fact, our TH-73 training system program for the Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) has set a new standard for training performance and is the new baseline for future training needs. We’re especially excited to be delivering Frasca-developed, best-in-class MR devices to support Navy and Marine Corps undergraduate helicopter training.
Likewise, we’ll be busy as team members on the CH-53K heavy lift program for the Marine Corps, as we develop a new, advanced display system that will significantly improve the training capability and effectiveness of this impressive new platform. We’re very excited to be working with Veraxx on that program.
Additionally, we’re shaping several opportunities with AFSOC programs to train and prepare warfighters for complex missions.
In first quarter 2023 you’ll probably see some FMS developments, especially with KC-46 and all the successes they have had. That will be an FMS platform and we’ll watch where that development leads.
There are a number of other training and simulation capabilities that we’re working on to help our uniformed brothers and sisters enjoy an overwhelming combat advantage. Meanwhile, I will continue to emphasize the need to listen to our customer.