It was time. I’ve enjoyed the last 2-1/2 days at UnrealFest2023 meeting with individuals starting their own businesses, others from second- and third-tier simulation and training industry suppliers and service providers, and those simply those interested in what’s happening in this industry segment. The Day 3 presentation by Adam Breed, an engineering innovation architect at Lockheed Martin, provided the “glue,” so to speak, of an OEM’s insights on high-level, overarching S&T activities. The Orlando-based executive’s presentation Creating a Common Simulation Core Platform to Build Complex Training Scenarios with Unreal Engine furnished delegates with a glimpse of how this major defense company is strengthening and expanding its S&T activities in the Live, Virtual and Constructive training domains. The presentation had a number of key take-aways for business development teams and other industry members. An extract of highlights from the morning session follows.
Breed noted Lockheed Martin is essentially “four companies in one,” with an expanding requirement for S&T in each of the four business areas: Aeronautics; Missiles and Fire control; Rotary and Mission Systems and Space. Accordingly, Lockheed Martin developed training systems and devices and systems with diverging requirements for customers across the warfare domains. This is important, as in one case, while LM developed flight simulators for training audiences literally eyeing the horizon and beyond, the company’s S&T team also fielded gunnery simulators “for use on the ground, where there was the requirement for everything to be ‘super photo-real, and accurate,’ where doors needed to open and such – things you really don’t care about in a flight simulator.”
Enter Unreal Engine and its evolving capabilities that resonated quite well with this OEM. When the LM team initially inquired about the evolving UE5’s nascent capabilities, at the top of their wish-list was the ability to scale content, from the millimeter-level up to and beyond 30,000ft (9km). While the UE team said it could meet the scalability challenge, it also noted it could provide plug-ins and capabilities to support LM’s numerous legacy support contracts. “Where we see this today,” Breed said, “is our Aeronautics group using Unreal to gain a lot of photorealistic video vignettes, for instance. In Rotary and Mission Systems, we use those same models in our training devices. Instead of going off with some proprietary engine format and such, we all got on the same sheet of music. Pulling from the same repositories, we’d be able to do it once and save our customers money.” Another intriguing development on LM’s path to become a UE customer occurred in parallel between the gaming industry and the defense industry – with the former community’s longer-term sustainment strategy evolving to better match the DoD acquisition model – that typically includes a 10-plus year sustainment tail. “This means I don’t have to worry about things – cloud renderers, terrain models in systems, entity scaling, for instance, the million entities that are being targeted by Unreal. These are huge things I have to do if nobody else does. If you do that, we can both leverage each other’s capabilities and make a much better product.”
Unveiling a Bit More About Milverse
Another attention-getter, was when Breed also divulged LM’s latest efforts to advance Milverse. The project is not presently envisioned to be a product, but “an inner-sourcing model, a repository that Lockheed Martin owns and controls, and is allowed to share internally to plug-in the capabilities.” The program presenter further clarified, “It’s an enabling technology, a model we have that is going to allow us to integrate and provide solutions a lot quicker than we ever would have before.” LM’s business plan also includes taking advantage of the best-of-breed gaming technologies afforded by UE, for instance, realistic3-D visuals, point-of-need deployment, extreme entity count across live and synthetic domains, and others.
More specific ROIs envisioned from LMs investment in Milverse include: obtaining ground semi-automated forces with exercise planning and other purposes; advanced visualization engine for future fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft; math libraries and other content for live training; and operational and digital twin visualization for logistics.
MILES Replacement as Use Case
MILES is a legacy-era defense, laser-based training tool in use under various suppliers’ labels by defense and security forces around the globe. Of added significance, LM’s technology roadmap includes replacing MILES – and with very good reasons as the products’ physics-based and other technology underpinnings have seriously lagged the demands for more rigorous, efficient live training. Breed declared, “We have the solution and it is in works right now. It’s using the 3-D rendering capabilities to create virtual bullets with sensor fusion. This is a very hard problem that about 60,000 people are working. On the surface it appears very easy, but you have to do some really smart tricks to make this work.” LM’s partners to advance a MILES replacement include UE for creating a super-high fidelity, 3-D environment to help establish the virtual world. The OEM has further worked with blackshark.ai to “pull in some of the terrain.”
S&T to Face Down Mission Requirements
Lockheed Martin is on task to provide ever-more innovative S&T solutions to meet huge requirements on its customers’ horizons. In one of many cases, the US DoD is eyeing new generations of rotary aircraft that will fly ever-faster and at increasingly low-altitudes – with the need for efficiently trained aircrews for this aircraft. The OEM and its industry team will be challenged to develop and field Milverse and similar technology breakthroughs to allow its military customers to train as they’ll operate in the increasingly demanding multi-domain environment. Halldale Group and MS&T look forward to following the OEM and its S&T industry team on their journey.