The MS&T series on military FSTD developments is taking an off-ramp from its review of new devices and those on the drawing board, to take a glance at two underpinning technologies being integrated into these systems. 

First up, a quick-look at efforts to bring augmented reality (AR) into one FSTD training enterprise and then a survey of activities in the visual systems sector. 

The Timing is Right   

Timing is everything, and so it is with the relevance of this military FSTD overview series, which finds defense customers stepping up their pace for ordering new devices and upgrading fielded systems.  

George Forbes, Founder and CEO at Immersive Display Solutions, Inc., provided one attention-getting, high-level market overview, noting that it should be no surprise that so many simulators, whether they are collimated or direct projection, are reaching a point in their service lives where upgrades are important. “We’re creating disadvantage for our pilots with the fact that these new technologies exist and the simulators are not being upgraded fast enough to take advantage of the technology. Most of the time you are not dealing with one simulator, but a family of simulators.” Of further significance, the corporate leader noted from IDSI’s perspective, discussions that often began at 2022 I/ITSEC are starting to evolve into “real solid opportunities.”   

The corporate leader’s observations reflect adjacent activities elsewhere at the supplier level, in particular, progress being made to introduce AR into fast-jet training enterprises.      

ATARS into T-50 GBTS

One vital development in the rapidly evolving extended reality (XR) domain is the innovation in the AR sector. In one instance, Lockheed Martin, in partnership with KAI and Red 6, has begun developing engineering solutions and a technology roadmap to establish an implementation path for Red 6’s Advanced Tactical Augmented Reality System (ATARS) into KAI’s T-50 platform and associated ground-based training systems (GBTS).

Madison Callahan, Lockheed Martin Communications spokesperson, pointed out initial technology integration includes a T-50 demonstrator and the Red 6 ATARS technology that is electronically networked with the Lockheed Martin Prepar3D software simulation suite. “This early engineering solution provides Lockheed Martin and Red 6 additional experience in integrating simulations which could eventually comprise embedded training for the T-50 program and ground-based training systems,” the spokesperson added.

The decision to focus on T-50 in this use case is sound. The T-50 program, originally developed by KAI in partnership with Lockheed Martin, has been used to train more than 2,500 student pilots and has logged more than 300,000 flight hours. Of no surprise, while the ATARS system is initially targeted for the T-50 program, it could eventually be applied to operational Lockheed Martin platforms such as the F-16, F-22 and F-35. While Lockheed Martin partners with KAI and Red 6 to explore ATARS integration options, the spokesperson noted, “At this point, fielding plans for specific programs is country-sensitive information.”

In terms of capability, ATARS is a multi-node, all-domain AR system that was said to deliver a complete outdoor synthetic training environment for multiple users. The Lockheed Martin spokesperson concluded, “Red 6 technology allows pilots to experience the cognitive loads of physically flying airplanes while capturing the value of synthetics by enabling them to enter realistic, scalable in range and ratio, secure, simulated training environments while airborne in the most dynamic of outdoor environments.”

Visual Sector Snapshot

Back at IDSI, while Forbes was precluded by non-disclosure agreements and other contract clauses from providing too many details, he was able to provide MS&T with an emergent contract win for a defense, fast-jet training program in direct support of a large S&T contractor.   “It is for more than a handful of devices,” he pointed out and further explained, “This is where we completely replace the projection system which is WU-rated, probably installed about 2011, and we are going to replace them all with new native 4K resolution projection systems. As this will be a faceted, rear-projected, it will also have new warp and blend software, and other capabilities.” IDSI has also expanded its portfolio to include upgrading collimated displays, which typically shows out-the-window display imagery to the pilot so it appears at a distant focus point. 

Forbes then briefly pivoted into partnering activities – helping his company compete in and match the pace of sector activities. Noting “native 4K projectors from Norxe, Barco and others are starting to hit the streets,” he added, “All of the DLP [digital light processing] vendors are going to start to get their native 4K projectors. The ability to pick and choose a projector to meet specific customer application and performance metrics is a really nice thing to have to provide the best solution.”

IDSI is concurrently laying the foundation to further expand the technology base of FSTDs with its increased focus on partnering with IG vendors. “This is happening in a quite dramatic way,” Andrew Jamison, IDSI’s GM for Special Projects, noted, suggesting that partnering with the IG vendors is a great way get IDSI’s respective products into the acquisition pipeline. Forbes added, IDSI’s product offerings are increasing due to Jamison’s team’s efforts to integrate mixed reality (MR) into the company portfolio and accompanying software development. “Working with multiple software engines such as Epic’s Unreal Engine and Unity, paired with MR systems that you can plug into mobile transportable simulators creates an ecosystem in which you are much more valuable to those partners.”   

Peering into the near-term, Forbes provided a “teaser” for the community – simply saying IDSI will have one major product introduction at this week’s 2023 I/ITSEC and other related developments to discuss with delegates and industry attendees.  

More FSTD Developments on the Horizon

MS&T looks forward to continuing its review of military FSTD sector developments, in both devices and underpinning technologies, following this week’s I/ITSEC. 

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