Fast-Jet FSTD Survey: Round 1

13 November 2023

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In some ways, it remains business as usual in the military fast-jet FSTD market, with industry teams hearing loud and clear the military customer’s message and interest in gaining best value from their individual, up through families, of training devices. But on the technology side of the ledger, this is a time of nothing less than disruption. Defense training organizations and OEMs are putting forth intriguing solutions for human-in-the-cockpit, fourth- and fifth-generation fast jets – with artificial intelligence, game engines, XR/VR/AR/MR devices and other technology enablers being integrated into this community’s FSTDs.

This is the second short-article in a series of randomly selected highlights in the military FSTD market. In this installment, an OEM’s insights on trends and developments in this market are presented along with a glimpse of a device recently exhibited for the A&D community. Several follow-on articles will highlight a FSTD to be unveiled at 2023 I/ITSEC, “deep dives” on several technology underpinnings for new devices and a look at a next-gen training system.

Sector Overview

Listening to Keith Taylor, Director of US Business Development at CAE Defense & Security, his OEM team is keeping its eye on an expanding list of low-high learning technologies to integrate into FSTDs and meeting customers’ demands for a mix of capable training devices.

The CAE executive first emphasized much of the modeling and simulation market continues to focus on cost savings with low to medium-fidelity and game-based training solutions. Yet, while low-cost, game-based trainers can satisfy a fraction of the training requirement for mostly procedural skills, the necessity for validated aerodynamic, engine, sensor, weapons, threat, and environmental models cannot be overstated. “Pilots require higher validated training models and scenarios replicating the real-world environments to which they deploy and operate. In today's combat training environment, outcomes must be supported with validated models to ensure the useability and accuracy of the data.”

As the prime contractor on US Air Force SCARS, CAE designs, delivers, sustains, and upgrades the Operational Training and Test Infrastructure (one simulator, above) based on cyber secure hybrid cloud technology. Image credit: CAE.

Taylor then segued into other major trends. To meet the comprehensive needs of defense customers, CAE sees the market transitioning to a family of trainers that provides a scaled suite of devices, optimizing capabilities according to the training objectives and tasks. This approach is observed to deliver the right capabilities relative to cost, ensuring the devices are appropriately costed and capable based on the tasks and requirements. As important, “Additionally, we see a shift to medium- and high-fidelity training ecosystems that are networked locally and across large-scale distributed environments to support secure joint-domain training.”

Speaking from CAE’s decades of experience delivering traditional, high-fidelity simulators like Level D or Level 7 devices across defense and commercial markets, the defense training executive noted that in addition to scaling traditional product lines with medium- to high-fidelity models, CAE has a broad offering of adaptive immersive training solutions incorporating Augmented, Mixed, or Virtual Reality (AR/MR/VR). “Our customer-focused solutions allow CAE to scale as required from low- to medium- to high-fidelity trainers and integrate exciting new technologies into those devices to ensure mission readiness,” Taylor said and added, his company’s proven capabilities and agile development permit it to enhance training by incorporating advanced machine learning algorithms co-developed with academia to assess cognitive loading, biometric measurement, automated performance assessment, and integrate AR/MR/VR solutions with OEM Operational Flight Program software and multiple image generator product lines.

On CAE’s Horizon

The executive also discussed multiple product offerings to be available in the coming year that support integrated capabilities and informed decision-making. CAE’s 3-D collaboration and visualization tool, CAE RIDGE, uses an augmented reality headset to portray a digital sand table and allows real-time data inputs, streaming feeds, and manipulation of assets within a virtual area of operation. “Integration of this capability, with simulated data and constructive entities as in CAE VISTA, a Virtual Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Training Application, and the Joint Terminal Attack Controller trainer, enable rapid deployment and interoperability for joint force training and operations,” he concluded. CAE’s near-term efforts also include leading the integration and standardization of the US Air Force’s Simulator Common Architecture Requirements and Standards (SCARS) and working with the industry to deliver an enterprise solution that is a deployable multi-generation training system.

KF-21 VR Simulator

Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) KF-21 fighter jet program continues to mature. While the order book, the prototypes’ operational flight-testing regime and related topics are beyond MS&T’s editorial purview, what did catch the author’s attention was the KF-21 simulator exhibited at this October’s ADEX 2023.

The author gained insights on this FSTD from Junghwan Cho, M&S Business Team member and Simulation Program Manager, and Ikhyeon Kim, Senior Research Engineer, M&S Development Team III – collectively referred to for this article as “Team KAI.”

KAI has been developing VR simulators for various aircraft platforms through internal investments. As a part of the Full-Scale Development of the KF-21 Ground Based Training System (GBTS), KAI has analyzed demanding requirements and decisions by Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF.)

What’s insightful were ROKAF’s requirements, which Team KAI offered were straightforward but essential for project success.

KAI is inserting a game engine enabler (UE5) in its KF-21 VR simulator.

Image credit: KAI

The customer sought:

- Training Effect and Performance: from which KAI understood the significance of creating an immersive training environment that fosters focused training, and therefore, performance was a top priority;

- User-Friendly graphical user interface (GUI): deemed critical for an intuitive and seamless user experience;

- Stable maintenance after delivery: to ensure stable maintenance post-deployment – essential to guaranteeing the uninterrupted operation of KAI’s solution;

- Expansivity: providing the ability to expand and adapt the solution as needed was also a crucial consideration; and

- Cost-Effectiveness: striking a balance between high-quality features and cost-efficiency was a key element of the decision-making process.

“To address these requirements, we conducted a comprehensive review of all available solutions. Furthermore, we have developed a VR Simulator prototype for a demonstration to ensure that KAI's design aligns perfectly with the customer's expectations,” Team KAI said and continued, “In particular, AI-embedded KF-21/FA-50 [light combat aircraft] VR Simulators were showcased at ADEX 2023 and received a lot of interest and response. Through continuous improvement, we plan to deliver it to ROKAF in 2026.”

Team KAI added that ROKAF, “one of the most demanding customers with the highest requirements in the simulation industry,” is expecting compliance with the basic simulator requirements stipulated by CFR Part 60, and has also emphasized the need for ergonomic factors. “So, KAI provides a Level D compliance flight dynamics model with a realistic avionics model, high-resolution satellite image with elevation data, real-time streaming of terrain data for the entire Korean Territory, and the ability to generate real-time sound effects through a UE5 meta-sound component to increase the training effectiveness considering KAI’s tight GBTS quality standards.” For the ergonomic factors, KAI provides enhanced comfortable design regarding VR interaction and training experience without distraction.

The KAI team further noted the company has made significant strides in developing training devices that meet and surpass these rigorous requirements. “KAI’s GBTS line-up is ready to meet customers’ needs not only in Korea but around the world.”

Partnerships and More

Of additional relevance to FSTDs and other training systems on MS&T’s watchlist, KAI’s long-term plan revolves around achieving mutual growth, where its partnerships will enable the company to swiftly and effectively incorporate various innovative technologies. “This includes, but is not limited to, AI, VR/MR, and LVC technologies. This approach ensures that KAI remains at the forefront of technological advancements and can provide our customers with the latest and most effective solutions,” the KAI team remarked and concluded, “These KAI's R&D capabilities have been proven by contract from the Defense Rapid Acquisition Technology Research Institute, Korea for the development of an ‘AI-based Training System’ in June 2023.”

The rigor and other capabilities of the KAI GBTS is being proposed as a Korean-defense package in support of burgeoning number of Korean weapons platform exports finding favor around the globe – submarines, LSFs (Landing Ship Fast), ground vehicles and others.

KAI is planning to participate in I/ITSEC 2024.

[Editor’s note: a video of the UnrealEngine-enabled KF-21 Take Off (3rd Person) View is available below.]


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