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17 May 2016

CAE Gearing Up for UK RAF Synthetic Rapid Rehearsal

A holy grail of military synthetic training – mission rehearsal scenarios created on relatively short notice – is coming closer to reality at the UK Royal Air Force’s Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) at RAF Benson, dovetailing with Ministry of Defence expectations of more short-term operational missions rather than prolonged deployments such as the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MSHATF has had generic mission rehearsal capability, but not rapidly updated mission rehearsal,” said Andrew Naismith, Managing Director, CAE Aircrew Training Services, during a media briefing prior to the ITEC 2016 conference in London. Canadian training systems integrator and simulator manufacturer CAE’s UK subsidiary manages the six-simulator facility for CH47 Chinook, AW101 / EH101 Merlin, and AS330 Puma Mk2 crew training through a private financing initiative (PFI) contract that runs until 2037.

In the future, instead of walking around a map table, helicopter crews may rehearse an anticipated in-and-out mission in North Africa or Northern Ireland by plugging into the simulators such variables as the expected weather at the target location and known or suspected enemy threats. As a former operational commander who did tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan, Naismith views such simulation capability “as a significant benefit.”

One of the enablers of the rapid rehearsal capability is visual system upgrades to the simulators, replacing 15-year-old Rockwell Collins Harmony image generators with current-generation CAE Medallion 6000 series IGs. The new out-the-window visual as well as sensor displays are driven by the non-proprietary Common Data Base (CDB) which CAE originally developed for training US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) Black Hawk crews.

CAE RAF MSHATF Tactical Control Centre

The CDB was recognized last year as an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Best Practice, and is expected to become an OGC standard by the end of this year, according to Philippe Perey, CAE Defense & Security Senior Director, Global Business Development and Strategic Initiatives. CDB allows the same correlated terrain data to be used by numerous simulation systems even though they may be operating at different altitudes and distances from the ground. Perey said CDB features an open format, downloadable at the presagis.com website, and requires no license or royalties.

Two of the six simulators, a Chinook and a Puma, have been fitted with Medallion visuals and a second Chinook is due to be upgraded this summer with a planned ready-for-training date of October. The third CH47 is expected to be modified, possibly next year, for the new Digital Automated Flight Control Systems (DAFCS), which improves handling qualities and automated landings when flying in dust brownout and snow whiteout conditions when visual references are obscured.

The database encompasses the whole of the UK, including Scotland, Norway, North Africa, West Africa, parts of the Middle East, and other potential conflict zones. Charlie Young, commander of the RAF’s new Chinook and Puma Operational Conversion Unit, which was officially stood up in October and is in process of settling in at Benson, termed the Medallion mountain scenarios, “fantastic.  We can fly mountain techniques correctly, and the wind effects are brilliant.”

In the changing culture of RAF training, instructors are also being given more flexibility to manage the student syllabus. Rather than pre-set blocks of time, Naismith said instructors can be more flexible in scheduling simulator and in-aircraft training time. During Merlin/Puma initial conversion training, about 70% is now done in the ground school and sims. Chinook training is about 45%, but CAE is hoping to push that to 70% within the year. Naismith said synthetic training costs about 90-95% less than aircraft training, is accessible irrespective of weather or time of day, environmentally friendly (noise and emissions), and provides a more immersive experience for the crew.

CAE is hoping to add a second Puma trainer, as time in the current device is filled. They also see a compelling need for a high-level gunnery trainer for rear-crew and integrated tactical training.
In addition to British crews, the MSHATF has hosted training for air force and army rotary-wing crews from a range of nations: Algeria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Oman, Portugal, Italy, Japan, Jordan, the Netherlands, and Singapore (which is conducting a competition to upgrade its own CAE-built CH47D simulator to the F configuration).

Rick Adams, London