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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

20 May 2016

ITEC 2016: Sim Interoperability Still a Work in Progress

A decade and a half ago, the first US Air Force distributed mission operations (DMO) programme for electronically linking simulators at geographically separate locations, “put a significant amount of energy into creating and implementing a robust standards development process, carefully defining the protocols, message formats, data values, and operational procedures essential to achieving meaningful communication among the dissimilar simulators comprising a DMO net,” Tony DalSasso told the NATO Session at ITEC 2016. That standards foundation is now paying off in the quest for interoperability across the Service and a, “persistent networked training capability.”

Built on IEEE 1278 Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) and 1516 High Level Architecture (HLA) protocols, DMO was first implemented for Mobility Air Forces (MAF) platforms and more recently for Combat Air Forces (CAF) simulators. Last year, during the Northern Edge 2015 joint training exercise in Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska, the MAF and CAF DMOs were networked together for the first time. They were also integrated with live aircraft and live ranges; the exercise involved about 6,000 personnel. “While the Air Combat and Mobility networks were built on different architectures to satisfy different needs, the interaction standards for the two networks remained compatible.”

DalSasso, Chief Engineer of the USAF Simulators Division, said nine combined MAF-CAF events have been held since, and one of the near-term objectives is virtual aerial refueling for bomber aircraft. “Heavy bombers such as the B-52 and B-2 are extraordinarily expensive to fly, and these aircraft are in short supply,” he noted.

The next step, DalSasso said, is a common standards maintenance process for the two networks. There’s also a vision of a future national USAF-level common standards process so other DMO networks, such as Special Operations Command, can also be plugged in, but, “that’s a work in progress; we haven’t implemented it yet.”

The NATO Modelling & Simulation Centre of Excellence (M&S COE) applied DIS and HLA to their new M&S Focus Area at the Coalition Warrior Interoperability eXploration, eXperimentation, eXamination eXercise (CWIX), held at the Joint Forces Training Centre in Bydgoszcz, Poland. The annual CWIX addresses a spectrum of technical Communication and Information System (CIS) interoperability topics for currently fielded, near-term, future, and experimental CIS capabilities throughout NATO nations.

Italian Air Force officer Lieutenant Colonel Roberto Censori, Data Management Section Chief in the Distributed Simulation Branch of the M&S CoE, deemed the 2015 exercise largely successful but added, “we think we have room for improving on our targets in 2016.” CWIX 16 will be held June 13-30. Last year eight nations and organizations participated; this year it will be 11.

The Netherlands would like to see international or at least trans-Atlantic mission training through distributed simulation (MTDS) exercises. Major Freek van Heck, Senior Plans and Policy Officer for C2 Systems at the Ministry of Defence, said: “Missions are getting more demanding, and smaller nations always operate in a coalition environment.”

Last July, a multination MTDS exercise – MSG-128 Incremental Implementation of NATO MTDS Operations – linked fighter aircraft simulators at Netherlands Aerospace Centre NLR with Canadian and German fighter simulators and the NATO AWACS mission simulator. Next year, according to van Heck, a new exercise is planned with more countries and simulators.

International simulator interoperability has been a notion since the ‘First Wave’ concept project in 2004, which achieved some of its goals but was severely wounded when the US military yanked its simulators from the network at the 11th hour, citing data security concerns.

Rick Adams