AIR FORCE: Working the Synthetic Environments for a Better Air Force
© 2006 FrontLine Defence (Vol 3, No 6)

To stay relevant, an organization must be able to evolve on a continuous basis to meet the demands of its environment. It must be capable of finding new ways to maximize its performance, keeping in mind that resources are limited.

For Canada’s Air Force, the ability to meet this challenge of balancing limited resources with changing demands is not just a question of relevancy; it’s a question of survival. Canada’s Air Force operates in a continually changing world and performs a myriad of challenging activities that contribute to national and international security. In many cases, the Air Force operates in a multinational context, such as within NORAD or NATO, and therefore, it must find ways to ensure that its personnel and equipment are capable of working with our allies. It must find cost-efficient ways to evolve.

With this in mind, the Air Force Senior Leadership decided in the past few years that the organization needed to transform and modernize. It needed a focal point, an engine of change that would focus on the development of new capabilities and the enhancement of existing ones. After reviewing possibilities, many initiatives were taken and the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Center (CFAWC) was created in October 2005.

Within the Aerospace Warfare Center, three technology-based groups were formed that contribute to the overall CFAWC mission: the Air Force Experi­mentation Center (AFEC), the Distributed Missions Operations Center (DMOC) and the Synthetic Environment Coordination Office (SECO).

The DMOC has begun to take over the organization, planning and execution of distributed simulation events for the Air Force, and the SECO advises and coordinates Air Force policy on the use of synthetic environments. In other words, these groups are the means that are ­currently permitting the Air Force to ­transition distributed simulation from the research and development domain, which was successfully developed over the past 10 years by Defence Research and the Director of Air Requirements into an operational capability.

These groups are applying existing technology to develop synthetic environments that provide cost-efficient training for the Air Force. This synthetic environment training allows Air Force personnel to train in large-scale complex situations that are otherwise not easily duplicated. Simulation can easily bring together aircraft, controllers, UAVs and helicopters as well as Army and Maritime forces in joint and coalition environments.

Major Scott Arbuthnot, a helicopter pilot with a math, computer science and geomatics background, started working in the simulation and distributed simulation technologies environment for the Air Force more than seven years ago – he has become a driving force behind the employ­ment of this exciting new technology.

The showcase part of the SEBL is two reconfigurable fast-jet simulators, which use technology developed in-house by Maj Arbuthnot and his team. The software is called the Reconfigurable Architecture using Plug-in Technology, Open and Reconfigurable (RAPTOR).

In essence, RAPTOR is a simulation host framework that has been developed using modern plug-in software architecture. According to Major Arbuthnot, “by using RAPTOR, functionality can be added, removed, or modified simply through the use of plug-ins without ever having to recompile the host source code.” This technology has attracted a lot of interest within the Air Force and the CF as a whole because it allows our aircrew and even Land Forces operators (yes, this system can also simulate land vehicles and terrain) to quickly reconfigure or proto­type vehicles and systems.

Reconfiguring between vehicle types can be as easy as swapping the vehicle dynamics plug-in. For example, swap the dynamics from a jet aircraft to a helicopter, and re-start the system. These vehicle dynamics plug-ins can read XML files which define specific performance configurations, allowing them to simulate different vehicle types within a model. For instance, the jet aircraft dynamics model could be reconfigured between a Mig29 and an F16 simply by changing the XML type definition files. Similarly, plug-ins control instrument and heads-up displays, weapons loads, sensor systems as well as high level architecture (HLA) and Image Generator (IG) interfacing.

This fast-jet simulator is one of two simulators that form the Synthetic Environment BattleLab which uses technology developed in-house by Maj Arbuthnot and his team to allow Air Force personnel to train in large-scale, complex situations that are otherwise not easily duplicated.

Although this technology is not intended to replace “traditional” simulators, it does provide a far less expensive solution for rapid prototyping and can provide users a mid-fidelity distributed network capable system for a fraction of the cost to modify a legacy simulator, an important advantage in a resource-­limited organization. In the current state of the world, this is an advantage that can be neither ignored nor overstated.

Interestingly, the SEBL brings even more advantages to the Air Force table. “One of the real benefits of this reconfigurable simulation system is that it not only allows us to help train our aircrew members, but it also helps us review suggested modification and design proposals to our various cockpits before incurring significant costs or taking the risk that the change will not meet our expectations once completed” says Major Arbuthnot.

Human Factors Engineering using simulation technology is a methodology being adopted by Defence and Industry worldwide. Basically, the SEBL is more than a simulation system; it is a true force multiplier.

Of course, the SEBL is a work in progress, and Major Arbuthnot sees even more potential for this system, but even as it is right now, the SEBL proves that by recognizing the need to modernize, and by providing the right people and the right tools to do so, the Air Force has managed to stay relevant and is now more than ever a dynamic an essential part of the Canadian Forces .

Major Isabelle Robitaille is with the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre.

Note: The SEBL RAPTOR framework technology will be showcased in the Canadian Forces display booth at the I/ITSEC show in Orlando this December.
© FrontLine Defence 2006