In military operations and training, standardization, consistency, and commonality are highly desirable. The more consistently routine tasks can be repeated, the better able warriors are to then manage complexity as well as recognize and respond to abnormal situations.
Throughout the next decade, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is seeking to standardize the framework of training for its aircrews – both helicopter and fixed wing. As the “system of systems” framework evolves, it should increase commonality in Canadian flight simulator capabilities, especially with regard to multi-fleet mission rehearsal. Another upshot will be more simulated training, which is considerably less expensive than live flying.
In the past, “you would have each training environment doing its own response to technology upgrades, further exacerbating a disconnected training system,” Mike Greenley commented. Greenley is the leader for all Canada-focused business for Montreal-based training provider CAE. “Now the air force has a central office, an integrated strategy, and governance over that strategy, so they’ll be able to take advantage of whatever the evolution is in technology and flow it in a coordinated fashion across the system.”
The RCAF admits being at a crossroads. Current training systems which rely heavily on the use of real aircraft are, quite simply, becoming less affordable, especially in the context of near-constant overseas operational deployments for more than a decade.
The published framework, entitled RCAF Simulation Strategy 2025 (RSS), envisions “a simulation-focused training system which skilfully leverages live, virtual, and constructive (LVC) domains within a networked common synthetic environment.”
“Rapid advancements in computer technology have given us the ability to create virtual worlds that realistically simulate flying missions,” stated Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, RCAF commander.
The air force claims much of what is needed to achieve the end state already exists; it merely needs to be “synchronized, aligned, and supported by a robust governance and policy framework.”
How will this play out for the helicopter training community? Going forward, expect new training program or upgrades that will incorporate capabilities such as the Common Database (CDB), originally developed by CAE for the U.S. Special Operations Forces and now a widely used open synthetic environment database specification. The CDB enables simulated visuals, radar, forward-looking infrared (FLIR), and computer-generated forces (CGF) to use information from a single unified database.
In Canada, CAE has applied CDB to simulators for the CH-147 Chinook helicopter and C-130 Hercules transport, and is converting existing SIMS for the CH-146 Griffon multi-role helicopters and CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft to CDB architecture.
CAE recently won the contract to upgrade the terrain database and visual system for the Griffon SIMS. Once that is completed, CH-146 crews in simulators at the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, N.B. will be able to connect with CH-147 crews in simulators at CFB Petawawa, Ont. in mixed-fleet mission scenarios managed from the Tactical Aviation Training Centre at Petawawa.
In the future, the RCAF plans to procure its own simulation capability for the CH-149 search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter, eliminating the need to send crews to the U.K. for training. Currently the CH-149 procurement is scheduled for fiscal year 2017.
With technology changing every three to five years, Greenley says the 10-year RCAF plan will cycle through “a couple of good evolutions. There will be opportunities to improve the computing technology and the simulation technology itself. The central office can take advantage of the tech cycles in a coordinated fashion.”
Connecting simulators together is not a new concept. In the past it’s often required a hodge-podge of protocols, workarounds, a couple of paper clips, and some strategically place chewing gum to get disparate simulator systems to talk with one another, and the resulting mission rehearsal is rarely seamless or fully satisfying to the participants.
Let’s hope that the RCAF, having announced this path to greater efficiency and effectiveness, can now navigate the elements of the program through the inevitable anomalies of political budgets and often inconsistent national priorities.
Rick Adams is chief perspectives officer of AeroPerspectives, an aviation communications consultancy based in the south of France, and is editor of ICAO Journal. He has been writing about technology and training for 30 years.
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