Magazine article National Defense

Aircraft Improvements Lead to Dilemma of 'Concurrency'

Magazine article National Defense

Aircraft Improvements Lead to Dilemma of 'Concurrency'

Article excerpt

One of the most vexing problems in simulation-based military flight trainers today is their failure to keep up with the technological upgrades made to the "real" aircraft, industry and government officials said.

Such disparity between the configurations of aircraft and trainers is "a major challenge," said Navy Capt. Rory H. Fisher, program manager for aviation training at the Naval Air Systems Command.

During a recent interview, Fisher explained that tactical aircraft are equipped with what is known as an "operational flight program." As modifications are made to the aircraft that affect the mission computer, the operational flight program also changes. But while changes in the aircraft typically are funded in the program's budget, that is not the case with the simulators. "That is one of those things that are 'free in the aircraft' but not in the simulator," said Fisher. "You have to pay for the upgrades.

"You may need to re-host your computers or upgrade your visual systems or upgrade your target projectors in order to get new capabilities in the trainers," he said. A simple engineering update, for example, may cost $500,000 to incorporate into 50 aircraft, but it may cost $5 million to put that engineering change in a simulator. "Is that cost-effective? You have to figure that out."

Cost-versus-capability tradeoffs in the Navy "are made all the time," said Fisher. "When you are limited in funding, you have to make tough decisions."

The Navy, meanwhile, is counting on breakthroughs in technology to achieve lower-cost simulators, such as PC-based systems, which "could fill some of the void," Fisher said. "But the fleet guys don't want to hear that." The typical reaction of a Navy pilot, he said, is, "I didn't join the Navy to play a video game. I joined the Navy to fly an airplane."

The lack of concurrency between the aircraft and the simulators is an issue "the military struggles with," said John Lenyo, vice president for business development at BAE Systems Flight Simulation and Training, in Tampa, Fla.

"They do not usually upgrade the simulators at the same time the platform is upgraded," he said in an interview. The reason is that each side relies on "different kinds of money." The money used to upgrade airplanes comes from a different account than the funds used for training. "They are trying to address this problem with new platforms, such as Joint Strike Fighter or the V-22 Osprey, where they are buying the trainer through the prime contractor," said Lenyo.

BAE has been working on solving the concurrency problem in the C-130 J Hercules cargo aircraft trainer. …

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