Magazine article National Defense

Databases Move to Next Level in Distributed Mission Training

Magazine article National Defense

Databases Move to Next Level in Distributed Mission Training

Article excerpt

Air Force officials agree that they would like pilots to be able to fly more hours than are currently affordable. Recent advances in simulation technology, however, help to provide a more realistic training environment than what was possible in previous simulators. A case in point is the Distributed Mission Training (DMT) program, which is gaining popularity within the service.

"Pilots are getting very few flight hours, but this augments their training," said Mary Wellik, a consultant at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), in Mesa, Ariz. Wellik told National Defense that he wanted to make it especially clear that with DMT, the Air Force is not trying to rake flight hours away from the pilots, but instead "add to their training."

DMT is raking shape at APRIL. "The concept was born at the lab," said Wellik. It is a method that incorporates advanced 3-D images and intelligence data into a training environment that allows pilots at multiple locations to practice missions together. These missions can range from individual and team exercises to flail theater-level baffles.

The Air Force recently conducted its first DMT exercise with an international partner when it flew with U.K. Tornadoes, said Wellik. Other allies have been expressing their interest in the concept, he added.

In maturing DMT, there has been a "big push" for the Air Force to collaborate with industry on research and development, said Wellik.

Collaboration

The need to acquire commercial solutions is understood and being accepted, Wellik commented. Air Force leaders already have signed agreements with Lockheed Martin Corporation and The Boeing Company so that the F-15 and F-16 fighters can take part in DMT. Boeing received a 15-year, $574 million contract to implement DMT on F-15C fighters. Lockheed Martin received $249 million for DMT on the F-16, and PLEXSYS Interface Products Inc. won a $75.6 million contract for the airborne warning and control system allotment. In 1998, AFRL proved that the two flight simulators--F-15C and F-16--could operate interactively from multiple locations. Boeing, in June 2000, demonstrated the ability to link its Joint Strike Fighter full-mission simulator to F-15s located at another site.

One of the most recent DMT contract awards was given to TRW Inc., by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Under this five-year contract, worth $284.7 million, TRW will establish, operate and maintain a networked, real-time DMT system. The company will start by linking trainers at Langley Air Force Base, Va.; Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; and Tinker Air Force, Okla. Eventually, more than 50 training sites will be linked worldwide, company officials said.

TRW's partners include Litton-TASC Inc., SPARTA, CAE Electronics Ltd. and MATCOM for this project.

Another one of the latest Air Force-industry partnerships is designed to bring enhanced realism to DMT. AFRL signed a CRADA, or cooperative research and development agreement, with SGI Federal, a subsidiary of SGI Inc. (Silicon Graphics), in which the company will deliver sophisticated graphics systems during the next five years. The CRADA requires SGI Federal to "work with AFRL and industry partners to evaluate the enhancement and possible productization of visual display systems and their commercial application for future training programs," according to Greg Slabodkin, spokesman for SGI Federal's government and research division. What that means is that SGI Federal will work to instill as much realism into DMT simulation visuals by creating databases that deliver real-time information, such as geospatial imaging and intelligence.

In this so-called Information Age, the defense and intelligence communities have merged, said John Burwell, SGI Federal marketing director of intelligence and defense. "That's primarily because of data," he said in an interview. "The intelligence community has an incredible source of image data that comes down from a variety of national, technical means. …

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