Navy Building Massive Virtual Air and Sea Combat Training Center

July 21, 2015 4:32 PM - Updated: July 21, 2015 5:42 PM
A test engineer sits in the Manned Flight Simulator (MFS) in an undated Naval Air Systems Command photo.
A test engineer sits in the Manned Flight Simulator (MFS) in an undated Naval Air Systems Command photo.

The Navy has begun to build a next generation training center that will pair up to 80 fighter, reconnaissance aircraft and ship simulators with live fliers in a massive environment that blends the real world with the virtual.

Navy director of air warfare Rear Adm. Mike Manazir told USNI News on July 16 that the Navy is working towards opening an Air Defense Strike Group Facility at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada in January 2016 and upgrading it to an Integrated Training Facility by 2020, which would represent a fundamental leap forward in live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training.

Today, the Navy can conduct live-constructive training, in which a live pilot up in the air reacts to computer-generated scenarios, and virtual-constructive training, in which a person in a simulator reacts to computer-generated scenarios. But connecting a pilot in the air with a pilot in a simulator to operate in the same constructive environment – a full LVC event – is a real technical challenge.

At issue is management of classified information. The Navy can securely move that data on the ground from simulators at Naval Air Station Oceana to NAS Lemoore, for example, but it does not yet have a waveform that can securely send data from a plane in the air to the ground. So if a Navy aircraft took off from NAS Oceana today with a training pod attached, it could report back some information, such as Time, Space and Position Information (TSPI), but it could not send information related to bombing a target, Manazir said.

“We need to build a waveform that will carry the sensitive data from our live airplanes down to the facility that will then push it out over our already-classified network that’s on the ground – easier to do on the ground across fiber networks and things like that, we do that a lot now,” he said.
“So it’s that live piece that’s in the future. I don’t estimate we can connect a live entity to do highly classified work … on a distributed network until about 2020.”

While the Navy works on the problem of building that waveform, it will also continue building its high-fidelity constructive world in cooperation with the Office of Naval Intelligence, as well as simulators. Manazir said that to save cost the simulators wouldn’t be optimized for visuals – the acuity might be about equal to 20/40 vision, rather than spending more money for more pixels – but the simulators will run the same software as weapon systems in combat.

In January, the Navy will open the Air Defense Strike Group Facility in Fallon, which will include simulators for three Aegis cruisers, two E2-D Hawkeyes and eight F-18 aircraft, Manazir said.

“We can then constructively add a larger number of friendly forces – so you can simulate the aircraft carrier, you can simulate more cruisers,” he said.
“You can simulate the bad guys. And you can build a scenario that would take the carrier strike group to whatever threat environment you want: South China Sea, maybe the Arabian Gulf, and it’s as if you were operating there.”

These simulators will all be connected and able to share classified data on the ground-based network, allowing about 35 personnel to operate the carrier strike group in a virtual-constructive training environment at the same time.

By 2020, the center will be expanded into an Integrated Training Facility, with 80 people in simulators for five cruisers, four E2-Ds, 12 F-18s, eight F-35C Joint Strike Fighters and two Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) vehicles, as well as integration to bring in F-35A and F-22 simulators from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

An undated photo of the F-35 Full Mission Simulator. Lockheed Martin Photo
An undated photo of the F-35 Full Mission Simulator. Lockheed Martin Photo

Manazir said a massive virtual training complex like this has many benefits. First, thanks to a “cross-domain solution,” personnel with different clearance levels can train together without having to “dumb down” the training for anyone. If a new aviator fresh out of flight school joins a squadron, he could participate in the simulation event and only receive whatever information he has clearance for – he might not get to see what the Air Force’s F-22 did, but he’d be able to react based on how that Raptor’s action affects his mission, Manazir offered as an example.

Not only does the cross-domain solution allow everyone to train to the highest level allowed based on their individual clearances, rather than lowering the classification to the lowest common denominator, Manazir said personnel would get better quality training because they could perform maneuvers in the constructive world that they could not in the real live world.

“I can’t train to that highest level in clear air. I’m not allowed to use those modes in clear air. We typically have called those war-reserve modes, and if you go out on a range and you use a war-reserve mode there is a chance that anybody watching could collect information on that war-reserve mode,” Manazir said.
“In this way, in a [virtual-constructive] environment, we can use all of those capabilities. With cross-domain solutions we can parse out and fence out people that we don’t want them to see it.

“Then, once we get that waveform, that classified pipe from the live airplane down to the facility, then picture this in 2020: when I get that live piece, now I can have a section of F-35s on either the Fallon range or over on Nellis,” he continued.
“Their information is being piped down to the facilities in Nellis and Fallon, and they see and hear everything as if all of those entities are flying with them in those two ranges.”

The very act of bringing this many people into the same LVC event introduces a new level of human error, which Manazir said is a good thing. With a single aviator flying against an enemy plane in a simulator, the enemy can only do pre-programmed behaviors. With an aviator flying against another aviator in connected simulators, there is an element of unpredictability. But with 80 people in simulators, plus more in the sky, any one of them could accidentally mess up, like in real life; any one of them playing an adversary could act “wily” in a way a computer would never be able to recreate; and the sum of their human behaviors creates a much more true-to-life environment, Manazir said.

Ultimately, Manazir said he hopes this LVC training environment will help the Navy prepare its aviators and sailors for any scenario they could face overseas in a way they cannot do today.

“I can give them the worst day of their life that we hope they would never see during deployment, and we can make the bad guys a combination of every bad guy in the world, and all the models will be exactly correct,” he said.
“The operation of their missiles and their weapons systems will adequately show what kind of jamming they’re going to see. Their missiles are going to miss, for good reason. When they look at the visual and look out and get shot at, they will see contrails that come their way. And so we will be able to fly everybody together rather than sitting in your simulator and I get told the E2 says this, or you just get handed a piece of information – it actually goes at [a realistic] tempo.”

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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