NAWCAD Brings Hyper-Realistic Flight Test and Training Simulators to Navy, Air Force

April 22, 2024 5:25 PM
A pilot tests a U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor cockpit simulator headed for installation in the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s Joint Simulation Environment. US Navy Photo

A pilot sits in an F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter cockpit, scanning for cruise missiles fired by an adversary.
The pilot spots one, shooting it down before it can hit the aircraft carrier they are protecting. The other three aircraft piloted by other naval aviators also engage and shoot down more cruise missiles heading toward the ship.

When all of the targets are downed, the pilot and the other aviators exit the cockpit and walk out of the simulator.

This is the Joint Simulation Environment (JSE) at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division at Naval Station Patuxent River, Md.

The Joint Simulation Environment started with F-35 simulators, but the program expanded to add four Air Force F-22 Ratpor cockpits in January, NAWCAD announced in a news release in early April, ahead of a presentation at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space symposium. That allows for the program to serve both the Navy and Air Force.

JSE was initially created to test the F-35 in a complex and challenging simulation and modeling environment, Derek Greer, head of NAWCAD’s Integrated Battle Simulation Lab, told USNI News in January.

“So many years ago, the F-35 program office realized that their aircraft was too complex to be fully stressed and evaluated on our open-air ranges across the Department of Defense,” Greer said. “So they decided to do a significant portion of the operational test program in a modeling and [simulation] environment.”

Operational tests for the F-35 cockpits finished in September 2023, Greer said. Those tests focus both on the plane and the pilot to make sure both can accomplish necessary missions. In September, the lab tested 64 missions. The F-35 cockpits can be used for the variants flown by the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force.

NAWCAD currently has eight F-35 cockpits and domes, which have switched to training for services like the Air Force and the Navy, as well as international partners, he said. The lab also has four adversary cockpits.

When the lab introduced the F-22 cockpit into the program, it built four, Greer said.

So at JSE, there is a hallway with eight F-35 cockpits, each around 15 feet, that look exactly like the cockpit of an F-35.

Down another hallway are the four F-22 cockpits, as well as the adversary ones.

In addition to testing, the cockpits also allow for realistic training, he said. They can provide the most lifelike situations with threat environments, Greer said.

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft, assigned to the ‘Vikings’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, prepares to launch from the flight deck of Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD-4) as the ship steams in the Pacific Ocean, March 24, 2024. US Navy Photo

“There is a tremendous amount of compute power surrounding the domes that create the physics-based, high fidelity threat environment that creates the realism that our pilots can’t get anywhere else,” Greer said.
“So whatever the commanding officer and the training officer of the squadron, decides that their squadron needs to work on for that week, is what they do when they’re here… And often it’s a day of one type of mission, another day of a different type of mission… They’re doing kind of a different mission set every single day of the week.”

Missions generally run between 30-45 minutes with full briefings and debriefings, he said. The JSE at NAWCAD is fully booked for training for the foreseeable future, Greer said.

But the program continues to expand.

JSE at NAWCAD is working to add E-2D Hawkeye cockpits, as well as ones for the F-18E/F Super Hornet.

It is also expanding to bring the program to other Navy and Air Force facilities. F-35 cockpits will be available at Nellis Air Force Base or at Naval Air Station Fallon, both in Nevada. JSE is also coming to Edwards Air Force Base in California.

There are also lite versions of JSE, which allow the Navy to implement the program on aircraft carriers, Greer said. Currently, there is a version on USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) with plans for a second lite program on USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Greer said.



Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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