Lockheed tapped for simulation system

The Air Force last week awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. a seven-year, $176 million contract to develop and install up to 18 pilot training systems, marking the initial fielding of the next generation of tactical simulation technology.

The new system, called the Mission Training Center, not only will provide a more realistic environment for individual pilots but also will make it possible for multiple pilots to train together in a simulated environment. Each site will have four cockpits that can be linked across a local-area network or long-haul networks with other sites.

Based on the Air Force's Distributed Mission Training system architecture, the system will enable pilots at different sites to fly simulated aircraft in formation and practice common scenarios.

"This will allow pilots from different bases around the world to train together, which they've never been able to do before," said Maj. Ken Gotski, program manager for the Air Force's F-16 Distributed Mission Planning program.

The Air Force has tasked Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems to deliver the first two F-16 Mission Training Centers by mid-2002 to Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., and Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The Air Force plans to install the systems at bases worldwide by the end of fiscal 2005.

The cockpits will be housed in "mini domes," which give pilots a 360-degree field of view. In the past, pilots have been trained using one or two flat-panel screens, which do not fully simulate the experience of being in an aircraft.

"The field-of-view improvement alone is a tremendous difference from the systems used in the past," Gotski said. In addition to the enhanced field of view, the networking capabilities will enable pilots to experience the entire mission-planning process, including preflight briefings, and also will give pilots automated debriefings on their performance, he said.

At the center of the new simulation systems will be Silicon Graphics Inc.'s SGI Origin 2000 and Origin 200 servers, Onyx2 graphics systems, Octane workstations and the company's new line of Microsoft Corp. Windows NT-based visual workstations - the Silicon Graphics 320 and Silicon Graphics 540.

The systems will support video-based mission briefing as well as real-world terrain and imagery databases that will enable pilots to fly practice missions over places such as Iraq or Yugoslavia. They also will enable additional pilots to play a role as either an enemy or a friendly pilot using one of the SGI workstations.

"This is the first time that combat pilots will actually be able to train in a full mission [scenario] in a tactical environment," said John Labry, SGI's Air Force global account manager. "The Mission Training Center is the cornerstone program for the next generation of tactical combat training."

According to Labry, simulation technology has finally matured to the point where it is possible to provide pilots with a high-fidelity, real-world experience - something he said pilots have demanded repeatedly.

The Air Force is buying the new systems through an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, which "allows the Air Force to decide how many systems to buy, where they will go and what level of services they want," said Cary Dell, spokesman for Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems, the lead contractor on the project.

In addition, because Lockheed will retain the title to the equipment and the Air Force will purchase "simulator time," the company has the potential to earn more or less than the $176 million estimated by the Air Force, Dell said.

Other industry partners and their contributions include Boeing Co., which will assist in the integration effort between the F-16 simulators and F-15 simulators; MultiGen-Paradigm Inc., which will provide visual and database software support; Science Applications International Corp., which will provide the mission briefing and debriefing system; and Best Group Inc., which will offer a cadre of trained F-16 pilots to ensure development work is conducted in a user-oriented manner.

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