Four firms face off on sim biz

Four companies this month begin facing off for more than half a billion dollars in systems integration business supporting one of the Air Force's strategic simulation and training programs.

Over the next six months, CACI Inc., Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), Science Applications International Corp. and TRW Inc. each will develop proposals for bringing together a wide variety of aircraft simulators into a networked environment.

The winner could earn up to $550 million over the 15-year life of the program.

Richard Honeywell, Distributed Mission Trainer (DMT) program manager at the Aeronautical Systems Center, said the 15-year operations and integration program is "intended to establish the standards and connectivity services necessary to allow all of the Air Force's dissimilar simulators to communicate."

The program is critical to the Air Force's ability to reduce the costs and complexity of training pilots throughout the Air Force, who would be operating together in the real world during deployments of an Expeditionary Aerospace Force.

The contract comes on the heels of a seven-year, $176 million contract awarded in June to Lockheed Martin Corp. to begin fielding the next generation of tactical simulation technology centers, which also will be networked.

The new system, called the Mission Training Center (MTC), not only will provide a more realistic environment for individual pilots but 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. The Air Force plans to install the systems at bases worldwide by the end of fiscal 2005.

The first "federation" of existing simulators to benefit from integration will be the F-15, F-16 and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), which should be capable of communicating with each other by fiscal 2002, when the Lockheed Martin-developed MTCs are installed, Honeywell said.

"We're placing some very demanding connectivity requirements [on the contract] to ensure that we minimize latency [in communications]," he said. However, high-speed Asynchronous Transfer Mode networking technology and other state-of-the-art visualization technologies are mature enough to provide a good measure of success, according to Honeywell.

Stephen Quilici, capture manager for DMT operations and intelligence in CSC's Defense Group, said the program is important for the Air Force particularly because simulators have been built one at a time and "do not allow the Air Force to train as they fight."

In addition, pilots who fly different aircraft have no way to train with each other in a simulated environment because the simulators do not support training of "composite forces."

Quilici characterized the level of technical difficulty posed by the contract as "moderate" and said the real challenge is in delivering real-time visualization data with realistic fidelity.

"Each [simulator] has a slightly different architecture and presents slightly different interfaces," Quilici said, adding that the program also will require a high level of cooperation between the contractor teams currently working on all of the simulation systems in the field.

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