June 15, 2011 (by 2nd Lt. Kenneth D. Lustig) - Delivery is underway for a first-of-a-kind flight simulator, with completion and operational turnover set for October.
The Air Force's first Mission Training Center simulator is being set up at Nellis as part of a $109.1 million contract with L-3 Link Simulation and Training.
The F-16 MTC
includes four high-definition simulators, each enclosing an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter cockpit within a 360-degree display dome linked to networked simulation computers. Each cockpit can fly solo or with others on virtual missions, enabling a broad range of training, tactics validation, and mission rehearsal options.
The system also includes instructor review stations and auditorium debriefing displays. It simulates all F-16 capabilities, including any modification, weapon system, or mission profile that the real fighter might have.
Lt. Col. Marty Garrett, 57th Operations Support Squadron's director of operations, said the system will be of enormous value to the Air Force as a whole.
"The avionics in this system are as realistic as currently possible," Colonel Garrett said. "It will let us do things that are either impossible or too expensive to do in real life.
"Ordinarily, if you're flying a training mission, there are limits. I can't put you up against forty red [opposing] aircraft - nobody has those kinds of resources to fly on a training mission," the colonel continued. "I can't put you up over an adversary's airspace, in bad weather, to practice a strike over their country. There are also certain munitions we can't drop just anywhere or whose cost requires serious justification to use for training, but pilots still have to be qualified on them.
"You can do all of this in simulators," he said.
Although the MTC cannot simulate the physical forces of flight, the simulator offers a highly realistic virtual world with the same instrument displays and data as in a real sortie. This provides the opportunity to test or practice mission plans under any conditions a pilot might encounter in a real aircraft.
Capt Travis Clegg, the 57 OSS training flight commander, emphasized that while simulators cannot yet replace actual flying, they are very useful in making actual flights more effective.
"Sims are where the Air Force makes its money," Captain Clegg said. "We knock out some of the mistakes early on that you would have seen in the flight - only nobody dies, and we save expensive planes.
"I can pause a sim in the middle or run it over and over again. I can see how my pilots are going to react given a certain set of training and expectations," he added. "I can sit down with my guys and decide whether something's working or not, or plow through it as many times as we need to until we work through the problem. And we're not burning up expensive flying hours on the jet to do it."
Nellis' long range plan includes adding additional MTC simulators for other platforms, such as the F-15E Strike Eagle and F-35 Lightning II
, while linking the virtual Joint Terminal Attack Controller trainer and other simulators already present at Nellis into the MTC's virtual battle space.
This would allow participants in one simulator to conduct missions together with those in others, just as if performing their missions together in real life. The concept - now emerging from development - is called distributed mission operations.
Donna Concepcion, Nellis' simulator project officer and quality assurance representative, offered an example of distributed mission operations' potential.
An attack controller "on the ground" in the JTAC
simulator, taking simulated weapons fire from a nearby enemy in difficult terrain or weather, might call for close air support from a fighter pilot flying the F-16 MTC. The pilot would be able to strike the target without endangering lives in case of a mistake, or even "rewind" the scenario to try different approaches or tactics. In this way the simulator could develop skills needed in combat which would otherwise be risky to practice with live training.
A variation of distributed mission operations, now in its infancy as a technology, is called live-virtual construct. It overlays a live operation with a virtual one, using displays in a real aircraft or air operations center to show the position of simulated platforms, and vice versa. Though there are no active plans for the MTC to be integrated into a live-virtual construct at present, such systems, and the arrival of the F-16 MTC, offer remarkable promise, Garrett concluded.
"This is really one of the first stepping stones for simulation at Nellis," he said. "Our long-range goal is to become a 'virtual air center of excellence' that will benefit the entire combat air forces. We already do testing, training and tactics development here. We're doing the 'heavy lifting' to bring students in from all the services during our flag exercises and weapons school. The Nevada Test and Training Range makes this is the ideal place for that kind of capability. Simulators will buttress all our efforts for the future."
Additional MTCs are slated for future delivery at Air Force installations including Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.; Hill AFB
, Utah; Luke AFB, Ariz.; Kunsan Air Base, Korea; Aviano AB, Italy
; Misawa AB, Japan; and Spangdahlem AB, Germany.