Opinions

What It Takes to Improve Air Combat Training

There’s no doubt the battlespace is changing, becoming more integrated and reliant on data than ever before. And with this, the threat space is evolving as well.

“Conflict usually resides in the sea, air, and land domains, but that has evolved to include space and cyber as well,” says Chris Ayers, general manager of Integrated Multi-Domain Solutions at Collins Aerospace.

Warfighters need to train appropriately to ensure they’re prepared to take on novel challenges, which have always included the latest aircraft, but now need to account for the technologies and surface to air threats near-peer adversaries are developing. The catch, however, is many training methods simply aren’t keeping up.

Today’s Flight Training Landscape

When training today’s pilots for air combat, the Defense Department largely relies on exercises involving several fighter pilots in physical airspace. While these types of maneuvers have served pilots well for a number of years, in today’s environment, this training can leave them vulnerable.

“Today’s pilots currently carry a system that tracks and transmits their GPS position over the air unencrypted,” Ayers says. ”Our adversaries are able to eavesdrop on this data and  use radar to ‘watch’ new tactics being developed.”

This means pilots are restricted to performing only unclassified Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (“TTPs”), in flight. And all classified TTPs must be conducted in simulators — which can be less realistic and possibly leave pilots vulnerable during real-life scenarios.

On the ground, ranges have limited and outdated threat generators that can inhibit the pilot from training against current threats. When training in the air against today’s enemy forces, airmen often fly against third- or fourth-generation aircraft, which can lead to “false assurance,” Ayers says.

“The problem is these older aircraft often have older sensors and radars and while some may get updated with a new system, they still can’t fake out fifth-gen and many updated fourth-gen operational aircraft,” he explains.

Improving Training

So, how can training be improved to help warfighters keep up?

The key is to bolster realism, ensure cybersecurity and provide a customizable platform flexible enough to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s warfighters. Collins Aerospace’s Tactical Combat Training System Increment II, or TCTS II, system aims to do just that. TCTS II is a training solution that uses synthetically-generated threats fed through cockpit displays from ground simulators and threat generators to improve realism for warfighters while reducing the number of aircraft necessary to act as adversaries.

“TCTS II integrates live participants, virtual participants, and constructive threats into a common training environment scaling from squadron level all the way up to large-scale exercises,” Ayers says. “Now, our pilots can be properly challenged so they are ready to enter live combat.”

Moreover, digital encryption software ensures data can be shared with the right people and kept from the hands of anyone else.

TCTS II uses a “Multiple Independent Levels of Security” architecture that protects the classified data — both live and constructive. It allows for interoperability and all that data to be networked at near-real-time across the participants involved, including fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.  TCTS II is cyber secure and prevents enemy eavesdropping and cyber-attacks through the training system.

Moreover, the technology can help to keep training costs down for the DOD by reducing the amount of equipment necessary.

TCTS II is designed with an open architecture system and provides the Government with unlimited data rights enabling the DOD to involve industry and labs with real-time technology insertions.

“The U.S. DOD will no longer have to continue to invest in expensive range improvements including adversary threat emitters as constructive threat emitters and weapon flyout models can be seamlessly integrated into TCTS II,” Ayers says.

And because TCTS II is a software-based system that is open architected, DOD can easily incorporate new and developing software capabilities to accelerate capability to the warfighter.

“Whatever mission needs to be trained for that day or can be dreamed up by the instructors, TCTS II can accommodate,” Ayers says.”

Ultimately, as air combat changes, TCTS II allows the U.S. to match training with evolving threats, technology, and tactics, ensuring airmen are always one step ahead of their adversaries — no matter what gets thrown their way.

“Think about your smartphone: On any given day, new applications become available making your device more capable and important to your business or personal life than it was yesterday,” Ayers says. “TCTS II enables the pilot to train differently, reach certification status more quickly, and be more prepared for combat than ever before.”

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