Simulated and live-fire training systems improve weapons performance by helicopter crews.
Publisher October 13, 2015 – By Henry Canaday, MT2 Correspondent
Like the platforms on which they ride, helicopter guns have a wide range of missions, playing decisive roles in situations from insertions to extractions and close-in support of deployed units. Training helicopter gunners is thus both vital to effective airborne operations and challenging in its variety and scope.
Similarly, training systems for rotorcraft weaponry also vary across several dimensions. Some systems train only gunners, while others train whole rotorcraft crews. Some specialize in specific models and weapons, while others stretch across many platforms. Some devices replicate the full sight, sound and feel of chopper operations, while others focus on the critical visual images.
AVT Simulation, for example, offers rotary wing collective training and training for front-seat co-pilot/gunners on the AH-64 Apache. “We make everything from lower- to high-end fidelity systems,” said Kevin Vizzarri, vice president of business development.
AVT’s Apache Gaming Peripheral replicates the front seat of the AH-64 using Virtual Battle Space gaming. It is USB-driven, with real grips, switches and triggers. The Recurring Skills Trainer-Gunner, meanwhile, trains students on such front-seat procedures as using fire-control radar, threat file-sharing, remote Hellfire engagement and laser designation. It lets them fly with an unmanned aerial vehicle wingman in manned/unmanned teaming mode with a remote control station.
At the top of AVT’s suite is the Combined Aircrew Mission Task Trainer (CAMTT), which trains multiple operators of AH-64s and UH-60 Blackhawks on a virtual battlefield. AVT is now integrating CH-47 Chinooks into CAMTT. This trainer is especially good at training mission leaders and mission rehearsal, according to company executives.
“All our training solutions are part of the same CAMTT family—scalable, interoperable and tailorable,” Vizzarri stressed. “And they train in collective operations.”
Although CAMTT handles other helicopters, training Apache gunners is AVT’s specialty. As a development contractor for the Army’s Aviation Combined Arms Tactical Trainer, AVT knows most current aircraft in the inventory.
Some organizations want full-motion simulators, with hydraulics and panoramic views, but these can be extremely expensive. AVT makes more affordable simulators that use realistic interfaces and a screen that focuses on the view in front of the gunner, all in a small footprint.
AVT is now getting more into the gaming approach to training, looking at laser and other technologies and developing the ability to change terrain without shutting down training devices, all while staying affordable and within small footprints. The company is rolling out an Apache gunnery trainer that combines realistic gaming with training in specific skills.
There are also non-simulation approaches to training, however, such as the one pursued by Inter-Coastal Electronics (ICE), which makes training, telemetry and test instrumentation that collects, processes, transmits and records data from live-fire training. “Our focus is live training, with modest exposure to virtual programs,” explained Gregory Kraak, vice president of business development.
ICE makes the Aviation Tactical Engagement Simulation System (TESS), which enables aircrews to practice live-weapon engagements and combined-arms training without firing a round. Aviation TESS is used by all three Army Combat Training Centers and many home stations.
Aviation TESS provides integrated, instrumented training for force-on-force and force-on-target collective training events. It integrates trainees into a network infrastructure via telemetry antennas that transmit live feeds across many players and sites, and automatically adjudicates results of live, virtual and constructive fire. Combining TESS with onboard aircraft gun video and ICE’s advanced software yields real-time monitoring of training events and
ICE has extensive experience instrumenting different aircraft, including AH-64, UH-60, CH-47, OH-58D Kiowa and UH-72 Lakota. It is a provider of air-to-ground instrumentation and live-training for aviation crews. The company’s Modular Smart Onboard Data Interface Module (MSMODIM) interfaces with air and ground vehicles and is the primary component of TESS.
MSMODIM interfaces electronically with aircraft weapons to simulate weapons engagements, monitor performance and locate positions. It tracks, records and transmits data for real-time observation and after-action reviews. It computes solutions for Hellfire missiles, semi-active lasers, 30 mm guns and rockets. Targets are selected from an onboard database, and each weapon’s impact footprint and effects are judged probabilistically. ICE is now developing an advanced SMODIM compatible with MSMODIM but significantly enhanced.
The Army is now adding offensive capabilities to opposing-force UH-72s at its Combat Training Centers. UH-60 and CH-47 crews are asking for offensive capabilities, specifically door gunners, so ICE is self-funding prototype development for this capability. It is focused on instrumenting M240H machine guns, which are standard-issue for UH and CH door gunners.
ICE intends to expand its solution to other platforms, weapons and capabilities. “Our solution will include a gun-mounted camera that measures weapon effectiveness and records effects of rounds on ground-based targets,” Kraak noted. “A mechanical design has been developed and initial testing on the M240H has been performed.”
Visual, Aural and Tactile
CAE offers comprehensive door-gunner training with visual, aural and tactile cues, explained Global Business Development Director Phil Perey. Its reconfigurable gunnery trainer provides both window- and ramp-gunner positions with a single display system. For integrated crew training, CAE also offers gunner training as part of its rear-crew trainer.
“Both solutions provide direct, transferable training for gunner/scanner crew positions,” Perey said. “Integrated gunnery trainers provide real-time, designated normal aircraft scanning and gunnery procedures.”
CAE services include analysis of training needs and media analysis, designing visual databases and integration of gunnery trainers with other training devices.
The company’s trainers can simulate the operational environment of any helicopter and be configured for any gunning position or cabin environment, Perey said, adding that the company recently delivered a CH-47 gunnery trainer to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).
CAE’s gunnery trainers are designed with pilots, co-pilots, gunners and other rear crew in mind. They can be networked with other state-of-the-art simulation devices to enhance mission training. For example, the CH-47 gunnery trainer is routinely networked to a full-mission simulator, a fixed-base training device and a deployable tactical flight trainer.
CAE gunnery trainers work with night-vision displays, night-vision goggles and multi-ship operations. They include a range of simulated weapons to help train for weapon malfunctions and simulate drag effects of weapons protruding into slip streams. CAE is considering incorporating vibration and motion cues and wind simulation in its
Acme Worldwide Enterprises was part of CAE’s CH-147 Integrated Gunnery Trainer (IGT) team for the RCAF. Acme provided the reconfigurable fuselage and enclosure, lighting, replica weapons and mounts. The IGT includes the company’s high-fidelity replica machine guns and all-electric recoil system, which feel and function like actual guns with full recoil.
Rear Cabin Training
Havelsan’s Rear Cabin Trainer (RCT) combines modular hardware, virtual reality and simulation software in a cost-effective training system, according to Program Manager Hakan Karapinar. The RCT has a mock-up of the rear cabin of the AgustaWestland AW139, operated by about 18 militaries, and NHIndustries NH90, flown by many European forces. It can be reconfigured for different training tasks such as apertures, weapon mounts and communications, and can be moved as needed.
For training rear crew, the RCT has two visual systems: a head-mounted display for up to two rear-crew stations, and a 180-by-40 degree out-the-window field-of-view dome for training in crew-served weapons.
The RCT offers a range of door gunnery options, and Havelsan can simulate different weapons with a high degree of fidelity. Training can be done in virtual-reality-only mode or with the aid of 80-degree dome projection. Both systems use customized software for tracers, ground effects and gun models.
For crew-served weapons training, the RCT has a dummy weapon with compressor-powered recoil or simulated recoil. The shoot-on-screen projection dome offers better peripheral vision and unobstructed operation of the simulated crew-served weapon. RCT’s realistic weather effects include wind, rain, dust, brownout and fog. It simulates night-vision and thermal images and many terrain types.
Havelsan also offers a long-range missile system simulator, LORAMISS, for training pilots in firing air-to-surface missiles from helicopters to surface targets like tanks and buildings. LORAMISS simulates the complete missile system with a partial helicopter simulator.
The partial helicopter simulator has simulated aviation instruments such as pedals and multi-functional display (MFD) screens that display pitch, roll, bearing, speed, altitude and remaining fuel. LORAMISS’s missile controls simulate selecting missiles, searching targets, locking to targets, breaking locks and firing. It uses an out-the-window view with the help of image generators that also generate an infrared seeker view of the missile on an MFD screen.
Havelsan is currently acquiring a company called Quantum3D, which will initially offer the parent firm’s products, including LORAMISS, RCT and Armament System Simulation, according to Scott MacDougall, a company spokesman. Over time, the combined firms will offer many new training products.
LORAMISS includes an instructor/operator station (IOS) console, MacDougall noted. “Using IOS, the trainer can design the scenario and let the pilot play it. Targets and own-ship can be placed anywhere on the simulation area.”
Stand-Alone or Networked
Kratos Training Systems offers a range of gunner-training tools to achieve the right fidelity for each training phase, said Senior Vice President Jose Diaz. It makes systems for many rotorcraft, reconfigurable for helmet-mounted displays, as well as projection-based and motion-based training. Solutions can be stand-alone gunner training or networked full-crew systems.
Kratos systems train gunners by simulating multiple weapons and their ammunition, and train in communication and crew coordination through all flight phases. Kratos makes fully integrated systems for the H-60, H-53 Stallion, H-47 and UH-1 Iroquois that train in gunnery using either projections or helmet-mounted displays.
In 2014, Kratos was on a team chosen to deliver four MH-60R Seahawk Naval Aircrew Training Systems and four MH-60S Aircrew Virtual Environment Trainer devices for the Naval Air Systems Command. The devices train MH-60 crew in several tasks, including gunnery.
Kratos is now adding augmented reality to gunnery training, Diaz explained, so that “artificial information about the environment and objects in it can be overlaid onto the real world.” It has integrated augmented reality into helmet mounted displays, allowing trainees to immerse themselves in higher-fidelity environments and perform tasks not feasible or realistic in virtual reality.
Kratos will expand helmet-mounted displays from single to multiple positions and operate them in networked distributed mission operations environments. It is looking at virtual databases and image generators in commercial markets, and is enhancing realism with odor simulation, climate-changing environments and vibrations.
Pathfinder Systems Inc. (PSI) offers high-fidelity trainers for initial and continued-proficiency training for rotorcraft crew chiefs, gunners and loadmasters. PSI trainers support multiple aircraft, so crew can train for different platforms in one simulator. Engine sounds, aerodynamic noise and weapon fire are used for realistic training.
The Army contracted with PSI to build a Non-rated Crew Member Trainer (NCMT) for UH-60 and CH-47 crews. The NCMT has two trainers in a 53-foot expandable tractor-trailer and does gunnery training, among other tasks. PSI has delivered crew trainers and simulation to the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and several European nations.
PSI’s Coast Guard Aircrew Weapons Trainer is a motion-based simulator training for various weapons on either MH-60Cs or MH-60Js. Its Marine Common Aircrew Trainer-Prototype 2 is used by Marines to train CH-53E, MV-22B Osprey and UH-1Y gunners and other crew.
PSI is now making it easier to convert trainers among aircraft and improving weapon simulations, noted Sheila Jaszlics, the company’s president.
Thales pioneered military-helicopter training, and its product portfolio ranges from task trainers to full-mission simulators, said Joël Flinois, helicopter simulation line manager, adding, “More than 110 helicopter simulators have been delivered to customers in 25 countries.”
Thales offers three main helicopter trainers. Its Full-Mission Simulator (FMS) trains gunners in technical and tactical skills and mission preparation. FMS provides the highest level of fidelity in weapon and sensor simulation. Sagittarius Evolution offers simulation-based training for door gunners in gunnery skills and communication. Tracers, ballistics and down wash are included in simulations. Finally, the Helicopter Mission Trainer is a multi-platform tactical training system that trains gunners and other crew very cost-effectively in tactical skills.
Thales also helps operate French, German and Australian schools for Tiger attack helicopters, a U.K. school for the Westland Lynx and a German school for the NH90. Thales trainers support all type of combat helicopters, including Chinooks. Sagittarius equipment supports CH-53s, CH-47s and other rotorcraft. Tiger FMSs replicate many different rockets and missiles, including Hellfires and laser-guided missiles, and are used in a virtual environment managed by Thales Computer’s Generated Forces system.
Sagittarius trainers account for the effects of moving platforms on ballistics and can be combined with other simulators to jointly train dismounted soldiers and helicopter gunners, Flinois said. FMS trainers simulate all motion, vibration and visual cues with a large field of view (240 by 90 degrees). Thales can generate visual databases for any country needed and simulate tactical environments with hundreds of actors.
Flinois predicted that the future will see more networked simulators to train gunners collectively in realistic environments, as well as better integration of human factors in simulators. Augmented reality for live training will also become more important.
D-BOX makes a motion system for simulators that gives helicopter gunners the feel of their aircraft. “Kinesthetic cues enable helicopter gunners to know how aircraft are behaving and understand their state,” explained Senior Marketing Director Sébastien Lozé.
Relying on physical sensations in training is essential, Lozé noted, especially in patrolling at low altitudes and complex tactical situations. Trainees develop reflexes to communicate when visual and audio communications are degraded by loud noise, explosions, night or rotor wash. Gunners rely on balance and their feel for helicopter movements.
D-BOX motion system has been integrated by Thales, BlueDrop and other partners for helicopter gunner training. “There is no limit to the type of helicopter we can support,” Lozé stressed. “If your software can generate movements and vibrations accurately, we can bring them to the real world and make gunners feel them. Trainees anticipate movements of aircraft and keep their aim efficiently.”
D-BOX systems are easily deployed and have small footprints. Thales used D-BOX equipment to bring a new level of realism to airborne gunner training. “The benefit of D-BOX is that all you need is a very simple mount with a gun on it and you’ll be up and running. That can’t be done with a classic hexapod platform because it lacks the deployability that D-BOX offers,” observed Marco Zender, Thales product manager.
“We bring finesse to motion systems that is very hard to obtain otherwise,” Lozé said.
D-BOX’s integration with Presagis’s HeliSIM delivers realism not found in other COTS motion simulators, said Stephane Roy, president of Roy Aircraft & Avionic Simulation.
“D-BOX vibrations bring the mechanical feel of the helicopter. When we flew the Blackhawk and the Chinook in this simulator, we could even tell which type of aircraft we were piloting based on the subtlety of motion and vibration cueing. D-BOX is the only small simulation motion solution that can provide the accuracy and frequency to mimic the movement of a helicopter up to 100 Hz of vibration,” Roy said.