Since the 1990s, NLR – the Netherlands Aerospace Centre – and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands have worked together to enhance fighter pilot training. Jelke van der Pal and Ted Slijkerman from NLR, and Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands’ Jack Offerman discuss how both organisations are perfecting embedded training for fifth-generation aircraft.

In 1916, the British Royal Flying School implemented new training standards for fighter pilots. With the stroke of a pen, the RFC transformed itself from an aerial military force prone to training accidents and haphazard attitudes to flying experience into a major contender for the skies above Europe.

Today, with the arrival of fifth-generation fighter planes such as the F-35 Lightning II, the role of the fighter pilot has shifted even further, from merely flying an aircraft to operating a flying computer and sensor system. Examining this dynamic in detail is NLR, in partnership with Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands. Both organisations have collaborated closely with one another in the field of in-flight training since the mid-1990s, culminating in the creation of the Embedded Combat Aircraft Training System (E-CATS) product suite.

Pilot training challenges

The ‘classic’ way of training pilots that has been successfully applied to many generations of fighter pilots is no longer sufficient, nor sustainable, to cope with the increased complexity of the new fifth-generation platforms and missions.

"Fifth-generation fighter aircraft capabilities are expanding the information and sensor intake for the pilot," says Jelke van der Pal, a senior scientist and training researcher at NLR. "This makes it possible to work in a dense and complex networked mission environment. Embedded training or live, virtual, constructive (LVC) training is essential for generating realistic combat scenarios in order to provide fitting training that challenges pilot and aircraft alike."

Jack Offerman, sales manager for Airbus Defence and Space Netherlands, adds: "E-CATS tackles the problems of the current training ranges, which are no longer sufficient due to the extended ranges of the weapons and sensors on board the aircraft. The training ranges are becoming far too small and cannot summon sufficient air and ground threats, and that puts significant limitations on training.

"As well as resolving this, embedded and LVC training accommodate the need for covert training, providing concealed training operations," he says. "The choice put to the air force is twofold: either you move to more expansive training ranges with more live assets, or, in opting for a virtual and constructive training environment, adapt your existing infrastructure."

Fit for the future

The E-CATS system offers the user the freedom of rangeless training without heavy investment in additional live assets or enhanced training ranges. Once activated, the pilot can train against live and constructive targets – which are blended into the real mission system – while in the air, allowing personalised training and synchronised multiship scenarios. The system is currently integrated within the F-35 Lightning II mission system, and could also be adapted for fourth-generation aircraft such as the F-16.

"As a team, we have continued development with our embedded training core to our virtual training core, so our system is capable of receiving data from a simulation on the ground," says Ted Slijkerman, business manager for aerospace systems at NLR. "This is one of the stepping stones that will enable us to hook up training simulations to our live, constructive environment."

The joint team is moving closer to the ultimate goal of an LVC training environment, of which embedded training forms a crucial part. "At this moment, we provide the ‘live’ and ‘constructive’ components of LVC," says Offerman. "We see embedded training as a major enabler of the LVC solution, which we think will be the answer to the constraints that the air forces are feeling at the moment."

"We definitely see embedded training and LVC training coexisting," says van der Pal. "LVC is a major enhancement, but it requires the availability of a ground infrastructure. And with embedded training, you always retain the capability to train without that, allowing such exercises to take place anywhere, at any time."