Got Simulators?

  • Published
  • By Peter H. Zuppas
  • U.S. Air Force Warfare Center

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - Yes we do! State-of-the-art simulators in fact and you can expect to see quite a few more flight simulators at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada over the next several years - all located in an area around the Warrior Fitness Center.

Call the area our Nellis “Sim and Gym” complex.  And for you avid fitness center-goers, don’t worry - we are also expanding parking in that area to accommodate these new facilities!

The purpose of these new high-fidelity simulators is to advance our warfighting readiness through Virtual Training – better enabling us to realistically “train as we intend to fight” and just like in the nearby fitness center – our warfighters can get reps in these simulators and get ready to be “fit to fight.”

How important are these simulators?  How much of the training for our newest fighter, the F-35 for example, can be most effectively and efficiently accomplished in simulators?

While we at the U. S. Air Force Warfare Center believe Virtual training is extremely valuable, it is not a replacement for live training. Both are critical and getting the balance of live fly and virtual flight, and the appropriate investments in live fly training and simulators (virtual training) is critical as well.

Traditionally, we have relied on live training events, such as Red Flag to accomplish Large Force Employment where we try to prepare our warfighters for combat. Red Flag places our warfighters in scenarios mirroring representative force composition and threats; creating a problem set and contested environment to stress their skill sets and decision making capabilities. However, there are several limiting factors when trying to realistically train on our ranges including the physical size of the range, airspace restrictions, the number and types of threats available and the time/de-confliction of airspace availability itself. The simulated warfighting environment - can help overcome all of these limitations.

Simulators can build proficiency and confidence through “reps” for all levels of warfighters in scenarios where the threats and environments can be efficiently modified to meet the needs of the scenario (day/night for example). The visuals in these new flight simulators are quite impressive, using a full dome, and providing nearly 360 degrees field of view.  The only things missing are the gravity forces and physical demands of actual flying.  And just as your kids (or maybe you!) get the desired effect on your X-Box…for example, you shooting at bad guys and them shooting at you – all at what is programmed into the system as realistic ranges for the weapons you are employing – the same is true/the goal for virtual air combat training environments.

Eventually combat training will include a fully integrated Air, Space and Cyberspace virtual environment. At this point however, a high priority is being placed on getting our 5th generation air platforms (F-35 and F-22) connected and able to operate in an integrated manner in the virtual world. This is a daunting task that the USAFWC will lead and influence…as these two platforms are designed to be complimentary and succeed in what we term High-End (HE) scenarios. Getting the F-22 and F-35 simulators connected and the modeling and simulation standardized in a common constructive HE environment will take the better part of the next two years.

Now, as stated earlier – we must balance and manage expectations for how much we can benefit from simulator training and how much is more effectively (or only) accomplished in live fly.  Some considerations:

  • Virtual training either typically does not or physically cannot simulate maintenance interaction, operational tempo, fatigue, fallout, and the physiological demands of actual flying. It also does not exercise the actual hardware on the aircraft.

  • Airmanship skills, decision making stressors in real world, life and death situations cannot be replaced.

  • The psychological impact of knowing you are going up against a real pilot in another aircraft may be different than facing a computer generated threat. 

  • In the simulator you are more likely to take risks not advisable in actual aircraft – getting dangerously close to the ground or other aircraft…knowing there’s no real risk, other than re-setting the sim.

  • Exercising aircraft generation - proficiency and confidence across maintenance (sortie generation) and aircraft systems is critical – only canned be gained from live fly

In summary – expect to see more virtual training devices at Nellis, and while not a substitute for live fly, simulators and virtual training are a critical piece of our warfighting readiness!

And with that in mind, we say - Fly, Fight, Sim, Gym and Win!