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CAE Sees Big Data As Key to Future Training

 - June 17, 2017, 11:30 AM
CAE operates the U.S. Army’s fixed-wing training school at Dothan, Alabama, using Grob G120TPs and Beechcraft C-12s (photo: CAE)

For many years known as a world-leading provider of simulators, CAE has now advanced its capabilities to become a full-spectrum training services integrator. The Canada-based company continues to provide the hardware, software, courseware, networking and personnel required to implement and maintain training systems, but has added the role of overall integrator. This has become central to its strategy to provide training solutions that meet the current and future needs of a growing roster of customers.

For the next step, CAE is looking to “big data” to shape its future offerings, particularly as a means of extracting maximum value from the high-value hardware that is in use. As simulator systems become more sophisticated, the amount of data that is created every time a student undertakes a flight increases. “As time goes by this generates lots of data from thousands of pilots,” explained Gene Colabatistto, CAE’s group president for defense. “This itself is an asset – a big data set that has a value. We can use analytics to improve the training system. It’s a closed loop, continually improving.”

Analyzing data from the mission playbacks can highlight particular maneuvers, procedures or exercises where students are habitually finding difficulties. “In the old way of doing things the answer was to ‘Train harder,!’” said Colabatistto, “but maybe it’s us, the way we are teaching that’s the problem.” Armed with the relevant data, training programs can be altered to remedy these deficiencies.

Among the trends that CAE is seeing, and driving, in the training world are an increasing demand for ever-higher resolution imagery, and a move towards distributed training. The latter not only links type communities through networks to allow multi-type, multi-aircraft mission training, but also in the schoolhouse provides the ability for students to learn through a range of devices, from full flight simulators down to tablets. At the core of this are common databases that can be used by all devices on the network, and all sharing the same common data set.

For collective training the common terrain database can be shared between simulators that are located many miles apart, providing all “players” in multi-aircraft mission training with a “fair fight” scenario. For schoolhouse training a common database allows a student to learn details of his or her aircraft type on a tablet, using the same data as that which drives the real aircraft. Common databases also facilitate the insertion of live and constructive elements into a virtual scenario.

In the defense world databases are usually held and updated by the customers themselves due to security implications, but CAE offers tools and training to allow air forces to continually update their own databases. In some cases CAE can be contracted to perform these upgrades in its role as training system integrator, or contract this work out to a third party with the company’s assistance.

Such distributed systems, with networked training devices and data sets existing in the cloud, creates cyber-security concerns, and CAE works with its customers to ensure that the systems are compliant with prevailing standards. This also involves necessary updates to hardware and software, and the implementation of firewalls.

Cyber is also becoming an increasingly important part of the training itself. Just as simulated missions require terrain, weather, air traffic and threats to be as realistic as possible, so cyber events are being inserted into the training to replicate what is an increasingly likely issue in wartime. Network outages, denial of GPS and loss of communications are now replicated in the simulator to challenge students in a cyber warfare environment. “It’s not about the simulator, it’s what you do with it,” added Colabatistto.

Contracting out training is another trend, and one with which CAE is heavily involved. The company’s offer includes working with customers to identify ways in which legacy systems can be integrated into wider systems, so that customers can get the most value from the significant investments they have made. Moving to LVC (live/virtual/constructive) training programs can maximize the training output, and greater use of simulators can keep costs down. Although there is still a very real need for live flying, “we don’t have to convince anyone of the value of training in the simulator any more,” remarked Colabatistto.

To maximize the value of new simulator systems CAE can devise “roll-on, roll-off” flight decks that allow different cockpits to be plugged in and out of a “mother ship” simulator. This concept is already fielded at the company’s initial-entry fixed-wing training program for the U.S. Army at Dothan, Alabama, where CAE provides live training on Grob G120TP and Beechcraft C-12 aircraft, alongside a full integrated suite of training devices.

Matching the versatility of the systems is the increasing use of adaptive business models that match user requirements, from full GO-GO (government-owned, government-operated) programs to those that are CO-CO (contractor-owned, contractor-operated) systems. As part of this, increasing contractorization is a major trend. “We’re seeing it everywhere,” said Colabatistto, “with CAE taking on more of the role of instructor.” This is of particular benefit to large air arms, such as the U.S. Air Force, which struggles to provide sufficient numbers of instructors due to the pressing needs of the front-line forces. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the huge Predator/Reaper remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) community. CAE has the training contract and currently trains 1,500 vehicle and sensor operators at four sites.

RPA training is a growing part of the company’s portfolio, currently generating around $100m each year. A mission simulator is being delivered to the Italian air force this summer, and the company has been awarded a contract to provide a Predator training center to the UAE Air Force. As the training systems partner of General Atomics, CAE is also well placed for opportunities in the UK (Protector/Certifiable Predator B) and other potential RPA customers such as Canada.

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