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Missiles: Training for Doomsday.

As long ago as 1957, a British Defence Minister was convinced that missiles were soon to replace fighters as the sole means of air defence. He backed up his view by cancelling projects then underway, but history has proved that his vision was at the very least somewhat blurred. Nevertheless, each of the three British forces subsequently became almost totally reliant upon missiles for point defence purposes on land and at sea.

Despite the end of the Cold War, superpowers and others determined to play a major role in regional or world affairs maintain intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads as their `ultimate' strategic weapons. At tactical level, missiles are widely accepted as the standard anti-armour weapon, while low-, medium-and relatively high-level aerial threats are largely the province of weapons ranging from manpads to anti-ballistic missiles.

For the most part though, these missiles are either too expensive or too destructive to be fired, except when diplomacy has had to give way to more forceful methods of conducting foreign policy. It is said that there are some 6000 strategic warheads ready to fry whoever gets in the way, although many launchers are nearing the end of their service life. Certainly, members of the `nuclear club' have not closed down their missile bases and thrown away the keys. As the principal means of strategic defence, ballistic missiles will be retained and their operators trained in their use.

Therefore, despite the neglect suffered by its conventional forces, Russia retains Topol-M and other missiles in a high state of readiness, while operators regularly train in control centre replicas, stopping short only at the point of turning the key and pressing the button. Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away, their American ICBM operator counterparts go through the same deadly serious routine, serving out their careers being ready for Armageddon.

In the near future, the read across from training Nasa spacecraft operators is certain to help the operators of theatre missile defence (TMD) and ultimately the American national missile defence (NMD) systems of tomorrow. But while the failure of a space probe to Mars would be unfortunate, a mistake with ICBM launchers of Dr Strangelove proportions could mark a premature end to millions of years of evolution. So in anticipation of future training needs, the Testbed Product Office of the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command has developed the Extended Air Defence Testbed that will provide theatre- and global-level simulation in advance of actual defence hardware.

Alas, the Russian early warning system has made false alarms, notably when a Nasa rocket engaged in scientific research was mistaken for a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Fortunately President Yeltsin decided not to launch nuclear retaliation, but the incident showed that no matter how good training levels might be, communications failures can bring about a critical situation. Yet where would such forces be without simulation? On cost grounds alone ballistic missiles are best kept in their containers except when, with warheads removed, they are occasionally fired over ocean ranges.

Providing affordable training

Indeed, budgets are hardly less inhibiting at the other end of the scale; where soldiers rarely get to fire an anti-tank missile or manpads. This places great demands upon training and simulation systems that must, as far as possible, faithfully replicate the performance of the real thing. With the exception of guerrillas and freedom fighters, forces equipped with missiles of any kind will usually have an opportunity to achieve competence only by means of a simulator. Consequently, many missile manufacturers also produce training aids or contract a specialist manufacturer to do the job for them.

Thus, Rafael's Electronic Systems Division has produced a Spike Missile Trainer that can be tailored to customer-defined terrain, targets and scenarios, for use in stand-alone, full task or team trainer configurations. The Javelin missile is another current best-selling anti-armour weapon for which ECC has developed a Miles-compatible field tactical trainer. Some 392 of these trainers have been ordered for the US Army, while anticipated export orders promise to boost this figure. The trainer includes an electronic unit that provides both the flash and sound of a missile launch and is claimed to be safer and more cost-effective than standard explosive simulators.

That KBP has produced training facilities for its Kornet-E anti-tank guided weapon is evidence that computer-based simulation is now a commonplace aid to purchasers of most missiles nowadays. A classroom trainer supports this Russian-built series, as well as tripod-based mock-ups that can be used in the field with the facility for night operations, using a live thermal imager.

However, to help train missile operators at the other extreme of the defence scale, Coleman Aerospace's Launch Systems makes use of major components from decommissioned Minuteman and Pershing missiles that enable it to replicate the real threat posed by ballistic missiles. But supplies of decommissioned missiles are limited, so both offensive and defensive units in this field must largely rely upon simulation to ensure the maintenance of their skills.

Supersonic rocket systems such as the Eclipse targets produced by CAC Systems/Snpe, Rafael's Black Sparrow and Meggitt Defence Systems' Petrel can be used to simulate ballistic missile threats. These can be launched from both land and sea, while the target radar augmented projectile (Trap) developed in Canada can simulate high-diving and sea-skimming anti-ship missiles. Traps have the same mass and aerodynamic characteristics as standard practice projectiles and can be fired from guns ranging in calibre from 57 mm to 155 mm.

Simulation not only saves money by limiting the use of missiles during tactical exercises, it also bears a huge responsibility for safely training both strategic missile operators and those charged with ensuring that ballistic missiles are intercepted. Just as simulation is increasingly used to simultaneously develop fourth-generation fighters and provide training, so too are computers being used to develop software that exactly matches the performance of all kinds of missile.
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Author:Walters, Brian
Publication:Armada International
Date:Jun 1, 2001
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