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Special operators' training relies on high-quality images.

SPECIAL OPERATORS INCREASINGLY ARE RELYING ON simulations to rehearse missions at the drop of a hat, but technology is not yet up to par with their need for fast processors and high-fidelity images.

Therefore, the U.S. Special Operations Command is funding the development of a common standard and imagery database for the Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.

The new architecture will create mission rehearsal databases quickly and allow the data to be accessed by multiple sources in real time, said Maj. Mike Newell, assistant product manager of special operations forces training systems at the Army's program executive office for simulation, training, research and instrumentation.

PEO STRI, the acquisition agent, awarded the $16 million contract to CAE USA. The contract will be exercised in two phases during the next three years. The first focuses on the development of the architecture and common standard, and the second deals with the actual implementation of the standard and the database into new simulators for the MH-47 Chinook and the MH-60 Blackhawk.

Once the contract is completed, the U.S. government will have unlimited rights to the standard, which could be available to other special operators or Defense Department users, noted David Graham, CAE special operations forces program director.

"The 160th and SOCOM, in general, want to do high-fidelity mission rehearsal before they attempt any real-world mission," Graham said in an interview. "The ultimate goal is to be able to rehearse everything that you can, and use more simulation than in the past." In order to do that, the elite aviators need more capable mission rehearsal characteristics in their simulators, Graham explained.

The 160th aviators, called Nightstalkers, have been training on simulators for the MH-47 Chinook and the MH-60 Blackhawk since the late 1980s. These devices use a proprietary database, called Topscene, which allows the regiment to quickly generate imagery and realistic terrain, said Graham.

"The creation and correlation of databases, principally for the out-the-window visual scene, has been a source of frustration for military users and the simulation and training industry alike over the years," said Newell. "For traditional flight training applications, we've managed to make things work, but very short mission rehearsal timelines don't allow for database correlation, tuning and customization."

Even though current simulators offer a realistic outside-the-window view, special operators "would like to do a lot more," Graham said. "They would like all of the other systems in the mission rehearsal to have very realistic data as well. They would like to have the enemy order of battle and characteristics of the enemy, the accurate weather to the part of the world [where they operate]."

The Night Stalkers also want to have a precise view of the sensors and radars, as they would be represented on the helicopters during missions, said Graham.

"If you look at the technology today, we can simulate all those things, but each of those subsystems tends to have its own database," he said. "In fact, there are 12 different databases in modern high-fidelity simulations that have some representation of the world out there."

Databases are optimized for a particular use. Radar operators only have a database to get up the radar picture, Graham pointed out. Meshing those databases takes time, he added, and they do not agree with each other. "It creates correlation errors," he said. The idea behind the common database development is to do mission rehearsal in a shorter time frame and limiting errors, said Graham.

"It sounds easy, but the reason it has not been done before is because we run in real time," said Graham. "You have to update the simulation 60 times a second, otherwise it does not look real."

In the past, industry developed its own optimized databases to "get in a form that they can deal with [updating] it 60 times a second," said Graham.

CAE's common database will consist of a single synthetic representation of the world. Various users will be able to simultaneously retrieve relevant information to perform their tasks, according to a white paper written by CAE's Richard Connoly, a systems architect, and Paul Telmosse, a hardware architect, who are working on the program.

"The [common database] will largely eliminate the time-consuming, off-line database compilation process," Connoly and Telmosse wrote. "Current compilation steps lead to the replication of data and to a loss of correlation across the simulator."

The common database standard will be as compatible with existing commercial data formats as possible and all data will be stored using a published, open standard, said the paper.

Initially, the database will support feature sets such as terrain and ocean floor in the form of altimetry data; imagery data; surface material codes; one-dimensional objects; two-dimensional objects such as runways, roads and terrain coplanar areas; moving models; night vision properties; thermal properties; navigational data, and weather data.

"With the latest generation of computers, we can connect all these systems to a single database," said Graham. "We are taking steps that we used to do over days and weeks, and now try to do very fast. Trying to make it faster and trying to add more elements to mission rehearsal is a technology bottleneck that needs to be broken."

CAE has a contract to deliver a new MH-47G simulator by April 2006. "Our contract says that the simulator will play the new database," he said.

The development of this technology does not come easy, nor is success a given, said Graham. In order to accommodate the more proficient database, the simulators have to be "modular and flexible because we are changing the combat missions to adapt to the new standard," he said. "Even though we have done analyses that convince us [the database] is possible, we are against performance limits of computers and networks and storage systems, and we are pushing the leading edge in those areas. That depends on all those other people living up to their claims."

CAE only is developing a prototype for SOCOM. The actual databases will be created in the Defense Department and will be classified, Graham said. "The government will make the decision who gets it," he said.

The plan is to introduce the standard only on new simulators, said Graham. Apart from the MH-47G, the standard will be included in the new Black Hawk simulator, he said. CAE received the design award for that, and now is in negotiations for the production contract, he added. Relatively new simulators also could be upgraded to accommodate the new standard, if necessary.
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Title Annotation:Special OPS
Author:Tiron, Roxana
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
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