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The stowaway simulator.

It's five years old, it's worth a billion dollars and it's been heralded as the number-one surface training program in the US Navy by the office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). Yet its name is still a bit of a mystery. Some in the Navy's training community call it the BFIT, for Battle Force In-Port Trainer; others refer to it as the Battle Force Tactical Trainer, BFTT, presaging its eventual functionality as an at-sea, multiship simulation system. Either way, the acronyms are pronounced the same - "beef it" - and that's exactly what it's going to do: beef up Naval shipboard training with a device permanently installed in ships across the fleet; within its compact, tidy confines will reside a training capability that once filled a 40-ft-long trailer.

As described by Mike O'Neal, the deputy program manager for PMS-430, the Navy's Combat Systems Training Office, the BFTT (we've chosen the more ambitious acronym) is a COTS-based open-systems architecture that can run off a single workstation. What BFTT will do, continued O'Neal, is unify the legacy on-board trainers (OBTs) installed on a US surface combatant, amphibious ship or aircraft carrier into a seamless training system. These OBTs provide individual operator training for various shipboard combat system weapons); BFTT links them under a high-fidelity scenario to thrust the entire crew into a realistic combat simulation. So realistic is the simulation that an operator seated at his console in the ship's combat information center cannot distinguish it from a real engagement, claimed O'Neal: "BFTT is unique in the sense that it says the best place to train the crew is where they fight. To do that, we have to be able to create an environment which is as realistic as it could possibly be for the operators. So what we're able to do with...BFTT is place the ship in any locale in the world. If we were sitting at the pier in Norfolk, we can simulate to that operator that he's in the middle of the Persian Gulf. He sees the land mass, he sees all the things that he would see as if...that ship...was operating in the Persian Gulf."

And those "things," of course, would include a range of daunting threats, as BFTT stimulates the radar, EW and sonar systems to pick up incoming cruise missiles, hostile aircraft and lurking submarines. But one of the first hurdles the program faces is the fact that not all of the major shipboard combat systems have OBTs for BFTT to interact with. For instance, neither the SPS-48 nor the SPS-40 air search radars have any on-board training provision. To fill this gap, PMS-430 is planning to buy a "generic" Navy simulator/stimulator. According to O'Neal, the system will use various card combinations in a VME cage to configure itself to any "unaccounted for" sensors.


BFTT's capabilities, while impressive, must be placed in the proper context. At least in terms of single-ship training, the dynamic simulation that it provides has already existed, qualitatively speaking, in the US Navy for many years. At the Navy's Float Training Group (FTG) centers in Norfolk, VA; Mayport, FL; and San Diego, CA, a small fleet of aging vans - dinosaurs, really - still provide state-of-the-art combat training for the entire surface fleet. Known as "pierside" trainers because they pull up beside ships in port, the vans come in two versions: the 20B4, which connects to just about every Navy class except for the FFG-7 Perry-class frigates, and the slightly more modern 20B5, which connects exclusively to the FFG-7s. AAI Corp. designed and built both systems.

Tied in to a ship's combat systems through dozens of 1-in.-thick cables, the vans, like BFIT, stimulate the entire suite of ship's sensors, including all the radars, communications links, antisubmarine warfare systems and EW systems (principally the SLQ-32). They also simulate the crew responses from weapons and decoy systems. The action occurs across a realistic gaming area: in the case of the 20B5, a 1,024 x 1,024-nmi battlezone replete with weather and landmass effects, and inhabited by over 100 air, surface and subsurface targets. The dense electromagnetic environment produces up to 150 EW signals.

The 20B4 and 20B5 date back to the 1970s, but the Navy has kept them up to date through a series of improvement programs. According to an official at FFG Mayport, an approximately $5 million effort in 1994 upgraded the 20B4 to support the training of Spruance-class destroyers. Over the past year and a half, another update to the vans has revamped the system software and added the Comptek-produced TRAD, a high-fidelity device that performs more advanced stimulation of the SLQ-32.


Where the BFTT makes its generational leap beyond the 20B4/20B5 is in packaging, obviously. It frees the ship from the pierside constraints of the vans, allowing the commander to conduct training where and when he pleases in port or under way.

Taking advantage of advances in distributed interactive simulation (DIS), BFTT will also add multiplatform participation to surface training, in which a single BFTT operator's console can drive a common scenario for an entire battlegroup. According to O'Neal, PMS-430 has asked for funds to investigate an interface that can access various datalinks, from UHF radio and Link 16 to satellite links, for at-sea use. Today, the DIS capability is achievable with ships in port, connected over a fiber-optic network. A recent demonstration on the east coast, revealed the FIG official, successfully linked four surface combatants, a submarine and even an F-14 aircraft trainer.


Interestingly, one of the ships in the demonstration was not equipped with BFTT, but participated via a 20B4 trainer (which ran all its combat systems) modified with a DIS front end. Old EW systems don't die easily, and even though the 20B4/20B5 vans are scheduled for decommissioning by 2000, they may yet live on in reincarnation. The CNO has released funds for a new OBT, the Carry-On Combat Systems Trainer (COCST), to fill the gap that the retirement of the vans will create. PMS-430 projects outfitting of BFTT to all surface combatants by FY03. This may be an overly optimistic prediction, and some ships will certainly not see the new trainer until four or five years later. The COCST will serve as an interim system, and it will be fully interoperable with BFTT. PMS-430 has insisted that COCST is still an open issue, but others in the training community say it is almost certainly in the bag for AAI. According to the FIG source, COCST will use carry-on boxes from the 20B4/20B5, replacing the vans' bulky operator stations with laptops. Already, he added, AAI has been identified for the first part of the project, the rehosting contract.

So much for decommissioning.
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Title Annotation:naval electronic warfare simulator
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Date:Oct 1, 1997
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