War Games: A New Generation of Simulators

2 February 2011 (Last Updated February 2nd, 2011 18:30)

Simulation has been widely used ashore and afloat for years, but the technology used is changing. Phil Thane takes a look at the field of simulation, where routine exercises involve the participation of 1,000t warships, thousands of sailors and dozens of smaller boats, aircraft and UAVs.

War Games: A New Generation of Simulators

The UK's Royal Navy is one force of many currently changing the simulators it uses for training. Commander David Bewick explains that, until recently, the navy built very realistic simulation of ships' operations rooms at HMS Dryad in Portsmouth. Each room was built to resemble a specific class of ship using consoles and controls found in that class. At any one time, Dryad's Cook Building housed four of these operations rooms. Though useful, over many years' use the system did present some issues.

Over time classes are phased out and new ones introduced, and this involves rebuilding the simulator from scratch each time. The other problem is one of scheduling. Simulation is used for initial training of individuals on particular consoles and to train a ship's company to deal with specific scenarios as a team; but with only one simulator of each type it's hard to accommodate everyone.

The answer is a more generic system that can be configured to provide different kinds of training relatively easily.

Royal Navy splashes out

In 2006 BAE Systems began laying the foundations for a new training facility at the Maritime Warfare School, HMS Collingwood in Fareham, near Portsmouth. In 2007 work started on a new facility at HM Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth. Both facilities are part of the new maritime composite training system (MCTS) and will be used to carry out warfare operator training involving crews from almost all major Royal Navy surface ships.

In both cases BAE Systems is the prime contractor, with the building and infrastructure work carried out by Serco in Devonport and VT Flagship (now Babcock) in HMS Collingwood. The technology comprises personal computers with multiple displays and touchscreens interconnected using local and wide-area networks, while the infrastructure hosts a blend of operational software applications, equipment emulations, environmental models and instructor facilities.

"Operations rooms for different classes can be simulated easily by moving modules around and changing input devices and screens."

Unlike previous simulators the new facilities are modular, based on a series of movable modules. Operations rooms for different classes can be simulated easily by moving modules around and changing input devices and screens.

The Portsmouth facility has four rooms, and Plymouth three, but unlike the previous set-ups, they can represent any class of ship.

Bewick agrees that the new system has less "touch fidelity" than a conventional highly realistic simulator, and explains what the navy is calling "targeted fidelity"; the things that are essential are right. Once someone starts a training exercise, they very rapidly become so focused on the tasks they have to perform they stop noticing the surroundings.

In addition to the operations rooms, the new facilities also have classrooms for basic training on PCs running console emulation software. Here, there is little attempt at realism in the surroundings.

BAE expects the facilities to be fully operational by September 2011 (there won't be a formal handover as under the contract BAE will run the MCTS training facilities with the Royal Navy, with support from Babcock). Elements of the new facilities have been in use since October 2009 to provide training for the new Type 45 destroyer. The previous generation of facilities at HMS Collingwood are being run down as the new ones come into operation.

South Korea upgrades simulators

Based in Genoa, Italy, ECA Sindel exports maritime simulation products to both navies and commercial shipping lines around the world. The Mars products for war fighters include everything from a "full mission" bridge simulator to complex, multiplatform, high-tech simulators for anti-submarine warfare or tactical coordinated training of several airplane and warships, as well as "joint warfare" strategic simulation systems used to acquire combined warfare strategy fundamentals.

ECA Sindel produces modules representing warships, mine sweepers, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and submarines. Each can be customised to simulate a specific class of ship or aircraft, or they may be generic consoles for introductory training. All the simulators can be used for individual training with an instructor or linked for complex war games. ECA Sindel's Mistral products for civil shipping can also be linked to the Mars range enabling civilian and military sailors to practice cooperation in crisis situations. Supply ships can also be emulated to allow RAS and FAS operations to be rehearsed in safety.

"The ASWTT package provides a realistic experience for ship, submarine and air crews."

ECA Sindel products, like BAE's MCTS, are based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer equipment. Each simulator is PC-based, running Microsoft Windows and custom software. Custom-made interfacing boards are used for low-level hardware management, and interfaces are available for all real marine equipment.

Every simulator uses a standard ethernet LAN as a data exchange channel - inserting a new simulation module, or a new ship, is a simple plug and play operation. All this came together in one of ECA's biggest recent deployments in South Korea.

Chinhae on South Korea's south-eastern coast is the country's principal naval base and home to the submarine fleet. The training simulators are housed in a large, purpose-built two-storey building capable of training several hundred personnel at the same time. During 2005-6 ECA Sindel installed an ASWTT (anti-submarine warfare team training simulator) package consisting of four bridge simulators, a combat operations room, two Lynx helicopter simulators with dipping sonar, one P3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a submarine simulator.

ECA Sindel provides all maintenance as part of the contract and is currently involved in upgrading some of the equipment and enhancing functionality. Over the last ten years the company has invested a great deal of effort in simulating acoustic technology for both submarine crew and anti-submarine training simulation. The ASWTT package provides a realistic experience for ship, submarine and air crews, with realistic information transfer between them.

Unlike the BAE-Royal Navy project in the UK, the South Korean Navy requested that ECA Sindel built its simulators to be as realistic as possible in order to minimise the time taken by new crew members to transfer from training to operations. As Bewick points out, it's a decision based on local conditions - Royal Navy ships console operators undergo multiple training sessions on board while their ship is on a routine transit. South Korean ships don't venture so far and local politics requires them to be on constant alert, so opportunities for training at sea are more limited.