The UK government, through its internal venture capital fund, is investing in American technology firm Red 6, which is seeking to deliver augmented-reality solutions for fighter pilot training.
Red 6 says it entered an agreement with the UK’s National Security Strategic Investment Fund (NSSIF) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) in June to “supply augmented-reality technologies in support of the UK Military Flying Training System”.
Under its agreement with Red 6, the NSSIF participated in a recent $70 million capital raise undertaken by the Orlando-based start-up. The investment will support integration of Red 6’s augmented-reality technology into the RAF’s fleet of BAE Systems Hawk T2 advanced jet trainers.
Red 6 is also developing the technology for US Air Force (USAF) jet trainers.
Former RAF fighter pilot and Red 6 founder Daniel Robinson praised London’s move to adopt the nascent augmented-reality technology, which the USAF is also pursuing.
“This agreement marks the beginning of a paradigm shift in training for UK fighter pilots,” says Robinson, who flew Panavia Tornado F3s for the RAF and, later, Lockheed Martin F-22 stealth fighters for the USAF.
“It is essential that we can interoperate seamlessly if we are to prevail in the high-end fight,” Robinson says of the allied services. “The first step to achieving this is to be able to train together.”
Using so-called augmented reality, Red 6 is seeking to deliver a combat training system that will allow human pilots, flying real aircraft, to manoeuvre against simulated opponents. Enemy aircraft would be projected onto the pilot’s helmet visor, creating the illusion of real adversaries in the sky.
The technology differs significantly from traditional flight simulators and even from virtual-reality systems, which tend to involve broad digital facsimiles of the outside world. Use of augmented reality would represent a fundamental change to how fighter combat is taught, with the current system centred around simulations and physical adversary air jets flying against students.
“Exploitation of novel technologies is an essential part of ensuring that the RAF can sustain its combat edge and succeed on operations against a constantly evolving adversary,” says Air Vice-Marshal Ian Townsend, commander of Number 22 Group, which oversees RAF flight training.
Townsend describes augmented reality as presenting an “exciting opportunity” for improving pilot training.
The USAF is pursuing a similar effort for its future jet trainer, the still-in-development Boeing T-7A Red Hawk. Uniformed American officers recently completed their first test flight of the T-7A at a Boeing facility in St Louis, where the airframer is developing the single-engined jet.
Under a 2022 agreement with Boeing, Red 6 will integrate its augmented-reality technology into T-7As and the latest F-15EX variant of that venerable fourth-generation air superiority fighter.
Donn Yates, who oversees business development for Boeing’s T-7A programme, says the company is seeking to incorporate augmented-reality technology into Red Hawk trainers that will allow enemy targets to appear both on the T-7A’s virtual radar and visually to pilots.
“I can take something that’s out there on my radar scope, and as it translates all the way to inside of 15 miles, it now comes off my radar scope, and I see it visually,” the former USAF Boeing F-15 pilot said at the Paris air show in June.
The T-7 cockpit can mimic a range of sensors and weapons, according to Yates. That means such systems do not need to be physically integrated with the aircraft for training missions.
“I can emulate any sensor, any technology, any capability and do it through software,” Yates said.
In 2021, Red 6 also landed a contract to install its augmented-reality technology on the current USAF jet trainer – the Northrop T-38 Talon. The USAF is seeking to replace its ageing Talons with T-7As, but engineering challenges at Boeing have led to substantial T-7A delays and cost overruns.
In addition to support from Boeing and the UK government, Red 6 also received an investment from American defence giant Lockheed Martin in 2020. The military airframer and munitions producer did not disclose how much of a stake it had taken in Red 6 at the time.