A new training system allows US fighter pilots to observe their own combat training sorties


A new combat training system that allows fighter pilots to sharpen their skills without ground monitoring stations is in action at its first US Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) duty station. This follows a record 90-day turnaround between contract signing and delivery of the system.

Metric Systems' USAFE Rangeless Interim Training System (URITS), developed with off-the-shelf products and commercial technology, uses a pod resembling an AIM-9 Sidewinder missile containing a global positioning system and an inertial navigation system to track and record aircraft manoeuvres.

Mission data are downloaded to a cartridge inserted into the pod before take-off and, after the day's sorties, the cartridge's data are played back on computers at pilot debriefings for post-mission reconstruction that includes "God's eye" views of the action.

Aircrews wanting to know what would have happened had they manoeuvred differently during their mock combat can also try out "what if?" scenarios as they dissect their performance in the debriefing.

Real-time kills


The pods can handle up to 100 aircraft simultaneously with a range of 280km (150nm) between "players". At full-up operation, URITS' pod-to-pod datalinks will give aircrews real-time information in the cockpit as to whether they have "killed" opponents or "been killed" during airborne training. That capability has not yet been tapped at RAF Lakenheath in the UK, where URITS was first installed, because of the USAFE's ongoing efforts to obtain frequency approval to operate the system. The real-time kill notification was tested successfully, however, at Eglin AFB in Florida, where "it put a whole new spin on how the air battle goes", says Chris Lettiere, Metric's URITS programme manager.

The 48th Fighter Wing's three Boeing F-15 squadrons - one of the air superiority F-15C s and two of the multirole F-15Es - all use URITS. In July, Lakenheath systems scored an effectiveness rate of over 90%, says Capt Lawrence Spinetta, an F-15C pilot in the 493rd Fighter Squadron. "We've been flying with it a lot."

URITS has also been installed at Prince Sultan AB, Saudi Arabia and will be in place this autumn at Spangdahlem AB, Germany, and Aviano AB, Italy, under the USAF's five-year, $45 million lease agreement for 88 pods with the Fort Walton, Florida-based Metric.

USAF authorities believe URITS offers a variety of benefits. "We can use this system right from home station," says Maj Gen William "Tom" Hobbins, USAFE director of operations, at Ramstein AB, Germany. Home-station capability translates into cost savings for the budget-conscious command, from range rental to temporary-duty assignment living expenses for aircrews and support teams.

Its easy portability - hanging pods on an aircraft's wing and carrying several computers - means, however, that the system could accompany units wherever they might be deployed. That offers attractive options in view of the increasing frequency of real-world events in which the USAFE has been called on to provide forces for air campaigns, such as those over Kosovo and Iraq, and been forced to put aside its training to maintain the high operations tempo - a frequent complaint from commanders and pilots alike.

The ability to see the airborne fight from several different points of view allows pilots to see their performances from a new perspective and better understand the moves and responses of their teammates and opponents, Hobbins says. He adds that the real-time datalink capability will be especially welcome when frequency approval is obtained - probably for S-band. Pilots, he says, "want to know who has been eliminated from the fight".

Flexible system

Another plus is URITS' ability to be fitted to most NATO forces' aircraft, from the German air force's Panavia Tornados and MiG-29s to the Eurofighter. In Hobbins' view, that flexibility positions URITS as a potential tool to help NATO aircrews better train together and increase their interoperability "if we capitalise on the lessons learned from Kosovo", the two-star general says. "It's one of those things to get over that hump."

While URITS will alleviate the USAFE's need for as many training range deployments as its units have traditionally conducted, the new system will not entirely eliminate the need for a range. Says Hobbins: "I will always need ranges to go and drop live munitions."

Source: Flight International