The operational needs of the Israeli air force are increasing constantly, while in parallel its resources are becoming more and more limited. This problem seems international, as is the solution initiated for the Israeli service by Elbit Systems.
The Israeli company has mobilised all its assets to provide solutions. Flight International visited the Hazor air base, where Elbit is building its biggest and most advanced networked simulators facility. This will eventually house eight full-dome, high-definition simulators for the Lockheed Martin F-16I "Sufa" combat aircraft, with the equipment being supplied by Elbit based on in-house technology. Elbit is building the facility under a private financing initiative (PFI) programme and will sell simulator hours to its customer under a 15-year contract.
F-16I simulator domes deliver 360° outer-world scenarios
The facility will function as a squadron, enabling combat formations to train in "very real conditions", and also allow their activities to be networked with other air force simulators across the country.
Two operator stations in the Hazor facility will be used by a "Red squadron" that will inject adversary scenarios to the F-16I simulators.
Yoram Shmuely, Elbit executive vice-president and co-general manager, says the needs of the Israel air force may be special because of the situation in the Middle East, but many other countries face similar problems.
"A flight-hour of a trainer or fighter jet is very expensive and very inefficient," he says. This, he explains, is because in the air it is impossible to simulate many situations a pilot could face in combat or an emergency.
Shmuely says the simulator domes will produce 360˚ outer-world scenarios "and most important, a very high rate of changing situations". Multi-mission fighter pilots must be trained for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, as well as for joint operations with other types, including unmanned air systems, he says.
Elbit is preparing manuals for the networked simulators that will be the basis of a week's training for F-16I pilots at the facility. The air force is also eager to bring its pilots to the so-called "simulators farm", as it can be used to make operational preparations ahead of special missions.
Providing simulation and training services has been defined as one of Elbit's growth engines, and the company has also invested in a Beechcraft B200 King Air simulator complex, purchased from Mechtronix of Canada. In this case, the simulator is not at an air force base but in a central facility that can also serve foreign clients.
Israel has contracted Elbit to supply simulator services for its King Airs, with the device having been adapted for the service's by Elbit and Mechtronix. It previously received such instruction from foreign companies.
The air force operates the B200 "Zofit" for airborne intelligence missions and training. In 2005, it equipped its King Airs with a cockpit video system that allows pilots to see images from the surveillance type's stabilised observation payload.
Benefits of the simulator include its ability to allow pilots to use flight patterns that optimise the workload of the crew in the rear cabin. The added capabilities, and the fact the Zofit squadron is one of the busiest in the Israeli air force, makes the simulator very useful, but foreign pilots also use it heavily.
However, Elbit defined its growth engine in the training sector in the widest possible manner. Several years ago, the Israeli air force needed a new basic trainer for its flight academy. Elbit came up with a PFI proposal under which it bought a fleet of Grob 120As, now in use at Hazerim air base.
"We are contracted to supply a certain number of flight hours to the academy," says Shmuely. "We handle the full logistics chain and the pilots get a ready-to-fly trainer when they need it." The air force was so happy with the arrangement, started in 2002, it recently extended the contract by another 10 years.
Elbit offers different levels of services to air force training infrastructures. It also holds a contract to maintain Israel's Hazerim-based Hawker Beechcraft T-6 Texan ("Efroni") trainers, and the company's crews are also active on a nearby apron where they maintain the academy's Bell 206 and AH-1 Cobra helicopters used for training.
Sagi Peleg, Elbit's senior director of marketing and business development, aerospace, says the PFI format can, and will, be used in other cases but only for training. He believes combat aircraft will not be included under such an arrangement.
More recently, the relationship with Grob has led to a surprise joint venture that could bring many more PFI deals. Elbit and Grob also joined forces to develop an improved version of the G120A, designated the G120TP.
The companies say the G120TP trainer family will be based on a modular aircraft concept powered by a turboprop engine. It will be manufactured in three different configurations: with a side-by-side cockpit; tandem-seat cockpit; and as a four-seat type. They say all three variants will maintain a maximum degree of commonality, guaranteeing unsurpassed operating cost effectiveness.
Another key feature of the G120TP will be an Elbit avionics suite, which includes a glass cockpit with a high level of mission simulation capability, incorporating virtual tactical training. Both elements will be marketed globally by Grob Aircraft, which has already succeeded in attracting an 18-unit launch order from the Indonesian air force. Elbit expects wide interest from additional customers once the new type has entered operational use. Deliveries are expected to begin in December 2012.
Shmuely says the G120TP will enable air forces to use a "download capability", where students can fly a basic trainer with low operating costs but still experience the effects of high-speed manoeuvring and sharp turns, and a sophisticated cockpit.
© Rex Features
The downloading concept is also supported by Elbit's capability to install the "black boxes" required in any training platform, to allow embedded training by replicating the presence of expensive systems such as radar and electronic warfare (EW) equipment.
This means that instead of flying hundreds of kilometres to reach an instrumented EW range, a student can be trained close to base and see all the required inputs on multifunction cockpit displays.
"We began the development of embedded training years ago, and now we lead the world," says Shmuley. The company's investment includes the previous acquisition of BVR, an Israeli company specialising in advanced training and simulation systems.
Further expansion in the training and simulation area last year saw Elbit awarded a €43 million ($57 million) contract to establish a helicopter pilot training centre for Macedonia's defence and security forces. This will train and qualify new pilots, and also support training involving active pilots.
The eight-year PFI deal will see Elbit provide a comprehensive solution, including setting up and running the new training centre, and acquiring its training aircraft and full mission simulators.
Elbit has also teamed with KBR to pursue the remaining fixed-wing elements of the UK Military Flying Training System requirement, with the proposed solution including the G120TP. It has established a new unit in England to support the campaign, and is waiting for a request for proposals to be issued.
Elsewhere, Elbit Systems of America recently started to install radar-embedded training systems in the US Navy's Boeing T-45 Goshawk jet trainer fleet. Training scenarios can be generated by the onboard system or from a ground station, Shmuely says.
Elbit also forms half of the TOR joint venture with Israel Aerospace Industries which will acquire a fleet of about 30 Alenia Aermacchi M-346 advanced jet trainers for the Israeli air force following February's selection decision. To replace the service's Douglas A-4 Skyhawks, the new type will be equipped with a similar embedded training system for radar.
A tour of Elbit's simulation laboratories gives many indications it is determined to get the most from this unique growth engine. "I cannot be specific, but some additional contracts are under negotiations right now," Shmuely says.
Elbit is getting ready for the day the first Lockheed Martin F-35 lands at an Israeli base. This fifth-generation combat aircraft and others will have a high price tag on every training flight hour, because of the multiple sensor systems that will be at the heart of such machines.
Shmuely will not disclose its development programmes, but it is obvious it intends to address the much more complicated and expensive training demands of the F-35. He merely notes that the company's advanced pilot helmets integrated in combat aircraft, including the F-35, will be "part of the solution".
With aerial platforms becoming more complex and more expensive to operate, the virtual world created by advanced simulators meets a crucial need to maintain the readiness of combat pilots at all times.
"We see a decline in flight hours for training in air forces all over the world," Shmuely says. "With our technology, these air forces can keep the pilots fit all the time with minimum actual flight hours."
Israeli air force sources say it has become accepted that a private company is so deeply involved in training infrastructure. "The civilians in our bases supply an excellent service and we can say with great confidence that this service is less expensive than if we had to supply it directly with uniformed staff," says one official.