There was a time when military simulators were largely for training pilots to fly a certain type, often in pretty straightforward scenarios. Today, armed forces are increasingly working with OEMs and simulation equipment suppliers to develop sophisticated, highly realistic modelling that allows them to rehearse complex missions involving multiple assets where it is expensive, impractical and often risky to use real aircraft.

It is a trend Canadian simulator manufacturer CAE - chalet D230 - thinks will accelerate as military aircraft become more high-tech and hard-pressed defence ministries strive to squeeze ever more value from their fleets. As on the civil side, CAE has been "rebalancing" its business to become as much a provider of training solutions to armed forces as a simple one-off supplier of equipment.

 © CAE

The company earns about one-third of its defence revenues from training services, but Martin Gagne, CAE's recently-appointed group president, military products, training and services, believes that figure could soon move close to half as a slew of new contracts comes on stream. They include deals with Canada to provide Lockheed MartinC-130J aircrew training, Australia to supply training support services through to 2018, and the UK to develop BAE SystemsHawk 128 full-mission simulators for the Military Flying Training System programme.

"The key message we are hearing from customers is that they want to do more with the limited budgets they have," says Gagne. "We see that with the latest US defence budget and the Australian defence white paper. They want to use modelling as a means of adding to their capability, and our message to them is that this is an area that we are very much investing in."

That is not to say that flying training missions in actual aircraft is becoming redundant. "It is very much about the right balance," says Gagne. "Hours on an aircraft are important, but with the ability now to carry out very accurate mission rehearsal, the more you can do with your simulation equipment the longer you can keep your most expensive asset for real life missions."

CAE's foothold in both the civil and military camps is helping it through the industry downturn. As demand for simulators and training services weakens on the airline and business aviation side, the defence business has remained robust as militaries look to cut back on flying hours, but remain ready to face a range of often new threats and challenges from landing in brown-out conditions to flying relief missions into hostile territories. In the past five years, defence has grown from around a third to half of CAE's revenues.


The manufacturer ended its 31 March 2009 fiscal year with record military orders of almost C$1.1 billion ($1 million), with more than half in the fourth quarter. The order intake represented a 47% increase over the previous year, which CAE puts down to more militaries and governments outside its core US market becoming convinced of the benefits of simulation and synthetic training.

Other notable contracts notched up in the financial year included for the Netherlands a package of training systems and services for the NH Industries NH90, provided through the Rotorsim consortium owned equally by CAE and Agusta­Westland, partner manufacturer with EADS in the European medium-twin military helicopter. The period also saw Helicopter Flight Training Services, a consortium owned equally by CAE, Eurocopter, Thales and Rheinmetall Defence Electronics, inaugurate NH90 training at the German army aviation school in Bueckenburg.

At Paris, one of CAE's most notable recent customers, Alenia Aermacchi, will display for the first time its ground-based training system demonstrator for the M-346 Master advanced jet trainer developed with CAE, allowing visitors to the stand to sample the aircraft "in flight". With orders for 60 M-346s, the Finmeccanica subsidiary is confident of attracting more interest at the show.

CAE has also been active in India - a market in which it has made substantial inroads in its civil business - laying the foundation for a new helicopter training centre in Bangalore earlier this month. Owned jointly with Hindustan Aeronautics, the facility will be operational by the middle of next year and will offer Level D training to pilots of a variety of types, including military and civil versions of the HAL Dhruv, the Bell 412 and the Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin.

However, the USA, where synthetic military aviation training is most advanced, remains the core market for the Canadian firm and CAE secured contracts with all the military services in the past year. It is working with the US Army to design and manufacture Sikorsky MH-60S/R Black Hawk simulators as part of its Synthetic Environment Core programme. It is also upgrading MH-60L and MH-47G Chinook combat mission simultators operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne). A deal with Boeing will see CAE develop an engineering flight simulator for the US Navy's 737-800-based P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. It follows an earlier contract to manufacturer the aircraft's prototype operational flight trainer.

Gagne describes most of CAE's recent military contracts as having "long legs", with the potential for many years of ongoing business as technology upgrades come on stream and export orders are concluded. "Nurturning close relationships with the OEMs is one of the hallmarks of what CAE does," he says. "We develop the equipment with them and their initial customer as they then look to the export market." Much of CAE's success in the defence market is down to its ability to "unbundle technologies", he adds, and offer end-users "turnkey" training solutions that suit their needs rather than off-the-shelf products.

With dozens of military delegations in attendance at Le Bourget, this week is a key marketing platform for Gagne and his colleagues in CAE's defence business. "It is a very important opportunity to go face to face with the customer," he says. "Our key message is that we are a company prepared to invest in technology and listen to our very sophisticated customers around the globe, helping them to enhance their capability and get more value from their defence budgets."

Source: Flight Daily News