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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Military Simulation Keeps It Real and Under Budget

Simulation replaces expensive live training for the armed forces
Military Simulation Keeps It Real and Under Budget
Photo: Christie Visual Environments
A curved screen can have up to a 220-degree field of view.
simulated conditions at Aberdeen Proving Grounds
Photo: Christie Visual Environments
A soldier is in training under simulated conditions at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
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Hank Russell By Hank Russell
Managing Editor

Today's military has come a long way in training its soldiers for combat. It has gone from live training exercises out in the field to simulated training inside a dome where soldiers fight virtual combatants in a simulated environment. Pilots have gone from climbing aboard a fighter jet to sitting in a cockpit to feel the experience of flying through a virtual sky.

Simulation training as a way to prepare troops for combat is expanding in use as budget restraints and technological improvements occur. As military budgets scale down, real combat training is cut back, simulation has become a more viable, and cost-effective, option. "We have seen actual operating expenses being cut, whether it's actual flying hours, or sea time on the ships that are being cut back from a training perspective and that money is being put into the use of simulators," says Dave Fluegeman, vice president of the Visual Environments Group for Christie (Cypress, CA; Kitchener, ON, Canada).

Aero Simulation Inc. (Tampa, FL), a systems integrator, purchases all the components such as databases, projection systems, image generators and screens and then builds the system. The company has created simulators for aircraft made by defense companies such as Boeing (Chicago), Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD), Northrop Grumman (Los Angeles), Bell Helicopter (Fort Worth, TX) and Sikorsky (Stratford, CT). Aero Simulation recently created a reconfigurable helicopter cockpit procedures trainer for the U.S. Coast Guard.

Mike McCarthy, Aero Simulation's vice president and general manager, says the military is wanting more -- more field of view, more fidelity, more eye-limiting resolution -- for less. "In the old days, they had a postage stamp-sized visual in front of you. Nowadays, they're saying, 'I want the total field of view,' and that's certainly a driving requirement," he says. "What they want to do is look out the window of a simulated visual scene as you sit in the cockpit and have it appear just as if you see it in a real scene, out your eyes. So visual systems need more horsepower, better databases to give them the information to think it is a real scene as opposed to a cartoon. That's high on the list."

Earlier this year, Fluegeman was in Taiwan, where he met with a prime contractor who manages fast-jet simulators with that country's air force. "They are burning through their maintenance budgets and their supplies much faster than they have anticipated," he explains. "This is because the government is realizing it's costing too much to operate the aircraft in a training type of situation."

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