Published May 6, 2014
By Erin Flynn Jay, MT2 Correspondent
The military is consistently replicating live events through simulation, and with advancements in technology, training in a safe environment is becoming a staple to preparing the warfighter for real-world operations.
Coast Guard’s Aviation Training Center (ATC) provides initial and recurrent training for all Coast Guard pilots. This covers training pilots fresh out of flight school and seasoned pilots transitioning to a new airframe, as well as refresher and upgrade training, said Lieutenant Commander Dave Hunter, HC-144A instructor pilot. The primary focus is on emergency procedures and instrument flight procedures. However, there is a theme that changes from year to year; for example, cold weather ops or high altitude training.
Currently in Mobile, Ala., there are simulators for the MH-60, MH-65, HU-25 and an aircrew weapons trainer.
“Right now we are in the middle of acquiring a Level D equivalent simulator for the HC-144,” said Hunter. “This should allow 90 percent of the initial pilot training events to be conducted in the simulator and all of the annual recurrent training. With the recent announcement that the Coast Guard will receive C-27J Spartans from the U.S. Air Force, in the next three to five years we are looking to acquire a simulator to conduct training in that aircraft as well.”
What simulator training shortfalls and gaps does ATC need industry’s help to address? Hunter said this answer depends on the age of the simulator and the limitations of the technology when it was initially acquired.
“For example, the aerodynamic modeling for one of our helicopters is being updated with a more sophisticated and accurate model,” he said. “Accurately matching the flight and aircraft system performance provides a solid foundation for the visual system and motion effects to be added to. We have legacy simulators with old display systems that look similar to individual TV screens for each window instead of a dome like is used for IMAX (Image MAXimum). These visual systems make it difficult to impossible to look out the opposite side windows and can make some people feel ill.”
Another gap is the ability to have one pilot using night vision goggles while the other is not and to see the environment as it would look in real life, said Hunter. This feature is being provided in the new HC-144 simulator and will enhance the realism needed for full immersion training.
Delivering True-to-life Visual Displays
Christie’s most popular projectors for military simulation are the Christie Matrix Series of DLP (digital light processing) projectors, which are designed for complex blended arrays, where color matching and uniformity are key and clarity of fast moving content is critical.
“The projectors are all built on the same stable, long-life platform and employ two alternative illumination technologies: arc-lamps and solid-state illumination. They include: the Christie Matrix StIM, the first DLP simulation projector to provide independent control over both the visible and infrared spectrum and real-time balancing of color and brightness levels; the Christie Matrix StIM WQ, which provides higher levels of resolution and brightness along with advanced smear reduction; the Christie Matrix SIM and Christie SIM WQ, which were designed for overall reduced sustainment costs and offer a fully ruggedized chassis for motion platform use; and the Christie Matrix WU7K-J, a compact lamp-based projector that provides the highest 3-chip-DLP performance on the market,” said Dave Kanahele, director, Simulation Solutions at Christie. “All of our Matrix projectors provide maximum dynamic image quality with 120Hz support along with capabilities to warp and blend multi-channel arrays.”
For high-performance military simulation environments, Kanahele said, the key challenge is delivering true-to-life visual displays that accurately, consistently and safely replicate situations that can’t be repeatedly performed in the real world, allowing trainees to practice routines and tasks in a secure environment.
“To achieve this, simulators today demand higher pixel densities over larger areas than can be provided by any single fixed projector, leading to a need for highly synchronized projector arrays,” he said. “Aero Simulation’s HC-144A operational flight trainer (OFT) for the Coast Guard’s ATC, for example, uses nine Christie Matrix StIM WQ WQXGA-resolution 1-chip DLP solid state, LED (light emitting diode)-based projectors, helping it to achieve a visual display that is closer to real life.”
As technologies change, the need for lower cost, off-the-shelf simulation systems with higher resolution, higher brightness and higher frame rates will continue to grow.
“As well, the increased adaption of solid-state illumination in simulation projection systems is paving the way for enhancements in night vision training, which has become an increasingly critical part of military and aerospace simulation training. Christie simulation projectors are geared to address these current
trends, while also being versatile and scalable to better accommodate future training needs,” Kanahele added.
Military Simulation Training Facing Threats
Digital Projection provides a wide variety of projectors to the U.S. military for its training and simulation needs. From standard auditorium projectors to specialized simulation projectors for forward observer trainers and advanced flight trainers, its products run the gamut from bright lamp-based projectors to specialized high resolution LED+IR (infrared) projectors.
“With sequestration, the military is facing tighter budgets for acquisition and being questioned on if certain training program should be considered or canceled,” said Phil Laney, Digital Projection Inc.’s director of simulation and visualization. “If one couples sequestration with the recent BRAC [base realignment and closure] of existing bases and the closure of their associated training ranges, then one finds that military simulation training is facing multiple threats to their traditional methods of training.”
Because of its cost effectiveness and with the reduced access or elimination of training ranges, virtual simulation training has become more important as the simulators can be linked in groups, across domains to other simulator types, or even tied together with live training forces.
“Since virtual simulation training typically involves projector-based displays, companies like Digital Projection with cost-effective simulation specific projectors can help the military meet training needs,” added Laney. “Another side effect of sequestration is reduced budgets for maintenance of training systems, meaning that the military is looking for ways to reduce maintenance costs for their trainers. Digital Projection offers its cost savings Lifetime Illumination Projector products with illumination systems that provide 20,000 to 60,000 hours of illumination life. When these products are in a multi-projector display system, they not only save costs by not having to purchase lamps, but their inherent stability means less hands-on maintenance time, reducing maintenance costs and down time.
Lifetime Illumination Projectors also run on less power and emit less heat, saving on HVAC and electrical costs.”
The future for virtual military training will continue its trend of wanting more resolution, less maintenance and reduced costs, said Laney. Digital Projection follows those trends and has products that balance high performance and costs while continuing to innovate its Lifetime Illumination projectors, introducing brighter LED projectors like its 2,000-lumen 3-chip DLP Titan and its 10,000-lumen HIGHlite Laser.
LED Driven Projectors in Demand
Barco has an extensive portfolio of simulator projectors available and provides a wide variety of them to the U.S. military market, such as their 1- and 3-chip DLP (lamp and LED based) products, as well as LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) based solutions. Most projectors are offered in quantum extended graphics array, wide ultra extended graphics array and/or wide quad extended graphics array resolutions.
“Our SIM10 (LCoS) offers the highest resolution (10 million pixels) and dynamic contrast ratio available for applications such as fast jet training, while our F22 (DLP) is the projector of choice for firearms simulators such as the U.S. Army engagement skills trainer and the U.S. Marine Corps indoor simulated marksmanship trainer,” said Mark Saturno, vice president, Worldwide Sales Training and Simulation. Their newest product, the FS-35IR, is currently used on the new advanced joint terminal attack training system being deployed by the Air National Guard.
As with many types of technology, the demand is continuous for ‘smaller, better, cheaper’ products, and the projector market is no different.
“Additionally, total cost of ownership is foremost on all military users’ objectives when procuring or upgrading training simulators. Again, Barco answers the call with the widest array of simulation projectors that are continually evolving to optimize performance while lowering operational expenses,” said Saturno. “A great example of this is the latest LED technology being deployed in our F3X series platforms in order to provide solid state capability and eliminate the need to procure and change lamps.”
The future is pointing toward solid state illuminated projectors for as many training applications as possible. However, Saturno said it will take some time for the simulation community to fully embrace a technology that is in its infancy, and still needs to prove it can satisfy very stringent requirements related to performance, cost, sustainability, size and safety. In the interim, efficient lamp- and LED-driven projectors will continue to be in high demand.
Sony currently sells virtually every projector they make to the military. Many are used in meeting rooms and classrooms similar to general corporate and education applications, as well has more demanding and advanced applications including visualization, simulation and training.
The challenges for the military arena involve very demanding specs and performance features that typically are not needed in traditional markets, said Sander Phipps, senior product manager, Sony Professional Solutions of America. Military procurement cycles pose special challenges with product development and forecasting. Future programs are under constantly changing schedules and funding approvals.
“Going forward, higher resolution like 4K and alternative light source projectors are the real hot topics for military applications. And of course cost/performance,” said Phipps.
Sony’s SXRD Series 4K projectors provide 4096 by 2160 resolution and have an aperture ratio of 92 percent for immersive and realistic imaging.
“The thinner liquid crystal panel used in the SXRD imaging chip allows for incredibly clean motion rendering of fast-moving images. The SRX-T615 model combines the versatility, performance and image quality needed to create enhanced realism and an optimal viewing experience in today’s visualization and simulation applications,” said Phipps. “It delivers 4K resolution with a high brightness of 18,000 lumens and an industry-leading contrast ratio of 12,000:1, a key feature for the visual simulation market.
The 50/60P signal compatibility is ideal for displaying moving graphics smoothly.”
Another key feature for the military market is the projector’s ability to edge blend native 4K content, concluded Phipps.
“The SRX-T615 projector uses six HPM lamps in individual cartridges to make lamp replacement easier and safer, and the projector also provides a longer lamp-exchange cycle,” he said. “The VPL-GT100 4K ultra-high resolution projector has a small footprint for flexible installation, and is based on a new laser phosphor illumination technology with 2,000 lumens and a dual display port input for 4096-by-2160 resolution at 60 frames per second. Sony’s professional 4K projector line also includes the SRX-T420, SRX-T110 and SRX-T105 models.