As Canada’s simulation and training specialists CAE marks its 70th anniversary, TIM ROBINSON reports from one of its longstanding defence customers about The Netherlands’ big plans for synthetic environments. 

The RNLAF and simulation

The new RNLAF Air Mobility Training Centre comprises two Level D mission simulators. 

As a small air arm in Europe, the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) has a particular interest in exploiting synthetic environments to help train and hone its service personnel. First, like many other air forces, it finds itself having to cope with limited defence budgets and making existing resources go further. Second, is that a densely populated country with extremely busy airspace above means that there are invariably restrictions on how much real flying can be done. This is compounded further if separate airspace for larger MALE UAVs is needed, away from controlled civilian flight paths.

Another critical driver is that today the fidelity of synthetic environments and associated training simulations has reached new levels. Paper manuals and documents have now given way to e-learning or interactive electronic classrooms, with virtual or augmented reality the next steps – to train better by ‘immersing’ students in learning. Indeed, the RNLAF envisages that augmented reality for technicians will be part of the drive for 'paperless maintenance'.


Modelling and simulation will make us better and cheaper"

Furthermore, Colonel Harold Boekholt, Head of Policy and Plans, RNLAF, noted that the scope of simulation today has seen expansion from simulated training, to modelling and simulation – supporting wider tasks, such as procurement requirements, mission rehearsal and decision making. Boekholt also observed that, today, the users of simulation are also expanding – from pilots, to aircrew and to all personnel.

Finally, he also explained that there was a growing shift from stand-alone simulators to commonality and to linking them together – opening up possibilities for distributed tactical training – as well as live-virtual constructive (LVC) training. Indeed, Boekholt revealed that a recent 2012 study by NLMoD found 125 different simulators, with 125 different datasets.

To this end, The Netherlands MoD and RNALF has embarked on a plan to rationalise and streamline its existing simulation facilities – as well as laying the foundations for a new synthetic training to support new and future platforms, such as the NH90 and, potentially the MQ-9 Reaper and F-35. To that end it has been working closely with industry partners, such as Canada’s CAE, with the relocation of two tanker/transport flight simulation devices from CAE’s Amsterdam Training Centre in Hoofddrop to the Aeroparc at Gilze-Rijen being the first step in this process.


The Air Mobility Training Centre

Inside the (K)DC-10 Full Flight Simulator. 

While the RNLAF provides training and instruction, CAE provides maintenance and support for its two full Level D mission simulators at AMTC – a (K)DC-10 and C-130H. With these simulators, along with associated e-learning, the AMTC provides type, recurrent, upgrade and operational & tactical training (AAR, NVG) to RNLAF pilots, aircraft commanders and instructors.

The RNLAF C-130H type rating course is mostly synthetic, consisting of 20 sim sessions/80hrs followed by four actual flights, each lasting 2hrs. Meanwhile, the C-130H tactical training comprises five simulator sessions and four flights in aircraft. The simulators utilise the latest in CAE’s Medallion 6000 visual system, making for a photorealistic scenery, with 3D buildings around airports and cities and moving traffic on the roads. However, the FFS also features scenarios and emergencies not found in civil simulators – such as SAM launches, other aircraft in the pattern or taking off, air-to-air refuelling and even, in the case of the C-130H, parachutists or cargo being dropped out of the back. As well as The Netherlands being included in the terrain database, other theatres include Kuwait and Middle East, as well as Mali – where the Dutch Armed Forces have supported peacekeeping missions.

The AMTC also includes separate off-board instructor station, two briefing/debriefing rooms, two e-learning classrooms (with interactive training software also provided by CAE), as well as a locally-built ‘Cockpit Procedures Trainer’. Maintenance of this facility has been outsourced to CAE for 15 years, with the company expected to have the simulators available 0800-1800hrs for 45 weeks a year for a maximum of 1,500hrs for the (K)DC-10 and 2,250hrs for the C-130H.

Future plans

Instructor station at AMTC.

Though the AMTC only has two FFS devices, the RNLAF has ambitious plans as the first step towards its future synthetic battlespace – and potentially a national centre for excellence for modelling and simulation. Interestingly, the model that the RNLAF is looking to is the UK’s Medium Support Helicopter Aircrew Training Facility (MSHATF) - which was developed by CAE in partnership with the MoD. Dutch CH-47 crews already use that facility regularly and the RNLAF is contracted to use MSHATF until 2018. New and future simulators then may not all be physically co-located but the long-term vision would see them networked for collective distributed training. CAE believes that GATE2 could be the core for expanded simulation centre, including UAVs.

While the RNLAF says: ”It doesn’t really matter who owns the simulators”, it has yet to decide on the full balance of ‘ownership’ vs ‘contracted availability’ – noting that each has its advantages and disadvantages. However, it is worth remembering that the AMTC has little opportunity for third-party revenue thanks to the unique (K)DC-10 and C-130H avionics fits. Only New Zealand, for instance, used the RNLAF C-130H FFS for training.

Additionally the (K)DC-10 FFS may have a short future, considering that, in 2016, the RNLAF ordered two A330MRTTs as part of a pooled European NATO tanker force. With the (K)DC-10 set to retire in 2021, one affordable solution, according to industry sources, is that the flightdeck on the current FFS could be swapped for a KC-30 cockpit, while keeping the motion base and visual system.

The rest of the RNLAF’s simulation projects include a NH90 simulator update and relocation (to be completed in 2018 and also provided by CAE), the need to update or procure devices for newer variants of the Chinook and Apache by the mid-2020s, the establishment of a F-35 simulation centre, multi-sim/multi-type for integrated helicopter training – as well as MQ-9 simulators. In particular, CAE industry sources describe the NH90 simulator for the Dutch Navy, which includes a rear crew mission simulator as well as flightdeck, as one of the most sophisticated devices they have ever developed – due to the helicopter’s advanced missions systems.

Smart Bandits represents cutting-edge research into more challenging virtual opponents. (NLR)

Even further ahead, The Netherlands may have some input into the next generation of air combat simulator artificial intelligence (AI), through the NLR (Netherlands Aerospace Centre)'s ’Smart Bandits’ project. This, like research underway in the US, seeks to develop more aggressive enemy AI entities which can then be dropped into military flight simulators to push pilots skills to the limit. In particular, more challenging, more dynamic AI opponents would fit extremely well with the introduction of the F-35, with its ‘unfair’ stealth advantages and the fact that, outside of actual war, some of its capabilities might only be unleashed inside a secure classified simulation. As Col Boekholt quipped to journalists: “The F-35 won’t be able to go ‘full ops’ with the "Russians beeping you from take-off."


Banking steeply in the C-130H sim. Instructors can pile on the pressure with SAMs for pilots to avoid.

The Netherlands may be one of Europe’s smallest countries but it has ambitious plans to use simulation and training to keep punching above its weight. Says Col Boekholt: "Modelling and simulation will make us better and cheaper", with emphasis on 'better' for a fifth generation Air Force. His goal for the air force is that by: “2024 we will execute 50% of all Air Force training in the synthetic environment”. This ambitious vision includes not just aircrew but all personnel.

It is also clear that the RNLAF decisions to partner with CAE in 2012 in developing its synthetic environments, an agreement which was extended in November of last year, has allowed the air force to mitigate and alleviate some of the financial constraints it faces.

Finally – the RNLAF and The Netherlands may have useful lessons for other countries seeking to harness simulation and modelling. While simulations for training aircrew has a long history, how many nations use simulation and modelling to inform procuremen, assist decision makers on the capabilities of air power or develop new operational concepts? It also may be that, with the NLR's ‘Smart Bandits’, future Western fighter pilots may find their skills tested and honed by more challenging AI opponents developed in The Netherlands.

The AMTC, then is a small step in a much big journey for the RNLAF.


CAE – 70 years of simulation

Prince Bernhard of The Netherlands tries out a CAE F-104 simulation device. (CAE) 

This year is a historic one for training and simulation specialists CAE – originally founded in 1947 as ‘Canadian Aviation Electronics’. Beginning with radio antennas, communication and navigation equipment, the company entered into the flight simulation business in 1952 with a contract for a CF-100 simulator for the Royal Canadian Air Force. Its first airliner flight training device was a DC-6 was developed in 1955.

CAE’s relationship with The Netherlands dates to 1984 when it provided a P-3C mission simulator, as well as joint Lynx simulator training.

Training UAV operators and intelligence analysts is a fast growing sector. (CAE)

Today, CAE employs 8,000 personnel in over 35 countries at 160 locations. As well as military and civil simulation across air, land and sea, it now covers healthcare and medical synthetic training. It also expanded from simulation hardware into training services – acquiring Oxford Aviation Academy in 2012, and taking over as prime contractor at the NFTC (NATO Flying Training in Canada) school. Its training services business now represents 60% of its revenues. New growth areas include UAV training. It provides MQ-1/MQ-9 training for the USAF, as well as recently winning a contract to supply RPA training to the UAE), cyber security and live-virtual constructive (LVC) training.

Tim Robinson
13 June 2017