Four Integrators Aim for Virtual Air Superiority
Four Integrators Aim for Virtual Air Superiority
By Nick Wakeman
CACI International Inc., Computer Sciences Corp., Science Applications International Corp., and TRW Inc. are in a four-way dogfight with a $500 million Air Force contract as the prize for the last one still flying.
Each company has won a $1.1 million contract as the first step in an Air Force project to build a network that will link simulators around the globe for large training exercises.
Called the Distributed Mission Training Operations and Integration program, the 15-year contract will allow pilots in simulators in different locations worldwide and for different types of aircraft to fly virtual training missions together.
"Up until now, we have only been able to do local training," said Lt. Col. Michael Chapin, chief of the Revolutionizing Training Division of the Air Force's Training Systems Product Group.
Simulator training generally pits one flight crew against computer- or operator-generated targets and foes. But the Air Force, which is in the process of buying new simulators, wants pilots in separate simulators to be able to fly with and against each other.
The DMT contract "is the glue ... that will hold all this together," Chapin said.
The four companies awarded contracts in the flyoff have the next eight months to show the Air Force how they would design, link and operate a network that would allow simulators representing aircraft in Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia to fly together in a "synthetic battlefield," government and industry sources said. The simulators will represent 15 aircraft of four different types. The fly-off was awarded Aug. 10.
The Air Force will evaluate those proposals to determine who will build the larger network that will link simulators and Air Force bases in England, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and the United States. As many as 60 U.S. air bases will be linked. The contract award is expected by April 2000, and the system will be built in stages, with U.S. bases linked first and then those overseas.
The Air Force's goal is to do mission rehearsals via simulators that involve a large number of aircraft, including fighters, bombers, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, tankers and ground cover aircraft, Chapin said.
Right now, planes are brought to a central location for training. This is expensive, and there are constraints on the types of activities that can take place, he said.
"This is a rich set of tasks the Air Force has," said Brice Zimmerman, executive vice president of information systems at CACI of Arlington, Va.
The DMT project not only will be a technological showpiece, but it also puts the Air Force on the cutting edge of government acquisitions. The Air Force wants the winning contractor to foot the bill for building the system and then will pay a fee for using it.
"It is a whole new way of doing business for the Air Force," said Steve Quilici, CSC's capture manager for the contract.
Chapin said: "We want the contractors to take on the risk [of building the system], and we'll show up with a roll of quarters and rent the system from them."
The project is a form of outsourcing, said Hershie Krich, business development manager for tactical systems for TRW of Cleveland. "This is very much a commercial business model,' he said.
The contractor will have to work closely with the builders of the simulators [Lockheed Martin Corp., the Boeing Co., and Plexus Co.] to ensure interoperability. There also are security issues to work out, research and development tasks to perform, standards to develop and putting in place a telecommunications network that can move vast amounts of data.
Because the contract has a five-year base and 10 option years, the contractors also must show a plan for how they will stay current with changes in technology, industry and government officials said.
"This is the first time anyone in the world has tried to do this," Quilici said. "It is an exciting problem to try to solve."
The contractors also face extra pressure from the fee-for-service structure, because they know if the Air Force does not use the system, the contractor will not get paid, Quilici said.
The winning contractor will have to have a powerful telecommunications network in place, because large amounts of data have to be moved very quickly, company officials said.
"You are going to have to lay in some big electronic pipes," CACI's Zimmerman said.
If the data is not moved quickly among simulators in different parts of the world, the experience will not seem real for the pilots in the simulators. And pilots can be demanding customers.
"They are giving up real flying hours, which they love, for a simulator. So if it doesn't seem real, the pilots won't be happy," Krich said.
Air Force officials have told the contractors on several occasions that they want "smiling, sweating pilots" coming out of the simulators, Quilici said.
So far, TRW is the only contractor to announce its teammates for the project. The company has signed up Litton-TASC Inc. of Reading, Mass.; Sparta Inc. of Laguna Hills, Calif.; L-3 Communications Inc. of New York; Matcom Inc. of Boston; and CAE Canada of Montreal.
Executives with the other companies declined to name their teammates because of the competitive nature of the procurement. "We are still in the source selection phase," Quilici said. "The only thing we have won is the right to compete and invest more."
The project is a key piece of a change in the Air Force's approach to its missions, Chapin said. The Air Force is in the process of developing 10 Aerospace Expeditionary Forces. Each force will be made up of various aircraft that will be deployed together to complete missions.
While the planes in each force may be based at air bases in different parts of the world, there is still a need for the pilots to train together. The DMT system will allow them to do that via simulators, Chapin said.
"DMT fits hand in glove with the expeditionary force strategy," he said.